Chopping evergreen becomes family holiday experience
Tree farms grow tradition
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Ripley County residents don’t have to go far to have an old fashioned Christmas experience. Two farms in Ripley County are in the business of selling Christmas memories and family traditions. Sheets Tree Farm, on N. County Road 200 E, off of Mudpike Road in Osgood, is celebrating over 50 years of providing evergreens for the region. And, relatively new to the experience, being in their fifth year, is the Brown-Abplanalp Tree farm, on 500 North, off of Michigan Road in Osgood.
MARY MATTINGLY PHOTO
At left, Kebe Sheets and Evan Braun prepare to stake a chopped evergreen.
The snow this past weekend actually turned out to be an attraction for the most part, adding to the postcard picture experience.
“It’s beautiful! This will help our business. People love to get trees in the snow,” Diana Sheets said on Friday as the snow fell. She’s married to Kebe, who has carried on the tree farm business from his parents Gayle and Lenna.
The two teachers started it as a sideline business on the 340 acre family homestead in 1963, and literally grew the business. Their claim to fame is one of their trees was chosen for the White House Christmas display in 1968. Today, the 40 acres of planted evergreens will go to about 1,000 homes. Both tree farm businesses opens the weekend after Thanksgiving.
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At right, Roger Abplanalp and Warren Brown pull a cut pine tree on the tree property.
On the opposite end of town, Roger Abplanalp and Warren Brown, also operate a seasonal tree farm on Brown’s property, but on a much smaller scale than the Sheets’. Brown enjoyed his work on a tree farm in Bartholomew County, when he was a teen, and with his hilly property, he figured it would work well for raising evergreens. He was right. Abplanalp partners with him, and they have eight acres of mainly scotch pine trees. They too recognize it’s the actual activity that is the main attraction, maybe more so than the product.
“If snow doesn’t put them in the mood, nothing would! It is pretty,” Abplanalp acknowledged. “It’s not as much to do with the tree, but you know, with the kids and all. They like to pick it out. One group took a family picture for their Christmas card,” Abplanalp said. The Rusty and Gina Kern family from Milan was continuing a family tradition they started about 13 years ago. On Saturday, with some six inches of snow on the ground but a sunny day, the three teenage daughters were all rosy cheeked and smiles, after selecting the perfect tree at Sheets. “It has to be beautiful! And just right,” their daughter said.
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Pictured left, evergreen wreaths are made at Brown-Abplanalp tree farm in Osgood.
Diana Sheets recognizes some regulars have been coming for 30 or 40 years, bringing the next generation of Christmas tree naturalists. “It’s a family tradition. We hear stories,” she said. Last year, they had a first: a marriage proposal. “It is very romantic. It’s picturesque, and it really is a beautiful property,” she said, mentioning the ponds, set amongst the hills. (The farm was recognized as a Hoosier Homestead property, a farm in operation for 150 years.)
More than trees are sold at both farms. Brown and Abplanalp’s wives and family have got in on the act, making wreaths from scraps of evergreen. The 10 and 16 inch natural wreaths have gone over well. They add pine cones and ribbons, whatever people might like. Some prefer to add their own when they get home. Sheets also sells garland and wreaths and has a machine for netting the tree, making it easier for travel. Abplanalp said they hope to have a netter next year. He got his wreath machine from a Brookville family in the tree business.
Not a 'Charlie Brown' tree
Many tree operations like the Sheets even dye the evergreens in the fall because people prefer the dark green color over the natural olive color. Brown says it’s also because operations sell the trees commercially and that means cutting in late September. Abplanalp said their niche is natural, and they don’t intervene with Mother Nature.
One couple at the Sheets ‘ farm after Thanksgiving were at odds on the perfect tree and actually spent five hours trying to decide. “I guess beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. They went from one field to the other, back and forth trying to decide and agree,” Diana Sheets said.
The Sheets take visitors on a wagon to a field of trees on the property. Abplanalp, on the other hand, will leave a handsaw and a jar in a small shed for the $15 flat fee to those who come, when they are not around to help. Sheets’ pines start around $35 and $55 for the popular shorter-needled fir trees.
Both Sheets and Abplanalp said the drought in 2012 had little effect on their business. If anything, a few of the younger trees might have perished. It takes about seven years for an evergreen to mature, longer if they are fir trees, which is why the cost is more. Brown, who is a butcher at JayC in the day, said he initially planted 1,200 trees to an acre, but found that it’s better to plant fewer per acre. Once they reach seven feet tall, they really take off, he noted.
Trees are a good business to be in at this time of year. “If you have to be in retail at Christmas time, this is the type of retail to be in. It’s just happy!” Sheets commented.
And it seems it’s here to stay. The more time from the so-called “old-fashioned Christmas” the more people want to replicate the picture-perfect country scene. The tree farms expect to see more visitors this weekend, but it will wind down as Dec. 25 approaches. Both Brown and Sheets said they have had one or two people knock on their door on Christmas Eve to get a tree in the last 10 years, but most like to have the centerpiece of the home decorations way before then.
Phone line specifically for road updates
State police want people to be aware of road conditions in the winter, but have a special phone line set up for that purpose.
People are asked to avoid calling state, county, and local law enforcement dispatch centers to get road and weather updates during inclement weather days. Police encourage them to get their road and weather updates from TV and/or radio news. Also, there are apps out there for smart phones that will give road and weather updates and they can also go online and access the INDOT road condition site at www.trafficwise.in.gov or call one of the following numbers for road conditions:
• Indiana 800-261-7623
• Kentucky 800-459-7623
• Ohio 888-264-7623