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News Articles

Country Folks Grower
Western Edition - October 2010

Bear Canyon Tree Farm
Committed to producing high quality trees

by Kelly Gates

  Bear Canyon Tree Farm of Cinebar, WA is renowned for its high quality Christmas trees, most notably, its Noble firs. The company founder, Charley Burton, was actually the first grower in the state of Washington to plant Nobles for use as Christmas trees. His initial crop of seedlings went into the ground in 1949.
  According to Barbara Burres, Burton’s daughter and current co-owner of Bear Canyon Tree Farm, the specie still remains a staple there today.
  “Approximately 80 percent of our trees are nobles,” she told Country Folks Grower. “The remaining 20 percent are a mix of Douglas, Grand and Frasier firs as well as Nordmann and Canaan, two species we have added to the mix in recent years.”
  When Burres took over her father’s farm in 1989, there were 100 acres in production. She quickly increased the size to 200 acres and during the next few decades, even more land was purchased or leased.  
  By the time her son Jason and his wife Sophia joined the business a few years ago, there were 300 acres of trees to tend to-some owned, some leased-within a 15 mile radius of the home farm.
  The second and third generation of family members now work side-by-side throughout the seasons, managing tasks like planting, mowing, sheering and harvesting.
  “We start planting anywhere between February and May, depending on the weather,” said Burres. “Because quality is our main focus, we plant every tree by hand using a shovel. This allows us to make sure that nothing is too crowded and that each tree is planted properly into the ground.”
  One- or two-year old seedling plugs are used when planting Douglas firs, Frasiers, Grands, Nordmanns and Canaans. However, around one half of the Noble trees planted there each year are grafted from trees from an onsite seed orchard started by Burton many years ago.  
  The orchard contains trees hand-selected by Burton and eventually, his daughter, for their magnificent shape, hardiness, needle shape, color and disease resistance.
  According to Burres, the orchard is a unique collection of the highest quality trees that have ever grown on the property.
  “The orchard was created to conserve the genetics of the most beautiful trees, those that are literally one in a million,” she explained. “These trees are not only high quality, they were the trees that grew the best on this land so we know that they are the perfect choice for our personal microclimate.”
  Each year, after nearly 30 acres of trees are planted or grafted, crews at Bear Canyon Tree Farm shift their focus to keeping weeds at bay by spraying and mowing. Then, they move on to pruning.
  Newly planted seedlings are left alone to grow for a while. After three years, they are basal pruned. The following year, workers begin clipping them to keep the overall shape in check as they grow to heights of eight feet to 18 feet or more.
  “Pruning is done throughout the summer and by late October, we start cutting for overseas customers,” said Burres. “We send the trees in refrigerated containers on ships to garden centers in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and other parts of Asia. Some end up in private homes, but most go to hotels, banks and other companies.”
  The farm also sells wholesale to garden centers throughout the United States. Brokered trucks are used to transport the trees domestically.
  With 300 acres of hilly fields to maneuver, helicopters are the most efficient means of removing the trees from the fields. A staff of seasonal employees cut and bundle the trees.. The bundles are then strapped together using ropes and airlifted to an open, dry, grassy area where workers are waiting to shake and bail each one.
  “We don’t fly them un-baled from the field directly to trucks because too many of the trees can become damaged that way,” said Burres. “We want each one to be of the highest quality, even if that means adding this extra step.”
  Once shaken and baled, the trees are taken to a central loading area and packed into tractor trailers. A contract trucking company then picks up the trailers and heads out to customers across the country, usually stopping at several locations for drop-offs along the way.
  The last batch of trees is typically harvested by Dec. 10, giving the family just enough time to take a much-needed break before starting the process all over again in February.
  Barbara hopes to continue working with Jason and Sophia in upcoming years, teaching them the ins and outs of the Christmas tree growing business as the couple will likely take over Bear Canyon Tree Farm in the future.  
  “The goal is to pass on our family business on to the next generation,” she said. “They are as committed to maintaining our reputation of producing high quality trees as we have been, so the company will be great for many years to come.”






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