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Christmas tree growers say dry fall did not affect their trees

Matt Foley, left, cuts a tree Friday as Michele Miller steadies it during the Litchfield couple's annual visit to Turck Tree Farm. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

LITCHFIELD -- It's the smell and the experience that have brought Michele Miller and Matt Foley of Litchfield back to Turck's Tree Farm each Christmas for the past few years.

Each year, one of them will spot the right tree right away as they drive through the farm operated by Steve and Joan Turck.

Miller and Foley always cut down that first tree they pick to decorate their home, she said.

The two were bundled against temperatures hovering around freezing and a brisk wind from the south as they cut down the tree. "We always get a balsam," she said, and the aroma from the fresh-cut tree spread through the air.

It will never be an artificial tree for them, she said. "These look better," Foley said.

"I think you have to have a real tree," Miller added. "We always had one growing up."

And nothing can replace the experience of going to a tree farm, Miller said.

It's family traditions like theirs that keep people coming back year after year to cut their own Christmas trees at farms like the one owned by the Turcks.

In addition to growing more than 70,000 trees on their farm, the Turcks' operate a gift shop and let their guests visit full-grown reindeer and wild turkeys on the farm.

They also offer hay rides through the trees.

Steve Turck and Ron Iverson of Iverson Tree Farm of Belview said they saw excellent growing seasons this year. The dry fall shouldn't affect them, they said.

Iverson said trees are usually done growing for the year by mid-summer, so a dry fall wouldn't affect them. His tree farm is located south of Sacred Heart and has about 50,000 trees.

Turck's, northeast of Litchfield, also was unaffected by a dry fall. The farm had so much rain last summer that he was still getting stuck in the fields into September, Steve Turck said.

The Associated Press last week reported that thousands of trees have died throughout Texas and Oklahoma. Some died of thirst, others due to wildfires. Most planters, the AP reported, planned to ship in trees from North Carolina.

Jan Dolenson, the executive director of the Minnesota Christmas Tree Association, empathized, saying that would be "double whammy" for growers because they not only lose this year's and future crops, but they then have to pay to supplement what they do have.

The growers said it takes 8 to 10 years to grow a sapling into a proper Christmas tree. Along with fighting weeds and insects, the farmers trim each tree into shape each year.

Both farms opened right after Thanksgiving and will stay open through the third weekend of December. After that, both of them will leave some cut and baled trees out for latecomers who will pay for the trees on the honor system. Steve Turck said they've even seen people come to get a tree on Christmas Eve while their own family celebration is going on inside the house.

Many tree farms offer hayrides and other amenities for families that come to cut their own trees.

The Turcks offer free cider and cookies in their gift shop and sell gifts and treats along with wreaths and garlands. Joan Turck said no two of her wreaths are alike, unless someone orders them to match. She has made trees up to seven feet across.

Joan Turck said she enjoys seeing "the same wonderful customers" each year.

"I love Christmas," she said. "Christmas is a fun time of the year, even though there's a lot to get ready."

The tree farms sell their trees at retail lots and to wholesalers, too, and they have other businesses.

The Turcks also have a dog boarding business on their farm.

Iverson said he has been busy recently selling trees to transplant. He has been transplanting trees to help farmers restore groves that were destroyed by storms last summer.

The Bemidji Pioneer contributed to this story. Both the Pioneer and the West Central Tribune are owned by Forum Communications Co.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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