UPPER TOWNSHIP — Bill Eisele has long owned a Christmas tree farm. The grandfather has white hair, a big white beard and a genial disposition.
And the Eisele’s Christmas Tree Farm T-shirt he wears is Santa-suit red.
Suffice it to say, Eisele has been mistaken for Santa Claus by more than one child. He started growing his beard after he got out of the Army on Feb. 9, 1969.
Children have been overheard asking their parents, in whispers, if the man who ran the tree farm was Santa.
At a restaurant, a child who was acting up spotted Eisele at another table, stopped moving and fell silent.
“The mother comes over and says, ‘He thinks you’re Santa Claus.’ So on the way back I said he needed to be a good boy for his parents, not just now but all year long. And he was quiet the rest of the time,” Eisele said.
Eisele owned his eight-acre Christmas tree farm off Old Tuckahoe Road, in Petersburg, Upper Township, long before his beard turned white.
He has a University of Missouri degree in forestry and had worked at a tree farm with two of his professors.
He and his wife started the farm in 1971, although it took years for the trees to grow large enough to sell.
His farm sells Douglas firs (short needles), white firs (medium needles that smell like tangerines) and white pine (long and soft needles.)
The farm is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and by appointment. Trees cost about $6.25 per foot.
Running his farm of about 8,000 trees is time-intensive. For years, Eisele also managed the Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring for the state Department of Environmental Protection. He retired in 2002.
Eisele buys his trees as 3-year-old saplings, plants them in the spring and monitors them throughout the year — mowing, trimming and watching for pests.
“Raising Christmas trees is like raising a family. The easy part is to get them started,” he said. “Then you have to nurture them.”
This makes his brand of farming somewhat unique. Trees planted in the spring might not be sold for six to 12 years. And when the income does come in, it all happens in the space between the day after Thanksgiving and the day before Christmas.
“You have to be an optimist, because we’re planting trees every year. It would be several years before we see the fruits of our labor,” he said.
For the amount of time and energy that goes into the Christmas tree-growing business, there are distinct advantages. Eisele sees families who have made his farm an annual tradition. People are almost always in a good mood.
“This is a business that in all the years we’ve been open, I think I’ve had three checks returned,” he said. “And that’s saying something for a business at Christmas time.”
Family helps with the farm, and there are usually a few young workers this time of the year.
Some of his former employees, such as Jeff Livezey, 36, of Petersburg, Upper Township, became customers.
“It’s nice and festive here, a nice place to get into the Christmas spirit,” said Livezey, who grew up a few houses down from the farm and worked there about 11 years. He was picking out a tree on a recent Friday afternoon.
Since it is open only three days a week, the farm’s business is weather dependent, but not in the traditional way. A rainy day will be a slow day. But when it snows, people come out in droves.
“If it snows, that’s a different story,” Eisele said. “They’ll come out dressed for it, and they’ll come out with their camera to get pictures of the trees with all the snow on them.”
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