Busy time for Kasl Christmas Tree Farm in Belleville, Kan.
for The Fence Post
When 10-year-old twins Jaiden and Kaiden Rudolph, and their 17-year old brother Aiden, and sister Gracie, 20, hopped in the pick-up with their parents to make the drive to Belleville, Kan., to select the family Christmas tree at a Christmas tree farm just before sundown Thanksgiving Eve, Nov. 27, it was a full family experience.
“We like to pick it out ourselves,” said dad, Edmund Rudolph of Clyde, Kan.
“And, we do it every year,” added mom, Lacie Rudolph, as they packed their freshly picked pine tree onto their truck bed for the 45-minute trip back home.
“We chopped the tree ourselves out there,” Gracie said.
“We also wrote a letter to Santa and put it inside the mailbox here,” piped up Jaiden and Kaiden.
“Oh, its the family bonding thing,” grinned Aiden, who noted they also listened to Christmas music on the way to pick out their tree.
“A lot of people like choosing their own Scotch Pine or Austrian Pine trees out in the field here, and we’ll cut them, or sometimes they like to hand-saw them. Sometimes they want the full experience,” said Tyler Kasl, who is now operating the Christmas Tree Farm in rural Belleville with his dad, Scott Kasl, and grandma, Carolyn Kasl. “We also have the Fraser Fir trees, which we hang on a line, and people still get to choose those, too.” Tyler knows the ropes, after working with his late grandfather, Mike Kasl, for many years. Mike, the long-time good-natured Kasl Christmas Tree Farm owner with a jolly personal best to match his professional best, sadly passed away at the farm on Nov. 15, 2018, at 75 years old, right in the middle of his peak Christmas tree and wreath season.
The 24-year-old Tyler is stepping up, after working alongside his grandpa since he was 5 years old, and gaining massive on-the-job training.
“I really didn’t know how it’d work out, with Tyler working all day with the city (of Belleville,) and then handling everything here at the tree farm after his day work there, but we’re all working together,” Carolyn said. Scott agreed.
“It’s emotional, but we’re all in it together,” said Scott, as he lifted and hung a huge, newly created fresh wreath.
Their season is fully underway. Tyler said they’re working every hour possible during their peak season until Dec. 22.
Wreaths are a big part of their business. For years, when Mike was alive, he worked with many organizations who ordered numerous wreaths.
“We made 2,000 wreaths last year, and sold about 250 trees. A ladies group in eastern Kansas ordered 139 wreaths for just one organization. The Boy Scouts in Washington, Kan., ordered 125 wreaths. They do this every year,” Carolyn said. “People drive for miles from many directions, and they don’t complain — they drove 124 miles to get them. Also, Thayer Central Schools in Hebron, Neb., will pick up 70. People from Phillipsburg, Kan., and Beloit, Kan., will get trees.”
Carolyn takes great pride in designing enormous colorful bows that decorate the wreaths, and Christmas garland swags.
“Oh yes, that’s what I do. I decorate. I make most of the bows. I get help from Laurie, my daughter-in-law,” she said
Trends in Christmas wreaths have changed slightly, Tyler said.
“We sell about 250 trees, although the number of wreaths are down a bit, people are now going for the bigger wreaths,” he said. “I just had one school group for 350 wreaths. Most people don’t really get into the Christmas spirit until after Thanksgiving.”
As of Thanksgiving, Tyler had created 1,500 wreaths mainly out of Fraser Fir. Assisting inside the Kasl tree warehouse, are a couple of invaluable helpers, Justin Kemp and Brian Novak, who are enjoying being part of it all for their third year clipping the brightest green branches that will be made into wreaths.
Thanksgiving week also brought some excitement to the Kasl Christmas Tree Farm when Scott traveled to the Kansas Governor’s mansion on Nov. 26 to deliver a 24-inch wreath of Scotch Pine for Gov. Laura Kelly. Another tree grower in their organization, Kansas Christmas Tree Growers, donated the Christmas tree for her.
“Gov. Kelly was real excited about the wreath we brought,” Scott said. “The governor was also pleased with the way that the organization operates, and she appreciated the tree.”
The honored invitation to transport one of their homegrown Christmas trees and wreaths to the governor’s mansion in Topeka has been a treat for years, but then several years ago, Mike decided to only tote a handmade wreath, and joyfully shared that tree opportunity with another tree farmer in their organization, who would get to take part in the trip and the presentation at the governor’s mansion.
Tyler will plant several hundred more Christmas trees in the spring. “I wanted to plant 1,000 Scotch Pine trees but everybody here looked at me like wow really? And we’ll be helping with all that. So, we’ll plant 750 this spring.”
He’s planting new life, and new opportunities from the lessons he learned from his grandpa Mike. And, he is also intent on helping new farmers get started in the Christmas tree growing business.
“I want to help farmers out, who want to start getting into the business, but it takes six to eight years to get up to that point and grow the trees in Kansas,” Tyler said. “The people we get our trees from, plant 1 million trees a year up in Michigan.”
Tyler said he wants to have 200 trees and that he currently has only 125 trees in the 6- to-10-foot-tall range. “We planted 2,500 trees during one season about 10-12 years ago, and then only 400 every year after,” he said.
Tyler said they sometimes have dry summers, which are hard on the trees. “After that, you don’t have 100-percent survival rate,” he said.
Mike started the Christmas tree farm in 1980, Carolyn said, and started planting Scotch Pine and Austrian Pine trees. “The trees take about seven to eight years to grow,” she said. “Mike sold his first trees in 1986,” she added.
One year, she noted, Mike planted 2,000 trees, and there were more trees than people. “And, Mike’s dad used to say ‘don’t plant anymore than your wife can take care of.’ They got too big. We almost cut them down because they grew so tall but we didn’t,” Carolyn said. “They just remind me of Colorado.”
Kasl Christmas Tree Farm also ardently supports the Trees for Troops program.
“We donate 10 trees out of our field every year for the program that offers trees for active military families,” Tyler said. The trees go to Wichita and FedEx picks them up. Other farms in the state donate too, and the trees are shipped all over.” The money raised goes to purchase more trees.
“Mike enjoyed making his wreaths, and enjoyed the people and the little kids. He’s sure missed out here,” Carolyn said. “It’s different — somebody else sitting in his chair.”
“It was interesting, in the field this last weekend, we sold 20 trees and three of those were to new people who’ve gone from having artificial Christmas trees back to a fresh, real tree,” Tyler said. ❖
— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.