By LIZ VERLEY
Having sold 70 Christmas trees the first year in business, grower Neil Frieler said, “The Christmas tree market has been very good to us. There is a bigger need for trees than we thought when we began.”Last season, the Frieler’s sold more than 600 trees from their lot located at their home near Upsala.
Neil, his wife Peggy, a paraprofessional with the Holdingford School District, and their children —Amanda, Jacob, Nick and Eric — do the work on the farm. Neil said, “We do the work as a family. Once in a while we will hire a high school student to help out, but basically our family does the farm work.”
Neil managed a nursery business in the Twin Cities for 18 years. Raising trees on the farm was a natural fit for the family. They started the business from the ground up, planting their first trees in the spring of 1997.
Persons wanting that special tree have their choice of picking a precut tree off the lot or may choose the experience of cutting their own. A wide variety of species are available.
Cutting one’s own tree is popular, said Neil. “It is usually the younger families, and they all seem to have fun.”
Frieler noted that he also sells to a few retailers.
The Frielers have sold Christmas trees for the past 13 years and when looking, one is sure to find the perfect tree.
What makes the perfect tree? Neil said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What one person finds to be perfect, another may question that choice. It just depends what one wants.”
The Frielers offer a wide variety of trees including the Scotch pine which is the number one tree purchased. Balsam pine is the second. Neil said, “The Scotch pine is the most economical tree to purchase.”
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, “The Scotch pine is an extremely hardy species which is adaptable to a wide variety of soils and sites. As a Christmas tree, it is known for its dark green foliage and stiff branches which are well suited for decorating with both light and heavy ornaments. It has excellent needle retention characteristics and holds up well thoughout harvest, shipping and display.”
Explaining the process of getting a Scotch pine tree to the point of selling as a Christmas tree, Neil said, “We prepare the field like you would do for corn. It makes it a lot easier down the road for both yourself and the tree. It is like crop farming, except the rotation is longer.”
At the Frielers, seedlings six to eight inches long are used when planting the Scotch pine. Two people sit on the planter putting the seedling in the rows and another walks along behind to pack the soil around the trees so they grow straight.
The trees are then left alone for the next three years, except for spraying for weed control. The fourth year, the doubles are removed and trimming to shape them into Christmas trees begins. The trimming continues for the next couple of years (usually in June) until they are ready to harvest.
The Frielers plant 2,000 to 3,000 trees a year (1,400 an acre). Neil estimates that only 70 percent of those will make it to market.
Besides selling Christmas trees, the Frielers also have a variety of wreaths, kissing balls, swags, and other evergreen items for sale.
Along with raising Christmas trees, the Frielers also raise other nursery stock trees such as 18 species of maple, linden, birch, etc. Most of these are sold directly to nurseries. They also have beef and feeder cattle on their farm.
Both Peggy and Neil spend time volunteering. Peggy is chairman for the Upsala Community Education Board, a choir member at St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Elmdale and a member of the Upsala Ball Park Association (UBPA).
Neil serves on the Upsala School Board, is the Elmdale Township Clerk, chairman of the Finance Committee at St. Edward’s, and on the Board of Directors for the UBPA. Peggy said, ‘It is an exciting time of the year. It is so much fun watching people pick their tree.”
Neil said, “I am amazed at how far people will come for a fresh-cut tree.”
The Frieler Tree Farm is open seven days a week. Located on the corner of CSAH 1 and Highway 238, hours are Monday through Thursday 4 p.m to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.