BRUSH PRAIRIE — On a recent weekday the week before Thanksgiving, Christmas music was already blaring over the loudspeakers at Larwick Christmas Tree Farm.
While tunes like “Joy to the World” and “Baby it’s Cold Outside” played, Jane Larwick and husband, Loran, got busy getting their 20-acre Christmas tree farm ready for the impending crowds looking for the perfect — or maybe not-so-perfect — tree.
Jane Larwick, who fancies decorating, pinpointed what she deemed to be an unsellable tree. After more than five years growing, the tree would be turned into a decorative prop for photo ops.
“This is a sad tree. I know it won’t sell. It’s lost its needles here. We cut it up over the years, and it’s just not going to come back at all,” Larwick said. “But I can take the tree and throw (fake) snow on him, and I can decorate him, and he will be perfect.”
She and her husband, both 65, have owned the farm for 31 years. They opened the U-cut tree farm 25 years ago, they said.
Loran revved up his chain saw and cut the tree down. The two worked together to determine where to cut off the trunk, then Jane got to decorating.
“With Charlie Brown trees, you have to have imagination,” she said, decorating the tree with large pinecones she brought home from a trip to Lake Tahoe. “See, it looks kind of pretty now.”
She was referring to the popular 1965 TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” in which Charlie Brown, frustrated with the holiday commercialism, decides to purchase a tiny, wilted tree to use as decoration in a Christmas play.
“The weird thing is, especially the last several years, we have people who will come and ask for a Charlie Brown tree. Everybody wants something different. So we have to be careful,” Loran said.
A long haul
For those peeved by Christmas decorations appearing in big-box stores as early as October, operating a Christmas tree farm would probably be a personal hell.
“It takes eight to 10 years to grow a tree to sell it. You’re kind of in it for the long haul,” Loran said.
“Christmas for us starts the first part of November,” Jane said. “We have already ordered all of our seedlings for next year. We ordered those in March.”
The two operate the farm, which has approximately 18,000 trees in the ground, on their own — that is, until the weekends they open for business to the public. Then they wrangle in their family members, including their children, to help run the U-cut business.
“On the weekends, we have five guys and four girls (working) per day. I feed everybody. I start usually the first part of November, and I cook hamburger and ham, and roast beef and pulled pork,” Jane said as she pulled out wreaths that still needed bows. In addition to the trees, the farm sells wreaths. Jane also sells Christmas-themed knickknacks out of two sheds fashioned as “Santa shops.”
“I put bows on everything. All my bows are made. I whipped those out almost a month ago. I grab a wreath; I find what I consider to be the prettiest part of it. I’m a strange numbers person so everything I do is in fives. I do five of one color, five of another,” she said, tightening a bow.
“Her shop is usually all her. She’s got two Santa shops here; she loves that. Matter of fact, I don’t think she really cares if she sells Christmas trees or not. The only reason she does Christmas trees with me is so she can do her Santa shops. That’s her love,” Loran said.
The wreaths sold used to be made from trimmings of trees at the farm, but the couple scaled back this year and are using wreaths from the Shelton area.
“We’re cutting back all the time as we get older,” Loran said.
The business also isn’t open as often as it used to be — but that’s not necessarily by choice.
“We’re probably going to cut it at between 1,200 to 1,500 trees (this year),” Jane said. “Unfortunately, this year, all of our advertising says we’ll be closed Dec. 9.”
“We’re hoping we can make it till then,” Loran said. “Last year a lot of farms closed early. There’s a shortage, so what happens is, we’ll get busier.”
The shortage in the Pacific Northwest, as the Columbian reported in 2018, is in large part because of the Great Recession.
The Larwicks expect to sell out of their Christmas tree stock very quickly, as more customers — including millennials who have apparently changed preference from artificial trees to real trees, according to the New York Times — flock to their U-cut farm.
“I think, it’s mom drags dad out here and the kids and it could be muddy, and it could be wet and everybody loves to see Dad get down and cut the tree. And everybody goes ‘timber!’ I think it’s just people like to get out, they like to do things,” Jane said, of why people enjoy the U-cut experience. “Good Lord willin’ and the river don’t rise, we’re going to do this as long as we possibly can.”