Ernie and Donna Smith’s retirement project is paying off this Christmas.
Nine years ago, they planted about 1,000 Douglas fir trees at the front of their scenic acreage on Lyman Hill, with the intention of starting a Christmas tree farm. Ernie said members of the Jespersen family (who operate the Jespersen Solvang Tree Farm in Salmon Arm) helped get them started on the tree farm as a retirement project, though caring for the trees became more of a hobby for him.
“I’ve spent many hours out there with the trees,” said Ernie, with Donna adding it takes three hours alone just to mow the grass around them using two riding mowers.
The Smiths opened their u-cut Christmas tree farm to the public last year.
“Last year, there was no snow mind you, we had people that didn’t want to leave,” said Ernie. “They were feeding the horses next door from the apple tree and this year we have a box of apples sitting out there. The kids just totally enjoy it.”
The Smiths have since modified the tree cutting/purchasing process to include stringent health and safety protocols.
This year, the Smiths sold their first Christmas tree to a resident of Revelstoke. Residents from Vernon, Kamloops and Kelowna have also made their way to Salmon Arm to buy a tree from the Smiths. The draw has to do with this summer’s heat dome and the recent flooding event in the Lower Mainland which, combined, have reportedly resulted in a shortage of Christmas trees available for sale in B.C.
“We’ve seen a lot of it on TV and it is very, very bad,” said Ernie. “My trees – you can actually see there are some in the middle where some of the needles fell off, but overall they’re really good. Then you can see on some trees that were facing west, you can see a little brown on the tree but they survived – it actually was baking them.”
The Smiths’ farm was reduced to about 700 trees a few years back after a winter of heavy snowfall. Asked if he’d replanted any, Ernie said he considered it but, after this summer, is glad he didn’t.
“I was going to add more trees but it’s hard to get the seedlings,” he explained. “I put my name in with three different forestry companies that provide them. What you do is you can get the leftovers and there were no leftovers. It’s a good thing I didn’t because I would have lost them all. Especially the seedlings.”
The Smiths have lived at their Lyman Hill residence, originally owned by the Lyman family, for 43 years. The small, cozy abode wasn’t so welcoming when Ernie discovered it after taking a drive up 70th Avenue NE all those years ago.
“We had a little house in town but we didn’t want to live there with three boys,” explained Donna. “(Ernie) took a drive out here one day and came back and said, ‘We’ve got to go back, it’s a private sale!’ By the time he took the guy out to sign the papers they were lined up at the driveway coming in.”
“This house had about 20 mice in it, holes in the walls…,” said Ernie who, having worked in construction, fixed up the home he guessed to be 108 years old.
Trees at the Smith’s tree farm are $55 u-cut. For an extra $5, you can pick out your tree and Ernie will cut it down and haul it to your vehicle for you.
Asked if they set up their own tree for Christmas, Donna said she puts up a small ornamental one but not a full tree as she and Ernie tend to spend their Christmas’ with their kids.
“They all put trees up, I donate the trees,” said Ernie.
The Smith’s tree farm is located at 6170-70th Ave. N.E. and is open daily until dusk.
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