Ruebush Tree Farm relishes ending on high note

AFP Correspondent

DUBLIN, Va. (Dec. 15, 2015) — Even in the midst of one of its best seasons the family-run Ruebush Tree Farm is ending a 16-year run selling trees, Joe Bishop, farm owner said.
Bishop and his wife Brenda began the farm in 1999 when the first trees were planted on land that had been in her mother’s family.
Bishop said he and his son-in-law, Jonathan Cheverton, planted the first 2,000 trees on the 21-acre tract the first year. They did it by hand using a steel spade.  It took a week. After that, they planted 500 trees every year, maintaining about 2,600 trees on the farm.
So far, Bishop said this year has been their best season with demand for their trees, wreaths and swags reaching a peak at their lot in this small town along the railroad.
Bishopsaid he expects to have to top some of his bigger trees to meet this year’s demand.
They were especially busy Saturday, Dec. 5 following the town’s annual Christmas parade, which passed a few yards from their stand. People attending the parade stopped by the stand to purchase freshly cut trees, wreaths and swags.
While sales were going on outside, some family members and employees were working inside a small trailer, making wreaths and swags to keep up with the demand.
Quality and service are two major factors the Bishops strive for, Joe Bishop said. If someone is not satisfied with their selection they can bring it back and the Bishops will replace it. They also offer a delivery service in the town and nearby area. This has developed as a way of helping widows and others who live alone or cannot transport a tree themselves.
It’s the small things that count, Bishop said. His family tries to do what the customer wants, he added, trimming the trunk of the tree so it will take up water if placed in a stand within two hours. They will even put the tree in a stand for customers who bring their stand to the lot.
Bishop said when they started the business they prepared the fields in February, using Roundup to kill grass and weeds.
They marked off a grid of six feet by eight feet rather than the six by six spacing used by many Christmas tree farmers. This enabled him to use the tractor and equipment he owned in the wider lanes between the trees.
The family has grown Fraser firs, the tree Bishop describes as “the number one selling tree” in the country. They have also grown some Canaan firs, Bishop said.
Their maintenance program is a year-round effort. In June they feed their trees with 19-19-19 fertilizer and later in the summer clip the trees to shape them. He said he and his customers prefer the more open shape clipping gives the trees. 
He sprays occasionally for pests such as spider mites and uses herbicide and moving for grass and weed control. 
The family is fortunate to have been able to plant trees on both sides of Ruebush Road, which runs through the property because problems in one side would often not spread to the field across the road.
As the family prepares to end its Christmas tree business, members have already cleared trees from the farmland on one side and plan to do so after this season on the other side.
During the operation of the farm the Bishops have relied on their daughters and sons-in law to do much of the work. These include Mary Ellen and Jonathan Cheverton and Laura and Kevin McDowell. Joe’s 10-year-old granddaughter, Faith McDowell, also lends a hand, he said.
After the trees are gone, the land will revert to more traditional farm uses, likely pasture for beef cattle, Bishop said.