By Maria-Jose Subiria
The most enjoyable part of having a tree farm is watching families choose one for Christmas, said Earl Worthington, on the eve of the busiest tree-selection period of the year.
"It's a joy to watch," he said. "Some people like to golf, fish ... I like planting trees."
And plant, he has -- on his 25-acre Hampton tree farm.
The Worthington Tree Farm has a about 12,000 trees of varying ages and types for the upcoming Christmas season, said Worthington. The farm, located at 145 Twin Oaks Drive, in Hampton, has been in operation for more than 30 years. It operates Mondays through Saturdays, from 9:30 a.m., to 5:30 p.m., and Sundays, from 12:30, to 5:30 p.m.
The tree-selling season usually begins on Thanksgiving day, and ends on Dec. 20.
The tree varieties, Worthington said, include: Leyland Cypress, Fraser Fir, Leighton green, Naylor's blue Leyland cypress, Eastern red cedar and Arizona cypress.
"The youngest ones [trees] were planted this spring," said Worthington, while sitting under the shade at the farm. "The oldest ones are probably eight years old, and those would be White Pine."
In addition, he said, the prices of the trees vary on the quality and height of the tree, ranging from $10, to $175. "A 6-foot Fraser Fir is about $40," he said.
Worthington added that cash and checks, with identification, are accepted as a form of payment. Visa, Discover and Mastercard debit and credit cards are also accepted, he said.
He said he enjoys providing his customers with options when they arrive at his farm.
"I am one of the few growers that grow White Pine [in Georgia]," said Worthington.
He said White Pines grow more slowly, and growers must provide specialized care for them. "They respond to fertilization," he said.
Worthington said the easiest kind of tree to grow is the Leyland Cypress, because it grows quickly, naturally. The farm, he said, also has Fraser Fir trees for sale, although they are mostly grown elsewhere. The Fraser Fir grows in the high elevations of North Carolina, and are shipped to his farm, where he maintains them until they are sold, he said.
Worthington admitted that about 15 years ago, he tried growing the Fraser Fir on his farm, through trial and error. He said he eventually discovered a way to make it work, a process in which he takes the tip of the Fraser Fir and grafts it onto a Japanese Fir tree. According to Worthington, grafting is a method of asexual plant propagation, in which the tissues of one plant are fused with another.
Bobby Worthington, Earl Worthington's son, said, if a tree is maintained properly, it should last through Christmas and into to the new year. The trees will need a good stand that will hold plenty of water for them, said the son. The farm sells stands of different sizes, he added.
The younger Worthington said a tree should be provided with two-and-a-half gallons of water daily, and be kept away from heat vents. When the tree is first placed in a stand, a teaspoon of bleach in the water is recommended to prevent mold from growing, said the senior Worthington.
Bobby Worthington added that, during the farm's operation hours this season, there will be other attractions that might interest children, including hay, goats and rabbits. "It will make it an enjoyable family environment," he said.
The farm also provides a crafts-barn gift shop, called "Oma's Gourd Haus," where Christmas decorations may be purchased, including real Christmas wreaths and garlands, said the younger Worthington.
Esther Worthington, Earl Worthington's wife, creates Christmas decorations using gourds. She said the gourds are cut in half, cleaned out, dried for a year. Then, they are decorated, including with lights and nativity caricatures. The decorated gourds may range from $15, to $40, said Esther Worthington.
In addition to tree sales, the farm also serves as a drop-off location for the "Trees for Troops" program, through the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation, a non-profit organization. Christmas trees are dropped off by farmers, and FedEx picks them up and delivers them to their corresponding bases, for military families, said Bobby Worthington.
The younger Worthington said the farm has been a drop-off location since before his 19-year-old son was killed in 2007, in Iraq, while serving in the U.S. Army.
"We did this for troops before he was killed, but it gives it a little more meaning [now]," said Bobby Worthington, with tears in his eyes.