At Tannenbaum Christmas Tree Farm between New Braunfels and Seguin, three generations of Vogels work on weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Betty Vogel (far right) is helped by her grandson John Davis, daughter Peggy Davis, and granddaughter Chelsea Davis.
The Vogels first planted a crop of Christmas trees in 1982, making theirs the oldest continuously operated family Christmas tree farm in Central Texas. "And the oldest Christmas tree farmers, too," Mrs. Vogel interjects with a laugh. She is 70 years old and her husband is 68 years old.
A wheat and livestock farmer who was born and raised in the New Braunfels area, Harvey Vogel started the tree farming business after a trip to Delaware. "Up there trees are everywhere," Mrs. Vogel says. The couple thought it would be great to offer Texans an opportunity to go out and cut down their Christmas trees. They brought back several Scotch pines to plant on their farm, but the scavenger ants ate all the leaves.
The next year they planted Afghan pines. The Vogels were actually the second tree farm in the area. A farm north of New Braunfels tried to grow the trees in pots, but because the imported trees have a massive root system they never did very well. The other business closed when the farmer died.
The first year the Vogels had amazing results. "We had trees up to 10 feet tall," she says, "and it was supposed to take four years before we had commercial-quality trees." The Afghan pine, a native of Afghanistan, is a hardy tree with long needles that can be very bushy with a natural conical symmetry.
Over the years, the Vogels have had to contend with their share of natural elements. A few years ago they lost 7,000 trees out of 8,000 to a fungus. Then the crop was attacked by the Nantucket pine tip moth. Both problems are now under control, if not completely eradicated.
While they spend much of their time during the year caring for the 12 acres of trees, if it wasn't for the help of their two sons and two daughters and their families, Betty and Harvey would have trouble managing their two farms (they live on a second farm on the other side of Seguin).
For the Vogels the Christmas tree farm is a labor of love, Mrs. Vogel says, "especially at Christmas time." A large portion of their trees are bought by repeat customers. Many families come out before Thanksgiving and select a tree, tag it, pay for it, and then return before Christmas to claim it. She has seen children who first came out to the farm in diapers return as high school students to help select the family tree.
One complaint about the Christmas tree business that Mrs. Vogel expressed is that it is becoming too popular -- a complaint that any business would love to have. Mrs. Vogel says it is getting hard to keep up with demand caused by Northerners wanting to share the Christmas tradition of cutting down a tree with their children.
While this year's crop was already pretty sparse by the weekend after Thanksgiving, the Vogels have imported trees available. They also have small potted trees. A visit to the scenic farm on the banks of the Guadalupe River is a lot of fun with their petting zoo and acres to walk around.
Tannenbaum Farms is three miles east of I-35 on TX46 a half mile east of the Clear Springs Cafe. For information on what is available, call Mrs. Vogel at home between 7:30-9:30am or 7:30-9:30pm at 830/372-4335.
Other Christmas tree farms in the area are:
Hill Country Christmas Trees, between Wimberly and Dripping Springs on RR12, 512/461-8552.
Evergreen Farms, south of Elgin off FM1704, 409/775-1717.
Loma Alta Christmas Tree Farm, one mile north of TX71 on County Road 190 north of Smithville, 512/360-2005.
Nature's Way Christmas Tree Farm, one mile east of Elgin off US290, 512/251-2016.
The Lit'l Christmas Tree Farm, west of Cedar Park off FM1431, 512/267-3539.
Coming up this weekend...
Christmas in the Republic by storyteller Jim Garry will be at the Republic of Texas Museum in Austin, including refreshments and discounts at the museum store, Dec. 13, 2-5pm. 339-1997.
Kristkindl Markt, Fredericksburg's original German Christmas market, invites craftsmen and food vendors to show their wares, Dec. 12-14. 830/997-8515.
Glowfest fills Comal County Fair Grounds in New Braunfels with hot air balloons along with music, Dec. 12-14. 800/572-2626.
Hill Country Regional Christmas Lighting Tour includes 11 area towns and for the first time, Luckenbach, where they have Campfire Caroling while enjoying hot chocolate, spiced wine, a bowl of chili, or a German taco 7-9pm, Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 27. 830/997-3224 or http://www.luckenbachtexas.com. For a complete brochure and map, call 830/997-8515.
Bazaar Sabado is a holiday shopping tradition at the San Antonio Museum of Art featuring folk art from Latin America and elsewhere along with food and drink, Dec. 13. 210/978-8100.
Heritage of Stolen People: African American Story Quilts is at the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio thru Feb. 22. 210/458-2300.
The Body of Christ in the Art of Europe and New Spain exhibits 75 works of art depicting the body of Christ at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Dec. 21-Apr. 12. 713/639-7300.