Peter Kappeler loves Christmas trees. Fresh, real Christmas trees were a staple for his family as he grew up in Switzerland. He owned a small tree farm in the years before he came to Canada, and decided to dive into farming full-time when he immigrated to this country.
Kappeler started Fir Ever Green Tree Farm with his wife, Judy, in 2010. Now they are one of a few Christmas tree farms in Alberta, and the largest in the province. Their farm, an hour south of Edmonton near the hamlet of Falun, specializes in giant green Christmas symbols: rows and rows of Balsam Firs, White Spruce and Colorado Blue Spruce.
But there’s a reason so few people operate Christmas tree farms in Alberta.
“It takes way too long to grow,” says Kappeler. “The work is so intense and it’s all manual.”
It can take anywhere from 10 to 12 years to get the proper height and girth from a tree. And hail can decimate a crop, with growers unable to obtain crop insurance.
But the weather also contributes to the quality of Alberta’s Christmas trees. The major frosts in the province force the trees to hold tight to their needles, giving the trees amazing “needle retention,” as Kappeler puts it.
“The needles stay way better on trees grown in Alberta,” says Kappeler. “B.C. trees never have frost, so the needles don’t stay.”
That criticism is important, because Alberta imports most of its Christmas trees. Some come from Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and out east. Others come from British Columbiaand the Pacific Northwest. Few come from Alberta.
Quality isn’t the only selling point for an Alberta tree. Getting together with friends and making new traditions is another big draw. Hundreds of people will descend upon Fir Ever Green Tree Farm every year to pick their own trees, coming from as far away as Calgary and Rocky Mountain House, making an adventure out of it.
“It’s not a money maker,” says Kappeler of growing Christmas trees. Most of the farm’s income comes from landscaping and consulting. The trees are a labour of love, a gift from one family to everyone who wants to make a Christmas tradition.