- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

BAILEYVILLE, Ill. (AP) - If you still feel the need to find and harvest your own Christmas tree, Baileyville Christmas Trees can fill the bill.

In the early 1980s, Lori Blask and her husband Randy were renting six acres of pasture behind their home in unincorporated Baileyville, about eight miles south of Freeport in Ogle County.

“We were having some problems with calves breaking through fences and running off and we thought pine trees won’t run away, so let’s open a Christmas tree farm,” Lori Blask said.

They Blasks read up on pine trees and the methods for raising them. They grew their first little Scotch and White Pine seedlings on about an acre behind their house.

“We went out with spades and dug little holes, dropped the seedlings in and went on to the next one,” Blask said. “When they got big enough we started selling them on the weekends. We never did any advertising. We just put up a sign in the yard and people just started coming.”

Those first years were lean ones for the new business.

“When you only have an acre of trees you don’t cut every tree that first year,” Blask said. “We started out selling maybe 50 trees a year, but as they grew we had more to sell and things got busier.”

Lori said she and her husband grew tired of chasing calves back inside their fenced acreage and decided to turn all of the land over to tree farming.

“I remember when we first tried the extra acres we hired a tree planting company, but that wasn’t hands-on enough for us,” she said. “It was a bad year. It was a real rainy spring and we had the seedlings shipped to the planters. They kept them in cold storage for way too long so we had a bad survival rate.”

The Blasks lost time and money, but refused to give up. They replanted the whole six acres by hand. Then the real work began.

“People don’t realize, but Christmas trees are a whole lot more work in May, June and July than they are in December,” said Randy Blask. “Since we started we’ve met a lot of people who told us they were planting pines with the intention of raising Christmas trees, but they eventually just gave up.”

The first chore is to replant the trees that were sold over the holiday season or had died during the last year. Blask said that usually involves about 2,000 trees.

“We don’t sell that many, but between what we sell and what we lose, it runs close to 2,000 trees,” he said. “Then there is mowing and they have to be pruned to shape them like Christmas trees.”

There is also weed and pest control and repairs and upkeep to the little gift shop they’ve built. And when the Christmas season comes, the Blasks make wreaths and garland and the work never seems to end.

“We built the gift shop in 2001,” Lori said. “Before that we were just standing outside when people would come. Now we sell ornaments and gifts and supplies like tree skirts and bags. We make our own wreaths and rope.”

This year, Baileyville Christmas Trees added barn quilts to their gift shop wares. They cut, draw and paint the quilts themselves.

The Blasks serve complimentary warm spiced apple cider and homemade banana or pumpkin bread to take the chill off their lumberjack shoppers and kids are given gift bags.

Once you choose your tree, the Blasks provide saws so you can cut it down. They shake and wrap the tree and carry it out to your car.

“We also have measuring sticks so folks can get a better idea of just how much tree they are taking home before they cut it down,” she said. “The trees always look bigger when you get them in your living room, so we help with that, too.”

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Source: The (Freeport) Journal-Standard, https://bit.ly/1uLeAf9

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Information from: The Journal-Standard, https://www.journalstandard.com/jshome.taf


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