Twenty years ago Norman Lobb bought too many seedlings and Danny Whiting’s family had a fallow farm field. The two men had met while working at Cottle’s and they decided to start a tree farm, growing it slowly for the past two decades.
Nearly every weekend Mr. Lobb and Mr. Whiting can be found pruning trees, mowing grass or running irrigation at L&W Tree Farm on Panhandle Road in West Tisbury. It’s a weekend business because both men work full-time jobs. Mr. Lobb works at Marvin Windows and Doors and Mr. Whiting runs a trucking business.
“We built a transplanter that goes on the back of a tractor and plants seedlings like this,” said Mr. Whiting, as he pointed to rows and rows of trees. “We put them in the ground, pack them in, run the water to them.”
“We did a little bit every year,” added Mr. Lobb.
Today the two men have five acres of trees including cedar, cypress, fir, spruce, pine and more. “They’re grown here in native soil and planted in native soil,” said Mr. Lobb. “We’ve had very good results.”
When they started the business the two knew very little about growing trees. They learned as they planted. “We’ve made a lot of mistakes, buying the wrong trees, for one,” said Mr. Lobb.
The Douglass fir is one example. “They don’t do well here because the winters don’t get cold enough,” said Mr. Lobb. “A few years ago we had a blight on Douglass firs. We knew we couldn’t sell them as ornamentals but they were certainly good enough to be a Christmas tree.”
The mistake turned out to be a new business opportunity and this winter will be the first year L&W Tree Farm is officially selling Christmas trees in addition to its regular stock.
On a recent visit to the property, Mr. Lobb powered up his ATV for a trip around the farm. He guessed they have about 1,000 Christmas trees that they can sell this year — white fir, balsam fir, white pine, Norway spruce and a few other varieties. Each tree has its own look. The white fir is blueish-green. The balsam fir has a long, pointed top, perfect for an angel or star. The needles on the white pine are soft and flexible and the Norway spruce is plump.
The mature trees, ready for their place of honor in the living room, were seeded five to seven years ago. “It takes seven years for most firs; spruce are a little bit quicker,” Mr. Lobb said.
People looking for a Christmas tree will be able to go out and cut their own. If someone wants a live Christmas tree, Mr. Lobb said, “We’ll have a tree spade standing by.”
“If the people want live trees, I think that’s a great thing,” Mr. Lobb said. He added instructions for helping a live tree transition successfully from inside the house to the ground. “Keep it away from your heater, no longer than a week in your house and give it plenty of water.”
The two tree farmers are relatively sure they’re the only ones selling Island-grown Christmas trees this season. They’ll each take one home for their own family celebration. Mr. Lobb figures he’ll let his visiting children choose a tree and Mr. Whiting thinks he’ll take a Charlie Brown tree for his house.
From now until Christmas, just like every other season, Mr. Lobb and Mr. Whiting will be at the farm on Saturdays and Sundays — chatting, working and helping people find the perfect tree.
They acknowledge that it’s a lot of work, keeping the business going and working seven days a week, but neither man shows a hint of complaint nor a flicker of regret.
“What’s not to love?” Mr. Lobb said. He reached his left hand out across the field, eyes squinting in the sun, his cheeks red from the cold.
L&W Tree Farm is open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The farm is located on Panhandle Road in West Tisbury, across from the Agricultural Hall.