On the Farm with Tom Nieman
By Claire Ramsay
Mornings and evenings already offer a crisp fall nip in the air, and before we know it, winter will soon take over the bluegrass. With winter comes Christmas and shopping. If you shop, you’re going to need the perfect tree to tower over all those treasures. For those who love to shop local and keep holiday dollars in our neighborhood, there’s Nieman’s Christmas Tree Farm.
Tom Nieman, owner of Nieman Tree Farm, grew up in Cincinnati where his grandmother started the first large scale landscape nursery in the area. She emigrated from Germany around 1880 as a little girl and has always told the story that when she came tot his country, she had two small suitcases. One containing her clothes, the other plants and seeds.
Tom and wife Jan came to Lexington in 1977. He began teaching Landscape Architecture at the University of Kentucky and retired 39 years later in 2016.
Even though he had a great deal of experience, he started his tree farm as just a hobby. “I never dreamt that one day my farm would morph into a Christmas Tree farm,” says Nieman. Nonetheless, he took on the challenge of growing the type of Christmas tree he grew up with, the Fraser Fir, while having a bit of fun.
Tom recalls their first tree in 1978. “We wanted to plant our first tree as a family affair, with my wife, Jan, and two children, Natanya and Jonathan.”
In 1995, he had the idea of growing a specific Christmas Tree, and that’s when the farm began to evolve. Fraser Firs don’t normally grow in Kentucky, but with a great deal of patience, research, and trial and error (“mostly error,” he says), the Fraser Fir became viable as a locally-grown Christmas Tree. Now, there are about 10,000 trees on his farm — mostly Fraser Fir.
A Christmas Tree grower from North Carolina called his trees “Kentucky grown Fraser Fir,” but once she saw his farm she told him “North Carolina doesn’t have anything on you.” That’s the ultimate compliment as Fraser Firs are indigenous to the Appalachian/North Carolina area, and not Kentucky.
Families always want to know how to select the perfect tree. Nieman says “We are obviously biased toward fresh-cut, locally-grown trees — that is what we do and who we are. We are convinced that once you have selected a freshly cut Fraser Fir, you will never be satisfied with any other species or a pre-cut tree.”
Nieman wants all visitors to make the perfect holiday memories at his farm. When you arrive, you will be given a measuring stick to help you select the right size for your home. After selecting the tree you want, the crew will bundle, cut, and load the tree in your vehicle for you. However, guests are more than welcome to cut their own tree if they prefer. “We want you to experience the joy of selecting a tree without the associated labor.”
Despite November being Nieman’s busy season, tree farming is a year round job. Once Christmas is over, he and his crew cut tree stumps and prepare the soil for spring planting. “In late March – April, we plant about 1,500 new seedlings. From then on, we are constantly mowing the tree patches and keeping the weeds away from the trees,” he says.
Nieman loves our neighborhood, saying, “The Hamburg area, as far as we are concerned, is the best area in Fayette County.”
Nieman Tree Farm is located a hop and a skip from Hamburg at 5100 Sulphur Ln., off Todds Road.
How to Choose?
- The tree must be fresh. If you buy a pre-cut tree, pull on the needles to see if they come off. The tree should not droop or appear limp.
- Branches should be stiff enough to hold the ornaments. Some species, like White Pine, have rather limber branches while trees like the Norway Spruce will not last very long.
- The tree should not be sheared too tightly, make sure you have enough space between the branches to hang ornaments and lights.
- The Trunk should be straight. A crooked trunk is very difficult to mount in a stand.
What to do with the tree once you get home:
- Do not re-cut the trunk of a fresh tree. It’s needed on a pre-cut tree as the sap will have sealed off the base and prevent the uptake of water.
- Skip the additives such as Sprite, bleach, or aspirin (old wives’ tales).
- Place the tree in water as soon as you get it home. If you are not going to put it up right away, place it in a pail of water in a cool space.
- Keep it watered all the while it is in the house.
- Keep the room as cool as possible.
- Use LED lights to keep the heat level down.
- If the wonderful aroma begins to fade, snap a few branches from the back of the tree and the scent will return.
This article also appears on page 10 and 11 of the November 2019 print edition of Hamburg Journal.
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