With the last name Wiseman, it should be no surprise that this family ended up in a business that’s centered on Christmas. However, it wasn’t the family’s first use of the property. Purchased in 1963 by Bruce Wiseman’s parents, the original 130-acre farm was used for cattle, food crops and hay. Wiseman was a junior in high school at the time. After high school, he followed in his father’s footsteps and went into a career with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. He married Nicki, a Clark County native. Together, they traveled to several states over the years with his job. He also joined the Army for three years during the Vietnam War, though he stayed stateside.
After the war, the second to last place Wiseman was sent by Fish & Wildlife was to Lakeview, Oregon. It was there that he met the Christmas tree farmer who planted the seed for their future. He would become the couple’s mentor in the tree growing business.
The Wisemans were then transferred back here to Ridgefield, where he managed the Ridgefield National Wildlife Reservation. “Nicki’s grandfather actually owned the first piece of property that they bought for that wildlife reservation,” Bruce shares.
It was in 1980 that the couple decided to plant their first Christmas trees — Douglas Fir, Noble and Grand — on his father’s property. He would spend the next 13 years working at the reservation, growing trees and raising five daughters – Wendi, Angie, Amy and twins Sara and Racheal. Now he concentrates solely on the farm. He and his wife have the additional help of 13 grandchildren to take care of the now 30-acre farm that raises between 35-40,000 Christmas trees. They appropriately named the place The Tree Wisemans.
Raising Christmas Trees
Visiting their farm is liking stepping into Christmas. Nicki had a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie on. Several grandchildren and a daughter or two were already there, bustling like elves as they prepared for their busiest season of the year. All were cheerful.
But it’s not like they are dormant the other 10 months of the year. Raising Christmas trees is a year-round job, and it’s not an easy one.
It starts with seedlings from nurseries. The nurseries plant the seeds in a seed bed or a Styrofoam container. Those seeds then grow for two to three years before they are purchased by tree farmers like the Wisemans. “We have rabbit problems here, and those little seedlings aren’t very big, so it’s like setting the table for them,” says Bruce. “We try to buy as big of a seedling as we can.”
Once the Wisemans get the seedlings, they plant them in the ground. It will be another five or six years before they can harvest a Douglas or a Grand Fir. It takes a couple more years for the Noble, Frasers and Nordmanns to be ready to fulfill their destiny as a Christmas tree. “As you can see, it’s a get rich quick business,” laughs Nicki, reflecting on that first year when they planted all seedlings. They had to wait six long years for the first trees to be tall enough to sell.
Meanwhile, they were spending time and money, making sure the trees grew healthy and in the right shape to be the centerpiece for a family’s Christmas. “You don’t just stick them in the ground and come back in six years,” says Bruce. “I think a lot of people think that, that it’s a piece of cake,” adds Nicki. “And, trust us, even though we belonged to the associations and had a good mentor, you learn by doing all the wrong things. How we grow a tree now is a lot different than when we first started out.”
When the trees are three to four years old, they start “culturing” them. The Wisemans explain that this is how they affect the trees’ growth so they are full with lots of branches. “If you look at a fir in the wild, it has big spaces, like 12 inches, between boughs,” says Nicki. “But people don’t want that for a Christmas tree, they want their trees thick and full.” To get that affect, they have to go through the young trees and individually cut the tops off as well as the longer branches, to force the growth inside. When they first started out, Nicki spent long full days with handheld pruning shears and a ladder, doing each tree herself.
At this age, they also try and do “basel pruning,” or, as the grandkids call it, “putting a handle on the tree.” This is when you cut the bottom branches off to have about an 8” space between the ground and the first bough. “This makes it really easy to cut the tree down and also gives you a stump to put into the tree stand,” says Bruce. It’s not a fun job. Done correctly, it only needs to be done once, but in order to do so, someone has to get down under each tree and cut the branches flush to the trunk. “Our kids grew up doing handles and now our grandkids do it. It’s not their favorite job by any means,” adds Nicki, “but we have all done it.”
As the new tops grow on the trees, they are not always straight. In fact, most are not. “That’s the first thing people look at when they pick out a tree – is the top straight?” explains Bruce. In order to make sure they are, he and his family spend countless more hours tying bamboo rods to the tops of the trees to ensure they’re straight for the stars or angels.
The soil is also important in raising healthy trees. Christmas tree farmers monitor the pH levels, especially (it needs to be elevated) and test the soil every other year. Then they have a special fertilizer made for the soil levels. “When we get the fertilizer, we go out and literally, one handful at a time, spread it around each tree’s base, along with lime to keep the pH up,” says Bruce. Since he is a smaller farm, he can’t clear cut a field to fertilize using a machine. It’s all done by hand.
And, of course, they have to protect against pests and diseases that can ruin not just one tree, but an entire crop. This is an on-going job that involves spraying when needed, as well as watching for signs of pests and disease by inspecting the trees.
The Wisemans Tips on Making a Christmas Tree Last Till Christmas
1. Either put it immediately in water when you get home, or make a fresh cut if it’s been sitting in your garage a few days.
2. Lots of Water. The tree should never run out of water.
3. Place away from any fireplaces, as the heat dries them out quicker.
4. Avoid placing near heating vents and/or close any near the tree, as they also dry them out.
But their hard work pays off. The Christmas trees at The Tree Wisemans are stunning. When decked for the holidays, these trees will be the focal point of holiday festivities throughout the county.
The Tree Wisemans used to sell wholesale trees, including shipping to California, but now they focus on their U-cut operation. They have already had a few early-birds come and pick out their trees. They also stock a gift shop filled with wreaths, wooden snowmen and reindeer with fresh boughs for antlers that have been assembled by the whole family, right down to the youngest granddaughter who is five years old. You can purchase espresso and hot chocolate to stay toasty and in the Christmas spirit.
If you are looking for the tree that smells the best, choose a Grand. One sniff of those needles, and I was converted. I grew up with artificial trees, but this year we will be back to The Tree Wiseman’s for a Grand. Stop by and select a tree for your family; just save a Grand for me! The U-cut farm officially opens the day after Thanksgiving each year and stays open until December 24. For pricing and more information, visit The Tree Wisemans website and their Facebook page.
The Tree Wisemans
26500 NE 53rd Ave.
Weekends: 8:00 a.m. to dark
Weekdays: 10:00 a.m. to dark