Jon Mumma didn't take over Hidden Pines tree farm in Port Byron until 2010, but he's been growing Christmas trees there since he was a child.|
"Pretty much as soon as I could carry a bucket of tree saplings I was out there helping," he said.
Mr. Mumma's father planted the first trees at Hidden Pines in 1973. Though he worked full-time at John Deere, he was looking for something to do outside on the weekends. "He got in the Christmas spirit. It was one of his favorite times of the year."
With a grove of pine trees, firs and spruces for a backyard, and customers flocking to the house during the holidays, Mr. Mumma had a different childhood than most. The entire family planted, cared for, and sold the trees surrounding their home in the country.
As adults, Mr. Mumma and his siblings continued to return home for the weekends with their families to help with the trees.
When his father passed away in 2009, Mr. Mumma already had the knowledge and experience needed to take over the cut-your-own Christmas tree business. He and his family moved into the house where he up, and where Christmas trees were part of his life year round.
The Mummas grow a variety of trees including Blue Spruce, Fraser Fir, Douglas Fir, Concolor Fir, Scotch Pine, White Pine and Red Pine.
Mr. Mumma said the spruce and fir trees, which have short needles, have been gaining in popularity over pines in recent years, so he has gradually reduced the number of pine trees planted because they're more labor-intensive, require more pruning, and have been more susceptible to disease.
As for his own preferences, Mr. Mumma tends to lean toward the firs and spruces as well. "The Fraser Firs are really nice trees," he said. "They have short needles that don't poke you and strong arms, which are good for holding ornaments."
The Concolor Firs, another popular variety, are different because of their unique aroma. "They don't smell like traditional spruces or firs," said Mr. Mumma's wife, Carrie, who has spent many years at the farm since she and Jon were high-school sweethearts."They have almost a citrus smell, like a lemon or an orange."
Like the Fraser Firs, their needles aren't as sharp, and both varieties tend to hold their needles well, a desirable Christmas tree quality.
Besides the holidays, the trees demand more attention two other times of the year. April means planting season at Hidden Pines. Mr. Mumma buys saplings from a nursery, and they're planted by hand about a foot from the stumps of previous trees.
Christmas trees tend to grow about a foot a year, so the trees planted in April likely will not sell for several years until they're 6- to 7-feet tall.
The other busy time is around June when the Mummas prune the trees, removing leaders and shaping them to look like Christmas trees. They hire three or four high school students to help during the busy seasons.
The rest of the year, the Mummas do general maintenance at the tree farm, such as mowing and clearing out dead trees. Fortunately, the trees aren't as labor intensive as some traditional farm crops.
"They're pretty hardy trees," Mr. Mumma said. "They can grow in clay, soil, pretty much anything. They don't need a lot of water."
Though evergreens tend to be hardy, Mr. Mumma said they still were affected by the drought this year. He lost quite a few saplings, which have the hardest time during drought. Those losses may lead to a slimmer selection of trees a few years down the road.
In general, however, water isn't a big issue, he said. "If Christmas trees are dying, you know it's a bad drought."
As the trees grow and the years go by, some trees get too big to sell. The Mummas usually select one of the larger trees for their living room, which has a vaulted ceiling.
The other large trees may find their way into homes in a different shape. Last year, Mr. Mumma donated those trees to his cousin's Boy Scout troop to use in making wreaths for their annual fundraiser. "They sold so many wreathes, they came back three times for more greens," he said.
Mr. Mumma said he often has a big pile of greens from trees they've cut down for customers to use on fireplaces and around their houses.
"When I was a kid, I used to sell them for 50 cents or a quarter and make money on the side that way," he said.
The best part of the business for the Mummas is selling the trees. Every weekend from Thanksgiving to Christmas, the family gets together at Hidden Pines. Ms. Mumma and other family members plan a menu for the season and cook a big lunch for all the workers.
"The food is the best part," Mr. Mumma said jokingly.
A lot of times, he said they see the same customers come to buy trees year after year. "They bring their kids and dogs and have a picnic. They throw a football around, drink hot chocolate and pick out a tree."
Now the Mumma's daughters, ages 3 and 7, are starting to take part in the experience, serving hot cocoa and popcorn to customers.
On top of all the work on trees at Hidden Pines, Mr. Mumma works full-time for the HON Company in Muscatine, and Ms. Mumma works for State Farm Insurance.
Hidden Pines is at 4614 221st St. N., Port Byron. Hours are 8 a.m.to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Christmas.
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