“WE compare buying an artificial Christmas tree to buying a bunch of plastic roses for Valentine’s Day!” – those were the words expressed by the owner of a Cork Christmas tree farm.
Quite unsurprisingly Pat Lehane, who owns Castletreasure Christmas Trees – a forestry, Christmas tree and foliage production enterprise, that has been growing and selling Christmas trees for over 25 years, isn’t a fan of artificial trees.
A real Christmas tree is, he said, a more environmentally friendly choice and one which can be of greater benefit to the local economy.
“When you see the amount of wildlife flowing through the Christmas trees from bees, to insects to wildflowers during the summer – the whole operation makes a good contribution to biodiversity," he said. “There’s a huge carbon benefit to it as well because the Christmas tree plantation acts as a carbon store – the trees are absorbing the carbon dioxide out of the air.
“The carbon is stored in the tree and in the root. It’s quite a contrast to the plastic trees that are being brought in from China.
“They can’t actually be recycled because they’re a mixture of copper and plastic and other materials so they have to go into landfill. It’s not good for the economy either because it’s the guy over in China is getting the benefit."
In Pat’s line of work, patience is a key requirement as growing Christmas trees is a lengthy process.
“We get trees that are about three to four years old," he said. “They’re grown from seed initially in a nursery.
“We get them then and from there they take about seven to 10 years. Effectively, the Christmas tree you’re buying is from 11-14 years. They need to be cared for during all that period."
“We have to wait for seven to eight years before we get any return from it but when we’re in the cycle it’s fine because we’re planting a tree for every tree that we cut down.”
Castletreasure is a fifth-generation family-run farm, bought by Pat’s grandfather in 1922.
“We were a dairy farm going back to nearly a century and when the milk quotas came in we decided to get involved in something else, so we got involved in forestry and then we moved into growing Christmas trees, growing them in Kerry and West Cork but in past 10/11 years, we decided to plant some of the farm here.
“So the trees have been growing here for the past 10/11 years.
“We had been supplying different outlets in Cork but we decided to start retailing directly from the farm three years ago.”
While some trees are pre-cut, people also have the opportunity to cut down their own tree at Castletreasure.
“We advise them to come on a quiet day, during the week rather than the weekend so we can get someone to help them,” he said. “It’s great for kids. We get great enjoyment out of seeing the kids sticking on the wellies and getting to look at the trees.
“The farm is actually overlooking Cork city – in the actual field where the trees are growing you can see Shandon and you can see Páirc Uí Chaoimh and the Galtee Mountains in the distance – that kind of explains how local the trees are!”
Two of Pat’s son’s also work on the farm with him and despite a hectic few weeks of trading in the lead up to Christmas, they greatly enjoy meeting and spending time helping their customers.
“It’s great to actually be able to meet our customers because normally farmers just produce the product and send it off to the co-op or send it off to the mart and we never get to meet our customers,” he said.
When it comes to picking a Christmas tree, beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder, Pat says.
“It’s amazing to see the different tastes and what people actually like in a Christmas tree.
“Some trees I’d cut up for foliage and other people would think it’s the best tree on the farm!” As for Pat’s top tip on how to keep your Christmas tree looking fresh?
“Don’t heat up the room the tree is in too much is the secret.
“Water is important too, but the main thing is to keep it away from the radiator – it will effectively cook the tree.”
On Friday, Pat, who says he believes Castletreasure is the only Christmas tree farm within the city boundary, invited the Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Joe Kavanagh up to the farm.
“The fact that we’re now a part of the city, I thought it would be nice just to invite the Lord Mayor out to present him with a tree,” he said.