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Growing memories

Mission Christmas tree farmer Bryan Bouchir and his family have just come through the busiest time of their year. - JASON ROESSLE/ABBOTSFORD NEWS
Mission Christmas tree farmer Bryan Bouchir and his family have just come through the busiest time of their year.
— image credit: JASON ROESSLE/ABBOTSFORD NEWS

Buying a Christmas tree is an annual tradition for millions of families. And while each tree is unique, the sentiments it inspires are universal.

The fresh, sweet smell permeates the room, evoking memories of Christmases past. Dense needles and strong branches support treasured ornaments, while rows of delicate lights create a festive visual display.

But what did it take for that tree to arrive in the family room?

It started with efforts by people like the Bouchirs, who have owned and operated a Christmas tree farm on their Hatzic Prairie property for decades.

This year about 20 per cent of the family's 1,000 trees went out the door by Nov. 21, a week earlier than normal.

"Dec. 10 is about the latest that we'll be selling to wholesalers," said Bryan Bouchir.

And while the business is seasonal, the work involved is a year-round endeavour.

It begins in January. Tree stumps are pulled and the soil is tilled across the eight fields, which encompass 12 acres.

Tree farmer Bryan Bouchir.As March and April roll around, strings are run and trees are planted.

"With three people we can usually plant [about 1,000 trees] in two days," said Bouchir, who works alongside his son John, and other members of the family. Larger farms have machines that can plant up to 4,000 trees a day.

In spring, the trees are fertilized and the lowest branches of sufficiently mature trees are cut away, which promotes air circulation and creates a good base on which a tree stand can be affixed.

Grass grows between the trees and is mowed at least a couple of times a season. The fields are sprayed to stave off insect infestations.

During July and August, the Bouchirs are trimming and pruning.

"Each tree gets about four or five prunings throughout its life," he said.

After nine months of effort, inventory starts, and sales are set up with customers.

"We cut as late as possible to ensure freshness," said Bouchir. The busiest time on the farm is between Nov. 26 and Dec. 5, when it's non-stop cutting, mechanical shaking (to remove loose needles) and readying the trees for pick-up.

While the competitive threat has subsided over the past few years, trees grown and imported from the United States have sold to retailers for much cheaper than local producers can afford to sell.

"In some cases, [the imported trees] are cut older, and in some cases they're seconds. But some are decent. I can't knock them all," said Bouchir, who is the president of the B.C. Christmas Tree Council, and the membership chairman of the Southwest B.C. Christmas Tree Association.

Compounding the problem, according to Bouchir, B.C.'s 420 Christmas tree producers only grow about 85 per cent of the volume required to meet the demand.

"Some stores are buying local trees, and I haven't heard of any problems this year."

In fact, he has heard of four U-cut Christmas tree operations in the Fraser Valley which have sold out this season.

The Bouchirs have grown all varieties over the years, including Nobles, which are "the Cadillac of trees," said Bouchir. But mostly the farm is populated with Fraser firs.

"They grow nice, and they hold their needles," he said. "My personal taste is that I like the Fraser firs better. They're a more marketable tree."

Tree farmer Bryan Bouchir.

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