By Cindy Jo Ayers
Oh Christmas Tree....Oh Christmas Tree. Bob and Joyce Neilson have been supplying the county with live and fresh cut Christmas trees since 1997. Through the years picking out a tree from Neilson’s Christmas Tree Farm has become a family tradition for families in Gilchrist and surrounding counties.
After the 2018 Christmas season the Neilsons intend to close their farm. They said that through the years they have really enjoyed the business and especially the children who came back year after year. But, the business is a lot of work and it seems like a good time to let someone else provide trees for the area. Joyce Neilson said, “We have enjoyed every year of it.”
It was Bob Neilson’s idea to grow Christmas trees. Neilson said, “I just thought it would be fun to have kids come out and get their tree from our tree farm.”
The Neilsons started their tree farm by planting 1,200 Sand Pines back in 1994 around their home in Rolling Oaks. In their first year selling trees to the public, they only sold about 125 trees. Over the years word of mouth spread and their sales have grown. They now have a lot of customers from Gainesville and Alachua County as well as Levy and Dixie Counties.
The farm also sells precut fresh Fraser Firs and Scotch Pines. Some people prefer buying a live Christmas tree they can plant after the holiday season in their yard. For those people Neilson’s provide living Carolina Sapphire trees in a 15 gallon pot. The Carolina Sapphire trees live very well in this area of the state. They also have pretty fresh wreaths with bows for sale.
Bob Neilson takes great care of the Fraser Firs and Scotch Pines by trimming the trunks as soon as they arrive from Michigan. Then he places them in a stand with water and keeps them watered until they are sold. The trees are placed in the shade of their barn and he even puts up shade cloth so no sun hits them.
Bob and Joyce open their farm to the public on the Friday after Thanksgiving each year. The tree farm will remain open during the week from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday they will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Christmas eve.
Their granddaughters Lexi and Skyler have grown up in the Christmas tree business. One of their chores is feeding the young animals in the petting zoo. Baby pigs, rabbits, turkeys, chickens, a calf and two Nubian goats make up the farm animal zoo this year. Young children really enjoy the farm animals as well as selecting their family tree.
The weekend of Thanksgiving is one of the busier times at the farm because many people from South Florida are in the area to spend the holiday with their family and friends and they buy a tree from the Neilsons before heading south again. Several local high school boys have been hired to work on the farm during the season each year. Their help is very useful especailly when they have a special order like the 15 foot fir tree that the Gainesville Health and Fitness Center ordered this year.
On two occassions Neilson’s Christmas Tree Farm has been selected to provide the Christmas tree for the state capital. Once they provided a live Carolina Sapphire for then Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bronson. Later Bronson told the Neilsons that he had planted the Carolina Saphire in the yard of his new home.
Bob Neilson said they have a lot of people requesting the use of the tree farm for family Christmas photos and some professional photographers have also done photo shoots there.
Care of a live tree is important and the Neilson’s recommend that once your tree is inside, you can care for it by placing it in a stable container that will hold at least one, and preferably two, gallons of water. Keep the trunk base covered with water. Trees can drink as much as one gallon of water per day. Check the water level each day. Keep the tree away from heat sources such as hot air ducts, radiators, fireplaces and television sets. Remember, heat will dry your tree out.
Other tree saftey tips include only use UL approved lighting accessories. Avoid combustible decorations. Keep metal foil and tinsel away from electrical sockets.
Always turn off your lights and decorations before going to bed or leaving home. Never place candles or other open flame sources on or near your tree. Test your light cords before you put them on your tree. They should be in good working order and in good condition.
Neilson’s Christmas Tree Farm is located at 6780 SE 67th Ct, Trenton, and their phone number is (352) 472-2340 if you need more information. Cash or check only the farm does not accept a credit cards.
Neilson’s Christmas Tree Farm in their 22nd year
By Cindy Jo Ayers