November, 2016

Dandenong Christmas Tree Farm

Farming is an occupation driven by nature’s seasons. With the agroforestry business of growing Christmas trees, this is especially true. Women on Farms West Gippsland members learned so much on a fascinating visit to the Dandenong Christmas Tree Farm at Nar Nar Goon.

Pinus radiata are grown for the annual Christmas market by the Cranston family and their business partners. This market extends interstate and overseas. Even the Maldives Islands are a surprise destination for the festive trees from this successful enterprise.

Neil Cranston started in the business as an employee. In time his involvement grew, with his family taking over the enterprise and its established name. They have plantations and outlets at Officer, Tynong and Nar Nar Goon. Wholesale and retail sales keep them especially busy at this time of the year, but there are months of demanding work beforehand. Neil even observed that the trees require more effort than do the cows on his dairy. The plantations certainly demanded an open and innovative mind to their commercial propagation and successful marketing.

The seedlings are germinated by a specialised nursery then planted out when less than 30 cm tall, at about ten months of age. Depending upon the size sought by customers, the young trees might be harvested at 5, 6 or 7 years of age. However, before reaching this stage, there is an intensive and year round regime of nurturing, shaping, pruning, pest management, fertilising and general care. Everyone wants to buy the perfectly shaped tree!

Hungry rabbits and hares contribute to a small annual loss rate of approximately 2%. Seasonal workers are engaged to help minimise this and to assist with the constant trimming and shaping. By the time the pre-Christmas season starts Robyn is looking forward to welcoming many of their return customers, some going back four generations. She delights in the family visits and the very personal customs some have in what tree they choose and why. As the three Cranston adult children are also engaged in the business it is clear that this farm has a strong family focus.