After their marriage in 1952, Leonard and Lucille Noffke started their own roofing company. However, to add extra income during the off-season, they bought 60 acres in Waushara County, Wis., and began growing Christmas trees. That enterprise, Noffke Tree Farms, now covers 300 acres; they are spread across four locations, with the home base and sales lot in Mequon.
“Besides myself, there are many family members and one part-timer that handle ground maintenance, planting, basal pruning, shearing, harvest and tie trees, plus 12 nieces and nephews and friends that pitch in on other chores,” says Kathy Gross, vice president and the Noffkes’ eldest daughter. “Presently, balsam firs account for 50% of all cut-your-own trees, while 50% of the Fraser firs are precut. Our inventory also includes: Scotch, spruce, Colorado, white and Norway pine.”
Trees begin their lives in Wisconsin and Michigan nurseries and are grown into 2-year-old seedlings. They are planted in rows 5 to 6 feet apart. During their eight- to 10-year growth cycle, trees face many hazards, such as too little or too much sun and rain, plus destruction from rodents, insects and deer. Spraying, weeding and applying fertilizer are year-round jobs. An average of three trees is planted for every one that is finally harvested.
“Selecting a tree from the Noffkes’ began 62 years ago. After deer hunting, my parents and three sisters traveled to their farm the Saturday after Thanksgiving,” recalls Sue Hanson from Hartford. “That holiday tradition now includes 15 of us who will take home six trees. We cherish this exciting, festive day full of fellowship with lifelong friends that hopefully will never end.”
Click through the slideshow to see photos from the tree farm.
Persinger writes from Milwaukee, Wis.