In Search of the Perfect Tree

Hunter Steenhuis, 6, makes some last-minute checks on the tree

The little boy runs over to the tree


his

tree
– and peers up at it. Then he turns and runs back to a clearing,
gazing out at the rest of the trees and pointing the beam of his
flashlight on several of them, as if making sure the tree he’s
selected is better than all the rest.
The little boy runs over to the tree – “his” tree – and peers up at it. Then he turns and runs back to a clearing, gazing out at the rest of the trees and pointing the beam of his flashlight on several of them, as if making sure the tree he’s selected is better than all the rest. The distinct smell of Christmas trees permeates the air.

Isaiah Martinez, 4, returns to his tree at San Martin Christmas Tree Farm, reaching out a finger to touch the tip of a low branch. He is here with his mother, Sheena, and uncle, Jesse.

Like many South Valley residents, Isaiah is here with family to scout, select and cut the perfect Christmas tree. Visiting local Christmas tree farms has evolved into a tradition for several families, and it’s a tradition that tree-farm owners are happy to keep alive.

The Ludewig family has owned San Martin Christmas Tree Farm for almost 100 years. The farm was originally used to grow prunes, then cucumbers and for the last 27 years, Christmas trees.

Visitors walk through rows and rows of trees before selecting and cutting the tree they want to take home. The farm’s trees include pines, firs, redwoods and cedars, and they cost about $5 per foot.

Patrons also can play in two “Santa’s village” houses and take pictures in front of a Christmas mural. Children can ride on a miniature built-to-scale train that runs around part of the farm.

“This is a farm, so cutting these trees isn’t like cutting down the forest,” said Lynn Ludewig, one of the farm’s owners. “We plant new trees to replace all the trees that were cut down each year. Artificial trees take all kinds of chemicals to make, so we also think it’s much more environmentally friendly to come to our tree farm.”

Paul Battaglia, owner of Battaglia Ranch in San Martin, jokingly called artificial trees “the enemy.”

“You don’t want your boyfriend bringing you artificial roses, so would you want him to bring home an artificial tree? No,” he said. “Sure, some needles get into the carpet, but there’s love involved in real trees. They’re worth any hassle.”

Only 25 percent of the Christmas tree crop is harvested each year, and the other 75 percent is left to grow, Battaglia said. The trees are on a four-year rotation with the exception of noble firs, which are on a 10-year rotation.

The new trees are planted in February and shaped throughout the year to make sure they have the perfect Christmas tree shape. The trees must be shaped, or they will be too tall and “spindly,” Battaglia said, meaning there would be huge gaps between the trees’ branches.

Sapling trees are planted with time-released fertilizer packs, said Ken Ludewig, an owner and farmer at San Martin Christmas Tree Farm. Once the rainy season is over, the Ludewigs rely on an overhead sprinkler system to make sure the trees are well-watered.

“It’s just like any other garden; you’ve got to get the weeds out,” Ken said. “It’s amazing how many grow. It’s a constant battle to keep them down and prevent them from choking out the seedlings.”

Despite the labor that goes into growing nicely shaped, healthy Christmas trees, Lynn, Ken’s wife, said she enjoys helping to run the farm.

“You start to recognize families that come back year after year, and you watch their kids grow up,” she said. “It’s really neat, you know?”

Ken agreed, saying he found it rewarding to see his work take shape and bring joy to so many people.

“I look forward to feeling the seasons change every year,” he said. “I’m going to do this – knock on wood – until I can’t do it anymore. I think I’m pretty lucky, really blessed, to do this.”

Four-year-old Isaiah is one patron who just might return to the farm next year. When his mother asked if the tree he had chosen was the best out of all of them, the boy nodded vigorously, the beam of the flashlight bobbing up and down with the motion of his head.

The Martinezes decided on a noble fir because they think it’s the best kind of tree for hanging ornaments, Jesse said. Sheena pulled gently on a few branches, asking Jesse if he noticed any bald spots.

Come Christmas day, Isaiah said he’d like Santa to leave him some soda and toy cars under the tree they’ve just selected.

Another tree-scouter at the farm was 6-year-old Hunter Steenhuis, who had been asking his mother, Juli, if they could get a tree for about a week. Finally his family made the trip to the tree farm, and Hunter was antsy with excitement as he watched his mother and father debate whether the tree they selected will fit in the living room. He smiled, flashing a dimple in his right cheek.

Hunter likes everything about Christmas trees. He said he likes how they look, how they smell; he likes decorating them and he likes how lights look on the tree. Hunter hopes Santa will leave him a brand-new bike, even though it might not fit under the tree very well.

Chop Your Own Tree

To cut your own tree, visit one of these local Christmas tree farms:

Hollister

– Bourdet’s Christmas Trees

1271 Los Viboras Road

(831) 636-1971

San Martin

– Battaglia Ranch

13580 Murphy Ave.

(408) 683-4730

– San Martin Christmas Tree Farm

13865 Monterey Road

(408) 683-2368

Gilroy

– Uvas Tree Farm

11370 Watsonville Road

(408) 842-3746

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