Pine tree business offers experience off beaten path

Kenton and Eunice Nickel stand in front of one of the 5,000-plus trees on the Peaceful Pines tree farm they operate. The farm has been selling trees for two years, though the trees have been growing for longer.

Following summer employment on a tree farm as a teenager, Kenton Nickel knew someday he wanted to grow pine trees as well.

Nickel now has a Christmas tree farm of his own, operating a 5,000 tree plantation five miles north of Walton known as Peaceful Pines.

“I like growing stuff, playing in the dirt, planting them and growing them,” he said of the part-time occupation. “I like seeing people come out and how happy they are.”

This is year two for he and wife Eunice of operating the businesses. They grow a number of varieties, including Scotch, Austrian, Virginia and White Pines. People can drive out to the farm, grab a saw and cut down a tree, which they can purchase for $7.50 a foot.

“You get a fresh tree and it’s nice to experience something new,” he said.

The farm also sells merchandise, tree stands, offers hot cider, peppernuts and a ride in a train made of plastic barrels that can be pulled behind a tractor.

Right now, Peaceful Pines is in its busy time, with Christmas quick approaching.

He and Eunice moved to the plot they live on from Newton in part to grow pine trees. She helps out, and Nickel said making the farm operate is a family affair.

“Our folks help out, our siblings and their spouses,” he said.

Nickel said in all he estimates he spends about 15 hours a week with the trees. After the holiday season comes a break. March is tree planting time. Then comes the watering, mowing and weeding.

“It’s a constant battle,” he said of the weeding. Larger older trees prevent weeds from growing with their coverage. Younger trees, not so much

There’s also other work to be done, such as shaping the trees—a process that involves swinging brush knives to chop limbs and get the trees into that perfect Christmas tree shape.

Part of the work also involves pulling out tree stumps from the trees sold prior.

For a good tree crop, Nickel says moderate temperatures and regular precipitation are what he wants.

“Eighty degrees and an inch of rain each week would be great,” he said.

He said Kansas summers can be tough on certain trees, which is why he doesn’t grow varieties such as Firs, which do better in northern climes.

Trees also can fall victim to a number of hazards, such as the pine tip moth and pine wilt, though he said he hasn’t had much problems with either.

He said much of the work comes on nights and weekends.

When the selling season arrives, he said it draws all sorts of people, and he’s happy to be part of their upcoming holiday traditions.

“It’s just peaceful out here,” he said. “It’s not close to a paved road but definitely worth your time.”