DOE RUN — Gary and Jackie Beck spend a good portion of each year getting ready for the Christmas season.
The owners of Beck’s Tree Farm, located at 3073 Route B in Doe Run, keep a busy schedule with little downtime, especially during the months of November and December. Not only do the Becks plant and care for acres of trees — most sold as Christmas trees — but they also make and sell wreaths, roping and garlands, as well as offer a wide range of Christmas-themed products in their on-site store.
Gary, 57, has worked on the tree farm started by his Uncle Paul since he was a young boy.
“My dad helped my uncle with the farm since he lived in Alaska at the time,” Gary explains. “Then I got involved. I was here when the trees were first planted.”
“I think we still have a newspaper story written about the farm when Gary’s uncle owned it,” adds Jackie.
Beck stops to tell the story of how a reporter visited the farm to do the story and began talking to Paul about Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, a pathetic seedling made famous in the perennial holiday TV special.
“When the story came out the reporter had mistakenly referred to my uncle as Charlie Brown instead of by his own name,” says Gary with a chuckle. “He now lives in Boise, Idaho.
Jackie arrived on the scene 28 years ago when Paul was looking for someone to make greenery and wreathes. Not only was she hired for the job, but she also became Gary’s wife and is still making roping, garland and wreaths to this day.
After Paul moved out of state, Gary’s father took over operation of the farm until the day it was passed down to his son.
Today, Gary says the business is thriving despite a weak economy and a serious drought that has affected the entire nation over the past couple of years.
“Last year all the seedlings we had planted over the past three years died,” he says, adding, “But it also dried up all the brown spot disease in our mature trees.”
Brown spot fungus attacks 28 species of pine trees grown in Christmas tree plantations in the north- and mid-central states. Thousands of dollars are lost annually by Christmas tree growers because of the fungus that causes needle drop, making trees unsellable.
“You can’t hardly spray to get rid of it,” explains Gary. “The spray is activated by rain, but the rain washes it off the trees. Because of the drought we didn’t have any tree growth this year.”
Beck’s Tree Farm sells Balsam and Fraser Fir they buy from other growers. Fir trees are easily recognized by the way their cones face up rather than down like other cone-bearing trees.
We can’t grow them,” says Gary. “We also sell Scotch Pines that are very popular.”
He says that in years past the farm has had as many as 60,000 trees — there are 16,000 in the ground now.
“You can put 900 trees to an acre when they’re planted,” Gary said. “We have 30 acres set aside for Christmas.”
He says there are some positive signs he’s seeing after several lean years in the business.
“I don’t know if it’s that the economy is getting better or just what, but I’ve had more people call for wholesale trees this year than I can remember,” he says.
Gary explains that the Christmas tree business isn’t for the impatient. It takes time — lots of it.
“It’s seven to 10 years before you cut the first tree out of the field,” he says.
Once a tree is purchased, it’s placed on a shaker to remove loose needles and other debris. Then it’s pulled through a netter to make it easier and safer to transport.
Beck’s Tree Farm opens each year on the day after Thanksgiving.
“But we started this year on the 10th of November hauling trees and getting the greenery ready. We’re wanting to get a 10 x 20 walk-in cooler so we can start even earlier. We’ll be winding everything down by Dec. 20 because most people have bought their Christmas trees by then,” Gary says. “We’ll have a few procrastinators, though. Right now is our busiest time, especially with the weather being nice.”
On the first day of December the tree farm hosted Santa Claus on the grounds and offered other enticements to bring out families. It isn’t too hard. This time of year most everybody’s Christmas tree shopping.
“On a busy day we have sold 200 trees, but we didn’t see that last year,” says Gary. “This year we’ll run out of trees.”
In addition to Christmas trees, wreaths, garlands and roping, the farm sells a Christmas tree preservative, tree disposal bags and lots of other “Christmasy” items.
“We try to find things you won’t find in other stores,” explains Jackie. “We spend all year trying to find different things. We search the country over.”
She adds that one of the most popular items for the past two years has been little coloring gift bags for children.
“We’re trying to get people to take it at a slower pace,” Jackie continued. “Take a deep breath and slow down. Yes, Christmas is coming up, but you need to enjoy it. We want to promote the symbolic meanings, traditions and folklore associated with Christmas.”
Gary adds, “We say ‘Our trees are your tradition’ is our motto.”
Jackie agrees, saying the motto speaks to the most important thing she and her husband are trying to accomplish.
“We want to bring back family values,” she says. “We’ve had a family come out to get their Christmas trees for 25 years. The parents used to come out with their little boys to pick out a tree and cut it down with a bow saw. Now those little boys are grown up and are coming here with their children to pick out a tree while the mothers are back at the house getting things ready for them to bring it home.”
Beck’s Tree Farm is on Facebook — under Beck’s Christmas Tree Farm — and can be reached by phone at 573-756-4396. The farm is open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. through the Christmas season.
Kevin R. Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 114 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.