End User fun stuff

The Christmas tree is dead, bring on 2014

xmastreeThese days Christmas, much to my wife’s annoyance, is technology filled. Life is, in fact, technology filled. Us kids sit around buried in our gadgets, often having more of a conversation online than in real life.

We still though like the romantic images of Christmas time. Carol singing round the Christmas tree (I do it even if you don’t), the parties with bright lights and clink of champagne bottles (yes), the excitement of Christmas morning running downstairs to see if he’s been (he came – I must’ve been a good boy).

However everything has its time and now it’s all over for another year. The decorations are coming down as I write and the dead, needle shedding tree lies a shadow of its former self on the wood pile at the bottom of the garden. In our case this is just in front of last year’s tree which is still in the same place as I left it 12 months ago.

The discarded tree seems a total non-technological contrast with everything else that goes on. Twitter, Facebook, tablets, smartphones, (:) ) etc etc etc

We are getting our house back, once the noise of the hoover has died down. My body needs a break from its December-long abuse. A period of simple living in which we need to get on with what will be an exciting 2014.

See ya.

PS It’s raining, a lot.

agricultural End User

The Christmas tree season is upon us

As my express speeds trundles at a modest pace in a Southerly direction, laden with the additional passengers of two earlier broken down trains (or simlar) I note a conversation on Twitter turning to Christmas trees and decorations.

At this juncture it would be remiss of me not to draw your attention to a post from one year ago in which the science of growing Christmas trees was explored along with techniques of wrapping kids using a tree bagging machine.

We Davies’ do not consider putting up Christmas decs until around mid December but I do realise that there are some enthusiasts out there who like to get in the swing early. Presumably they don’t use a real tree if they put it up in November as all the needles will have fallen off by the big day.

It is at Christmas that cultural differences do come to the surface in our house. Anne likes outside lights, I don’t. Unfortunately (it’s all about perspective) I think ours are broken. Ah well. We also have the annual hunt for the sets of Christmas tree lights that work. In the old days it was a matter of hunting down and replacing the bulb that was broken – otherwise the whole lot wouldn’t work. And you could only get one type. These days lights are almost disposable – if they don’t work just buy another set. Unfortunately I haven’t quite got that in my mindset yet so we still have to separate the good from the bad, once they have all been untangled, which is another story.

This Christmas will also represent a (quite sad) milestone where all four kids “know”. It makes it easier in some respects as we don’t have to wield threats of instant torture for revealing the truth but it  represents the passing of an era, a great era in the life of any family.

Now that I’m momentarily (we have to remember it is still only November 27th) in a nostalgic Christmassy mood I have to reconfirm that I am a huge fan. Two of our kids are now away from home and it is we the parents who now are the ones that get excited about the holiday.

Also I’m not a Christian but I like the tradition, the constancy of the time of year. We do the same things year after year. This tradition is expanding to include events like the #trefbash which is in it’s fourth year and also the Carol Singing night in the Morning Star pub in Lincoln. We get together around the piano and bash out a couple of hours of carols accompanied by a few pints and some mince pies. This is open to all – if you want to come the details are on Facebook here.

Happy November.

agricultural Business

The technical business of Christmas trees & the art of netting a boy

a field of 4 year old Christmas treesTrefor Davies and Xmas tree farmer William RoseChristmas trees. You plant ‘em, they grow for a few years, you chop ‘em down and shove em in your living room for a few short weeks.  By the time the needles start to fall off their job is done and they are consigned to the pile of rubbish at the bottom of the garden. Right?

Well no not really. There is science in growing Christmas trees. Technology even! As you may know I live in a very agricultural county where we are experts on growing things and in the small rural hamlet of Fillingham they grow them in their tens of thousands.

Fillingham Trees grow a hundred acres of them divided between Nordman, Norway, Blue Spruce and Lodgepole pines.  In the dim and distant past I played a few games of rugby with owner William Rose (pictured right) and I met him at his farm in Fillingham to chat about the growing business of growing Christmas trees.

Xmas tree from FillinghamDid you know it takes 8 – 10 years to grow a 6 foot Nordman Fir? The Nordman represents 80% of the market because it doesn’t drop its needles. Also these trees don’t “just grow”. They are shaped, manually over the course of their growing life. Growth inhibitors are applied twice a year and once a year the middle bud from each new branch is nipped out so that the tree spreads into a nice shape. That happens to each tree individually and with around 7,000 trees to the hectare that’s roughly 280,000 trees hand pruned, every year!

Norway’s are cheaper because they grow more quickly. It’s easy to work out that with all the manual care in the case of Christmas trees, time in the ground actually does represent a cost.

The seeds for these trees come from mountainsides in northern Russia. At Fillingham they plant their trees as 15cm high transplants bought in from a nursery as opposed to growing them from seed. They plant thousands in a day using specialist tree planting kit.

Growing Christmas trees is a very competitive business. We buy 7 million of them a year in the UK and a lot of farmers will want a piece of the action. At Fillingham they employ innovative marketing techniques that include a Facebook page. The season opened this year on 24th November and for two weeks punters have been able to ride around the farm on a tractor trailer to choose their own tree. The tree of choice is then labelled ready for cutting down and collection at a time that suits the customer. Innovative.

Christmas tree barn at Fillingham TreesTheir ultimate success though is based on producing a quality product year after year and this is reflected in their wholesale sales of between 20,000 and 25,000 trees shipped to places as far as the Gower Peninsula in South Wales. Wow!

In one sense the Christmas tree is the ultimate genetically modified product. Many seeds come from the same “mother” tree so in theory they should all look the same. Nature doesn’t work like that though and many trees grow malformed, perhaps because of the weather or animal damage. Nordmans are also affected by needle necrosis which can turn the needles brown overnight and render the tree unsaleable.

Just like we like our fruit and veg in perfect condition we have the same attitude towards our Christmas trees. Imperfect trees are left in the ground and at the end of the season mulched and ploughed back into the soil. Brutal! 🙂

Anyway that’s about it on Christmas trees other than to introduce the following two videos. The first is how to “net” a tree for transportation using a mechanised tree netter. The second is how to net a boy for a laugh using a manual netter. You know it makes sense.

Good luck to Fillingham trees and thanks to William for the guided tour. I hope their season goes well and they enjoy a well-earned Christmas break.