Rabbits eating your crop, £300 trees, 100-hour weeks: What it's like to run a Christmas tree farm

by Super User
Rob Morgan works 100-hour weeks in the run-up to Christmas when he sells 15,000 trees in a month The countdown to Christmas is officially on. And, if you haven’t already done so, many of you will likely be putting up your trees this weekend. But have you ever wondered what it’s like on a Christmas tree farm? This farm is one of the largest Christmas tree growers in Wales, selling 15,000 a year. Owner of Gower Fresh Christmas Santa Trees in Three Crosses, Rob Morgan, planted his first tree in 1997. The farm itself holds half a million trees. As well as trees, there’s also a Santa’s grotto that features elves, reindeers and Santa himself. “A lot of people think that we do nothing in the year and that the trees just grow naturally – all year we are very busy. “I have four full-time staff that work all year round. The main jobs are keeping the weeds and bugs down and pruning the trees,” Mr Morgan said.

“The key to producing a good quality Santa tree is just putting a lot of time and effort into shaping them. “I work all year in the farm. I’m in the trees every week looking for bugs and I’m with the reindeers every day. “I’m also doing leaf and soil tests. We are out in all weather conditions, sun,rain and snow. “In January and February we plant around 50,000 trees. “It’s a race against the season – in the summer we will label the trees ready for winter and we have got the grotto to put together. “I import my seeds from Canada – that goes to a plant nursery for four years, then the plant goes into the ground for eight years, so from seed to sale you are looking at 12 years. “It takes eight years for a 7ft tree to grow. People think they turn up and we plant a tree and next year it is 8ft but sadly that’s not how it works. “When I planted my first tree I didn’t think that anything would ever happen but now I’m surrounded by half a million trees.”

The Christmas tree Santa farm opens in the middle of November every year. The pressure is on for Mr Morgan to make as much money as he can during the one month of the year that his business is open. Mr Morgan, 43, said: “I work 100-hour weeks. It’s intense because the pressure is on to make as much money as you can. “It’s scary – in four weeks we make all our money and then we have to budget for the year. “I usually wake up at 6am but I will wake up at 2am and worry for two hours and go back to bed. I’m worried that people are going to try and steal them as well as orders going out to customers – you just want everything right for families. “Trees have gone missing in the past. It’s stressful but I do yoga and go to the beach. “I have 65 staff working for me during the Christmas period. We sell around 15,000 Christmas trees every year.

“We cut trees as you need them so they are as fresh as you’re going to get. People travel from England to choose a tree and have a day out. “Sometimes people are here for hours. We wrap the trees in netting and advise people on what tree to get – you can choose one from the shed or wander across the fields and choose one for yourself. “We plan all year just for one month and once we open everything has to be perfect. “The prices range from £5 to £300. The oldest tree we have got on land is 20ft – they grow about a foot a year. “We sell trees up until we close on Christmas Eve. The Germans celebrate Christmas a lot later so they will put their trees up last minute so they can have the perfect tree. “I do like Christmas but in the last week my smile does wear off slightly – it’s hard and intense, my phone and emails never stop. “After Christmas Eve everything shuts down – it takes about a week to relax.

This week Mr Morgan delivered a tree to 10 Downing Street after winning a competition. “I’m a member of the British Christmas Tree Growers’ Association – there’s 500 members across UK and Ireland and each year we take a tree and enter it into a competition and the winner of that presents the tree to Downing Street. “In 2014 I came runner-up but this year I won and it’s the first time a Welsh tree will be outside Downing Street. “On Wednesday I will be going up to meet the Prime Minister and the lights will be turned on,” he said.

Mr Morgan is the fifth generation of his family to farm the land. When he took over the farm, as it was then, he had the idea to plant Christmas trees. “Before this it was quite a big business with sheep and cattle but the way farming was going it was getting harder and harder so I had an idea to plant some Christmas trees as I thought there was a gap in the market.

“People thought I was crazy but it grew from there. No-one backed it as such – all the local farmers thought it was crazy – but I was persistent. “All the rabbits ate the first ones I planted and I over-fertilised them but I kept going. It opened eight years later and it just went on from there. “I started off clueless – no-one gave me much help or backed me on the idea but I just kept planting. “When it first opened I sat in the car park on a sofa and I put a sign up to say ‘Christmas trees for sale’. I had 450 to sell and I sold them within a week and I was amazed by that. “The trees we get brought back to us after Christmas we just recycle and spread back on the lands, providing growth for everything else. “As much as the reindeers enjoy being fed loads of food I think they enjoy the peace and quiet as well once we close for the year.

“When I sold all the cattle to grow trees it felt empty without animals so I bought two reindeers and now I’ve got 30. “I do love my job and it’s a beautiful place to work but It’s nice to have a break from the trees sometimes. “But you just keep smiling.”

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