SALINA — Don't be alarmed if you ever find a few unwanted critters hiding in your hand-picked Christmas tree.
With warmer temperatures, keeping bugs at bay can be difficult, as freezing temperatures haven't settled the area, which means bugs are still out and about.
Across the nation, families purchasing real Christmas trees have experienced issues with those outdoor insects making their way inside on the family’s tree.
"A few things to keep in mind are that you take something that grows and lives outdoors and bring it into your home. There’s always a risk for some sort of insect to be attached to the plant," said Aaron Peck, owner of BEL Tree Farm in Salina.
However, this issue might not affect customers in this area because of precautions taken at tree farms.
At BEL Tree Farm, Peck and staff work year-round to ensure their roughly 5,000 trees are pest- and insect-free by swiping needles out of the trees, taking unwanted critters out like birds and vigorously shaking each tree before it reaches a customer's home with an automatic tree shaker.
"We try to mitigate those problems before they become an issue, and should any insect or spider make it into a house, most species that I'm aware of that would still be on a tree would probably die because of the change of their environment," Peck added. "None of them are harmful to pets or humans."
Peck and his family are avid believers of using as little chemicals and pesticides on their trees as possible, but does take necessary precautions if needed.
"We try to limit the amount of pesticides that go onto our trees. Most years, not a single pesticide is introduced, but we do have the occasional pests to our trees that can harm the structure of the tree and every few years we do have to spray for those," Peck said.
Peck and staff have to act quickly before one pest has time to become an infestation.
"We can have pests that can spread from tree to tree. With Pine Wilt Disease, there's a nematode inside of the tree's pine needle that can emerge in the spring and spread from one tree to another and can certainly create an issue with trees dying," Peck said. "Those are all things as a grower we need to keep track of and be aware of — but those aren't issues that end up in peoples homes."
There are a number of things that come into play when it comes to farming iconic Christmas trees. BEL Tree Farm grows Scotch, Austrian pines and also offers Fraiser Firs.
"All of the trees are sheered in the summer to keep the nice traditional Christmas tree shape. None of our trees are irrigated — whatever we get from Mother Nature is what provides us the growth. We do keep track of any sort of infestation from bugs that could harm our trees, which usually occurs in the spring," Peck said.
BEL Tree Farm opens their season the day after Thanksgiving each year and is open through Dec. 23.
"The first two weekends is when we typically do 85 percent of our business — it’s a mad rush," Peck laughed.
Christmas trees are planted in the spring, Peck noted, which prevents heaving, where trees grow sideways if not planted at the right time.
Trees are then planted either by hand with a manual planter, or Peck uses a small implement that's pulled behind a planter, which then makes a furrow in the ground where the saplings are placed in a planting grid. Along with a large number of duties, Peck mows around the base of each tree, which allows better airflow and affects the overall health of the tree.
Picking Christmas trees has become a holiday tradition for many across the U.S., but be not afraid as Christmas tree farms are working to prevent unwanted critters from traveling into your home this holiday season.
For more information, call 785-820-1496 or visit the farm at 401 S. Holmes Road in Salina or visit their website at http://beltreefarm.com or visit their Facebook page.
Contact Brooke Haas by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @ MacSentinel.