Joe Schrempps sold his first Christmas tree in 1986. Two and three generations of local families have been making their annual pilgrimage to Schrempps Christmas Tree Farm ever since.
Joe always loved working outdoors and spent his career working in the nursery industry. When he retired in 1979, Joe started reclaiming an abandoned dairy farm in Clinton, Connecticut. He cleared the unproductive apple trees, hauled away the biggest rocks and started planting Christmas trees. Every year he added another block of trees. Blocks are between ¾ and one acre planted with a single variety. The 17-acre farm now has over 16,000 Christmas trees.
Andy and Dawn Piazza live near the farm and help their Uncle Joe manage the Christmas trees. Both Andy and Dawn have off-farm, full-time jobs. After their workdays and on most weekends, they each grab a pair of hedge trimmers to hand prune their trees. “This is our second full-time job. It takes pretty much the whole season to trim all the trees,” said Andy. He and Dawn typically finish trimming just as the customers start coming the week before Thanksgiving.
The threesome pulls tree stumps and plants replacement trees. Uncle Joe used to raise the seedlings in nursery beds and move them twice. Now the team field plants 3 – 4 year-old transplants from New Life Nurseries of Holland, Michigan (newlifenursery.com) or Tree Haven Evergreen Nursery of Elma, NY. The larger transplants are easier to see and avoid when mowing. The trees are planted 5’ apart in all but one block, which is on 6’ centers.
The ground cover is mowed between the trees three times each year with a 30” walk-behind mower. The mid-spring cut reduces competition for the new plantings. The mid-summer and early fall cuts allow access for trimming and customer access for tree cutting.
Dawn and Andy love hearing the birds and insects on the farm as they work. Customer love finding a bird’s nest in their tree. Andy does minimal tree spraying with a backpack sprayer and horticultural oil only as needed. He avoids working with harsher chemicals and does not want customers’ kids to contact any potential residues.
Dawn makes and decorates 150 to 200 wreaths and garlands each November. Andy makes the larger wreaths up to 48” across. They buy wire rings and other supplies from Three Rivers Wreath & Plant Company in Franklin, NH (3rwc.com). Dawn and Andy love it when the last wreaths sell two weeks after they open for the season on Thanksgiving weekend. Besides selling wreaths and garlands, the farm’s gift shop offers a variety of Christmas decorations and accessories.
The farm grows Balsam Fir, Blue Spruce, White Fir (Concolor Fir), Fraser Fir, White Fir (Concolor Fir) and White Spruce trees. The Schrempps gave up on Douglas Fir a few years ago like all growers in the region. Concolor Fir is gaining popularity with its long-lasting green color and a pleasant citrus sent. One customer joked about using their tree for a second Christmas when they found last year’s tree still green in their spring brush pile. Unfortunately for the Schrempps, Concolor Firs sometimes die after reaching 6’ for no obvious reason. Andy thinks their single taproots may be damaged by hitting ledge.
Blue Spruce has been another big seller at Schrempps Christmas Tree Farm for many years and remains Uncle Joe’s favorite tree. All of the farm’s trees cost $35, no matter their height. Extra large trees are cut and brought over from another farm parcel across town.
Customers select and cut their own trees. Schrempps Christmas Tree Farm has never offered tree tagging. Dawn’s brother and some of his children help in the gift shop or haul trees on busy weekends in December. Helpers use ATVs to haul trees for seniors or those unable to drag their trees to the checkout area. Most customers want their tree baled, especially when they learn this is a free service.
Every year, Santa Claus stops in during the middle two weekends in December.
Customers may help themselves to excess evergreen boughs left when customers trim their trees’ lower branches, saving the Uncle Joe or the Piazza’s from hauling or burning any leftover branches. Andy smiled and said, “I wish I knew how many people had to shorten their trees when they got home, having underestimated their ceiling heights.”
When an occasional customer does not find just what they are looking for at Schrempps Christmas Tree Farm. Andy and Dawn refer them to nearby competitors. “At least they will find a real tree. That is much better than having them be disappointed and buying a fake tree,” said Andy.
Learn more about the farm at their Facebook page. See a satellite view of the farm here. Visit Schrempps Christmas Tree Farm at 59 Cow Hill Rd, Clinton, Connecticut. The farm will be open from 10 a.m. – dusk and on weekends from 8 a.m. – dusk from Thanksgiving weekend through December 24.
A similar story ran in the November 2014 Eastern edition of Country Folks.