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Drought won't kill Christmas

Farms still offer fresh trees you can cut, though not as many and not as large

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Customers who have been visiting the Elgin Christmas Tree Farm for 20 years are emailing the owners wondering whether, in light of this year's record drought, they should bother to come out this year.

"I think, 'Well, do you want us to be here next year?'" Twyla Nash says with a laugh. She runs the farm, at 120 Nature's Way in Elgin, with her husband, Marc. The farm opens today for its Christmas season.

Drought has definitely affected this year's crop, but it's not necessarily this year's drought that was most detrimental. It takes about four years to produce a tall Christmas tree, and the early years are critical.

"Two years ago, which would affect this year's crop the most, we had a big, brown spot in the middle of Texas," Nash explains. "We worked hard. We hand-watered that year and did everything we could to keep the trees alive, so we have a crop this year."

So, though you still can head out to the farm and chop down a live Christmas tree this year, you might not need as big of a saw as in years past. The Nashes have been watering close to 24 hours a day for the past year, but the lack of rain and the extreme temperatures mean that size is an issue for the trees in the field this year.

"We do have some pretty trees, but without water they don't grow as tall," Nash said. That affects the owners' bottom line, too, because trees are priced by height. And because the trees have not grown as fast, they have not undergone as many shearings. That means some might not have the perfect Christmas tree shape customers have grown accustomed to.

According to a Nov. 14 blog post on the farm's website (www.elginchristmastreefarm.com) , a majority of the farm's older crops is still healthy and green. There are a handful of trees in the field morethan 11 feet tall, the post reads, and somewhere around a thousand have grown to between 8 feet and 10 feet.

That's fewer than usual. To compensate, the farm has increased the number of pre-cut, big Fraser Fir trees shipped in.

"We only buy from one grower in North Carolina who is a good friend of ours," Nash says, adding that once they arrive, the trees are cared for diligently. "We baby that tree from the minute we get it. It's in water; it's in the shade \u2026 it's going to be the freshest pre-cut tree you can get in our area."

The farm doesn't take delivery on the trees until just before opening, which adds to their freshness.

The Nashes aren't the only Elgin tree farmers taking that measure. Evergreen Farms, located at 242 Monkey Road (also beginning its Christmas season today), has this notice on its website (www.evergreen-farms.com) :

"Because of the drought for the past 3 years, Evergreen Farms will be shipping in a large amount of Fraser firs and Noble firs to supplement those in the field for the 2011 season. We will cut out of the field until we find it necessary to cease in order to protect future growth at Evergreen Farms. We are still open and will be offering the same experience at the farm as you pick out your tree."

That experience includes more than tree-hunting. Evergreen offers games such as tetherball, hopscotch, bean bag toss and horseshoes. There is also a nature trail, farm animals and a gift shop. On weekends, a campfire burns and free marshmallows, cider and coffee are available.

The Nashes' farm continues to offer a wealth of activities too, including hayrides, animals, mazes to navigate, a gift shop and Elgin sausage on the weekends. As in years past, "church on the farm" services will be held on Sundays at 11 a.m., and on Dec. 4 a gospel singer will perform all day long. Dogs, of course, are welcome on leash.

In spite of their own challenges, the Nashes feel fortunate to be able to continue to provide seasonal jobs for others seeking work in a tough economy. Even though some of the services the farm provides only allow the couple to break even, they provide work. "We are very blessed with very able adult workers this year that, in years past, we've struggled to find," Nash says.

Nobody can predict the future, but Nash is hopeful.

"This summer we were really doing OK until the end of July, beginning of August when we were half to two-thirds through our 100-degree days," she says. "And then the baby trees just all died because they don't have the root system to find the water. But the bigger ones — the stats are much better on those."

Nash says that they hope that in five years they will have doubled their business.

"But right now, we're just trying to provide our regular customers with trees."

droe@statesman.com; 912-5923

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