Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Beisel's Christmas Tree Hill - 60 Years of Growing on the Family Farm

A Tribute to Dana Beisel (1946~2013) - The Soul of Beisel's Christmas Tree Hill

People ask Dana Beisel all the time: You work in this heat? What needs to be done on a tree farm in the summer? Dana won't come right out and say it, but his grin says "plenty." (VISIT "Beisel's Christmas Tree Hill" for Directions and Contact Information.)
Douglas-fir - Lehigh Gap in the distance from western field

Hours of planting, spraying, and fertilizing are put in each spring. Of course there’s also the mowing of grass between acres and acres of thousands of trees. That is only the beginning.

What some customers do not realize, each tree is pruned and shaped in the high heat of summer. This work begins at the end of June when the new growth completes. Each tree also needs a keen eye and handling to select the true leader or tip of the tree. Sometimes last year’s leader has broken off and a side branch needs to be trained to be the leader with a metal wire tree limb straightener. On Beisel’s Christmas Tree Hill, this process of pruning usually takes until September.

Dana and his brother Bill split the labor: Bill does all the mowing and Dana prunes with the hired crew. Trees not big enough to be sold this year will be saved for “winter pruning” after the regular sales season.
Looking south toward Bake Oven Knob - Fraser-fir trees - How trees would look if untrimmed on the Right.  To the Left one with a pruned top.
The family business was established in 1950 with Dana and Bill’s father Ralph Beisel, who was a landscaping engineer for the state highway department. He was a graduate of the University of Maine and applied his horticultural expertise into the hilly farm. He used terraces to claim more arable land.

Bill remembers the first species of tree they planted: a Scotch pine. The first crop was harvested in 1958. Dana worked with his father even though he also worked his fulltime job in social services at Palmerton Hospital. And though Bill’s job took him away to relocate to New Jersey he still found time on weekends and in the Christmas season to come home. Bill pitched in fulltime after Ralph died in 1993.

Dana Beisel looks over his Eastern Field of recently pruned Douglas-fir.
Ralph truly was an innovator in promoting the image of Christmas Tree Hill. He created and installed a ‘tram-way’: a cable and rope system of safely delivering trees down a 150 foot embankment. Some families will only select trees from this side of the farm so their children can enjoy seeing their tree glide through the air. The Beisels and many of their dedicated employees look forward to the sales season and all the happy holiday memories they’ve seen over the years.

But tree farming takes vigilance, an ever present eye for the many pests and blights that can effect the trees. Aphids, Cryptomeria scale, and elongated hemlock scale are just a few of the scourges farmers need to be prepared to handle.

The utility of a pickup - Tree top straighteners in box, pruners, hand shears, etc.
That is why the Penn State Co-Op Extension is such a valuable resource to farmers of all kinds all over the state. They serve as a network to assist in the latest trends in treating Rhabdocline needlecast, spider mites or white pine weevil. Meetings and web-postings also help local tree farmers deal with emerging issues. One recent issue is whether Carbon’s current climate can continue to support growing the colder climate-loving Douglas-fir trees.

Though competitors, some local tree farmers also share logistical and technical assistance with each other. Dana consults a few of his neighboring farmers on topics of rainfall and how the trees are taking the heat or when it’s best to center-bud prune. Assistance and moral support goes on and on.

Blue Spruce looking south from East Notch
Concolor Fir among Queen Anne's Lace - Looking north from West Notch
Above: The former Jonathan Gombert Farm as it looks today from the main retail field at Beisel's.  Below: The Gombert's in 1909.
The Mahoning Valley, one of the richest farm areas in Carbon County, has a long tradition of farming and agricultural production. Wos-Wit Pennsylvania Dutch foods and a tomato cannery both operated and packaged their produce here. Christmas Tree Hill is located in a steeply banked notch facing south into the Mahoning Valley, where it overlooks the old Jonathan Gombert Homestead and Maple Tree Tennis Club.

Ralph's humor remains - Sign he posted at the top of West Notch, a steep climb to the top of the Tram-way.  Not even the fittest of customers can whistle a tune after climbing to the top. 
Gombert was a Civil War veteran who lost his arm at the battle of Antietam. He also served a term as county sheriff in 1900. The Maple Tree Inn was owned by C.A. Rex and managed by Nathan T. Rex of Mahoning Valley. The Rex’s also were known for their extensive orchard that abutted to the Beisel property. Wos-Wit and the cannery were just west of Christmas Tree Hill.

More of Ralph Beisel's humor - The Christmas Tree Grower's Vision of Sugar Plums...$$$
Today, the Beisel’s plant Douglas-fir, Concolor-fir, Fraser-fir, and Blue Spruce. The majority of their fields are designated as ‘retail fields’, meaning customers begin arriving on “Black Friday” in November and stroll the grounds and select their own tree. The Beisels also cut a nice selection of trees ready for pickup for those not wishing to cut their own.

Many families travel from as far away as New York City, Philadelphia and New Jersey. They come and make a grand day of choosing their tree some bringing a picnic lunch, taking pictures and sometimes frolicking in the snow.

Yes, it is beautiful here in this notch between two facing hills, in the distance a grand view of both the Lehigh Gap and the Bake Oven Knob. But looks can be deceiving. The next time you're in the joy of the holiday season, snug in the comfy warmth of your home, hanging your ornaments in relaxing family moments, take a moment to think about the years of summer toil that go into each tree that make it the perfect tree that it is.

1978 Jeep Ralph used for spraying.
5' and 8' Blue "lightning rods" for shearing high branches.  "Sage" sickle bar and harness (back left)  for pruning sides of Douglas-fir.  Beneke rotary trimmers (back right).
Dana, Nick Newton and Matt Rebovich take a water break from the heat.
Nick, known as "Legacy II" - His father Tom planted with the Beisels back in the 1970s.
Looking up North Slope - A Field of Douglas-fir
Matt is known as "Legacy I" - His grandfather Dave Werner worked on the farm in the 1960s.


  1. Still on vacation...happy, happy, Ronald! Awaiting your 'blogging' return :)


  2. Thanks for the visit...Wrapped up in too many things...Thanks for goading me!