For the first time in the history of each group, the Eastern North Carolina Christmas Tree Association and the South Carolina Christmas Tree Association will combine their annual fall meetings, gathering today and Saturday at one western Lincoln County tree farm.
While most people have been anticipating the fall season’s popular pumpkin-flavored goodies, cooler weather and colorful leaves, the Helms Christmas Tree Farm in Vale has been preparing for the year’s largest educational meeting for tree farms.
Owner Henry Helms said he volunteered for this year’s host position in February, a job that could have been given to any other one of the more than 300 Christmas tree farms throughout the Carolinas.
The particular Lincoln County farm last hosted the event five years ago but only for the Eastern N.C. Christmas Tree Association’s meeting.
The two groups opted to come together this time around as a push for increased coordination between the associations.
The primary purpose of the fall meeting is to “bolster a better relationship among farms,” Helms said, as well as teach tree growers the specifics of the trade.
“It’s an educational program to find out what’s new and what works on different types of trees,” Helms said.
The meeting will focus on the tree shearing process and chemical types for preventing fungi and keeping insects at bay.
Kelly Ivors, associate professor and extension plant pathologist at N.C. State University, will speak about diseases that affect the Leyland Cypress species, one of seven different tree types sold at the Helms property.
Other varieties sold include White Pine, Red Cedar and Carolina Sapphire.
Helms said while insects are prone to get into any shrub or tree, the variety of species differs from year to year at the farm.
“Our job is to be in the field and watch for the signs and know how to treat (the trees) if and when they (insects) come,” Helms said.
He noted the purpose of the yearly meeting is to teach people “how to scout and take appropriate action” for spotting and removing pesky bugs.
The rainy weather earlier this summer proved both harmful and beneficial to the farm, warding off insects, Helms said, but growing more fungi.
Officials with the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services’ Mountain Research Station in Waynesville will also be on-hand for this year’s event, Helms said.
He and his wife Trudy have owned the Helms farm since 1975.
However, Henry Helms has been in the business for more than six decades, he said.
Before opening the Vale tree farm, he worked at a similar facility in Sparta.
He said his attraction to the trade is its laid-back quality.
“It’s a nice lifestyle,” he said. “If it didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have done it as many years as I have.”
While Henry does all the cultural practices associated with the business, taking care of the trees and blueberries, which the farm harvests each spring, Trudy helps with sales.
The couple’s grandsons also assist with various agricultural responsibilities.
Each year, the farm sells between 1,200 and 1,500 trees as families and other individuals flock to the area for a chance to cut down their own.
“It doesn’t get fresher than that,” Helms said.
While the farm only sells Christmas trees around the winter holidays — starting the week before Thanksgiving — the operation stays busy throughout the year.
“It’s a 12-month job,” Helms said.
Due to Thanksgiving’s late arrival this year, he anticipates a shorter sale season.
Once the Christmas season concludes, he and other workers will pull the tree stumps, replant, fertilize, mow grass and spray pesticides as needed.
Helms pointed out how he tries to spray as little as possible, using a minimal amount of chemicals on his property.
Twice a year, the trees are sheared including once each in June and October.
Area residents may also attend this year’s fall meeting and enjoy a number of family-friendly activities including a pig-picking, fiddling and farm tours.
Festivities will commence 2 p.m. today and continue 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.
To purchase tickets, call (704) 276-1835. Tickets may also be purchased at the farm both event days.
For more information on the local Christmas tree farm, visit helmschristmastreefarm.com.