Sorghum Mill Tree Farm

The fresh scent of pine fills the crisp, cool air and chords of Christmas carols float on the breeze, greeting visitors to the Sorghum Mill Tree and Blackberry Farm. In the month before Christmas, more than 3,000 families will visit John Knight’s 40 acre spread northeast of Edmond. They’ll wend their way through more than 40,000 trees in search of the perfect one to decorate their home.

Knight spent his professional career in higher education administration. Thirty years ago he started planting tree seedlings as a stress reliever. He loves being outside, tending the trees and feeling the jovial atmosphere that comes from spreading Christmas cheer. Over the years, his hobby has grown into a full-time occupation and a tradition for generations of Edmond families.

Tying the tree to the top of a vehicle is just the last step in a lengthy process that begins many years earlier when Knight buys year-old seedlings to plant. The young trees start their lives in a small plot directly outside his office.

Time and experience have developed the way Knight sees a tree.

“I can tell from the time they are small if they’re going to make good trees,” he said. A drip irrigation system provides moisture and the trees themselves supply fertilizer. The needles are high in acid, producing the favored soil condition for conifers.

After the seedlings have grown and become acclimated to the Oklahoma conditions, they are moved to one of seven fields. Long, straight rows of trees give Sorghum Mill Farm a lush, rich feel, even in the dead of winter. The fields began as homogenous units, with trees of the same size and type. But as the seasons have passed, trees have been harvested one by one. Now, strolling through the fields it is not unusual to find a tiny new arrival dwarfed by a six or eight foot tree.

“I don’t take anything out that I won’t replace,” Knight said. The trees are a renewable agricultural product, just like wheat or hay. The only difference is the length of growing time.

Twice a year, in April and again in August, each tree is worked by hand and then sheared mechanically, a cultivating process aimed at producing perfect trees that are straight and symmetrical, with evenly spaced branch layers (or whorls) and a straight top branch. The trees that meet all those criteria are classified as first run and are the only ones Knight offers as Christmas trees.

“Lots of TLC goes into each tree,” he said. “If not, they wouldn’t be saleable.”

With the time and effort put into each tree, Knight is able to sell about 95 percent of the trees grown.

The growing time varies by species and can be as short as three to four years for a Virginia Pine or as long as 10 years for a Blue Spruce. Knight said Virginia Pine is the most popular. Fortunately, the thick, lush tree “likes it here” and grows relatively fast. It is one of several varieties of fast-growing lumber trees now adapted for propagation as Christmas trees.

Like any agricultural venture, growing trees can be a challenge. Knight said this past summer was one of the hardest he’d experienced since he began.

“I never knew how hot the ground could get until this year,” he said. OSU Extension agents told Knight the soil temperature was 102 degrees in locations near his farm.

“We lost 75 percent of the seedlings we planted, even with irrigating. We couldn’t put enough water into the ground to cool it down,” he said.

But, the mature trees did survive and Knight has a wide selection of trees in a range of sizes available for harvesting. The varieties include Virginia Pine, White Pine, Scotch Pine, Colorado Blue Spruce, Norway Spruce and Dixie Fir. In addition, Knight also brings in pre-harvested trees from Oregon and North Carolina to include Noble Fir, Douglas Fir, Grand Fir, Nordman Fir and Fraser Fir.

Knight is also now growing the “tree of the future,” a hybrid variety known as the Leyland Cypress. The tree produces no pollen, making it perfect for those who suffer from allergies. Since the tree has no pollen, it can only be propagated through root cuttings. It is full and symmetrical and similar in appearance to a Grand Fir.

Knight provides bow saws for those who want to harvest their own tree. Employees are also available to help anyone who might need assistance. Once the tree is selected and harvested, it is put into a mechanical shaker that vibrates the tree for one minute to remove any loose needles. Then the tree is put into a netter that pulls the boughs tight making the tree easier to manage. Employees then use a drill machine to make a small hole in the trunk – this allows the tree to absorb water better and also accommodates the raised spike in tree stands.

Sorghum Mill Tree Farm is open through the month of November for selection and pre-tagging of trees. They begin harvesting trees the day after Thanksgiving. For directions and more information, call 340-5488.

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