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Sunday, July 24, 2011 ●

Richard Gwin/Journal-World File Photo

LYN WALTHER, co-owner of Strawberry Hill Christmas Tree Farm, is shown at the property on Highway 40 west of Lawrence. The Walther family has just finished one of the largest tasks of the farm — pruning each of their 5,000 trees.

Christmas trees take a lot of work in high summer T

he shape and beauty of next winter’s Christmas tree is probably far from your mind right now. Getting just the right look to a Scotch pine is high priority to Christmas tree farmers, though, even in the summer heat. Eric and Lyn Walther and their son Mitchell, who operate Strawberry Hill Christmas Tree Farm west of Lawrence, offer a look into the off-season of Christmas tree production. The Walthers have just finished one of the largest tasks of the farm — pruning each tree individually. With approximately 5,000 trees, pruning takes some time. “There’s a lot to shaping the trees,” Eric says. “The Scotch pine just doesn’t grow in a good traditional Christmas tree form.” Tree pruning is dependent on weather conditions and completion of other tasks. Trees cannot be pruned when they are wet from rain or dew because of the risk of spreading fungal disease from tree to tree. When the temperatures are

Garden Calendar

Jennifer Smith

exceedingly high, like recent late afternoons, trees suffer additional stress. And there’s the mowing and equipment maintenance to work around. To top it off, trees must be pruned every year from planting to sale, typically a seven- to eight-year span. “This is the time of year when you’re just doing plain old sweaty, hard work,” Lyn says. “This is when we have to remember November and December, with the kids coming in and the families, the stories and the smiles. Some of the

families are on their third generation of coming to us now. I don’t know of any other types of farming operations that really get that pleasure.” The vision of families cutting down their trees on crisp snowy days before climbing onto the hayride is certainly a strong one. Besides the pruning, mowing, stump grinding and planting, Christmas trees are susceptible to a few common insect and disease pests. The tree farm has seen a number of insect problems since it opened in 1985, Eric says. “The last few years, we have really had problems with bagworms. In previous years, we’ve dealt with tortoise scale and white scale and tip moths,” he says. Tortoise scale and white scale are small insects that feed under a protective shell. Sometimes trees lose a branch or section of needles to diseases like brown spot, which the Walthers say is not worth trying to spray with a fungicide. “It’s a no-win situation. We just cut them down and burn

them when we see it,” Mitchell says. Despite the list of pests, the Scotch pine is the best species for Christmas tree production in Kansas. The other major diseases that affect Scotch pines — the deadly pine wilt and stressful tip blight — most commonly affect older trees. Ideally, Christmas trees are cut down before these diseases become a problem. Eric notes that the drought has been more of a problem than disease or insects on their farm. Between the years 2002 and 2005, the Walthers planted about 4,000 additional trees and lost nearly all of them in droughty conditions. Irrigation is not cost effective. Strawberry Hill Christmas Tree Farm has been able to withstand hard times that drove other Christmas tree growers out of business, though. Eric credits their success to participation in the Kansas Christmas Tree Growers’ Association, and to help they received from former

Douglas County Extension Director Earl Van Meter. Mitchell is currently serving as president of the association. Eric also notes that they try to work with the other local Christmas tree growers. If a customer is looking for an especially large Christmas tree, for example, they will refer the customer to Prairie Elf Christmas Trees, who typically have some larger specimens. A letter in my files dated 1986 indicates that there were 30 Christmas tree farms in Douglas County alone. Today, there are only four: Strawberry Hill Christmas Tree Farm, 794 Highway 40; Prairie Elf Christmas Trees, 765 E. 750 Road; Evening Star Pines, 9820 Evening Star Road, Eudora; and Green Forest, 292 N. 2100th Road, Lecompton. —Jennifer Smith is the Horticulture Extension Agent for K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. Contact her or an Extension Master Gardener with your gardening questions at 843-7058.


Hidden messages give old valuables unique cachet By Terry Kovel

Antiques are mysterious in many ways. Some, like an asparagus server, were made to do jobs that are no longer necessary. Some, like the Jenny Lind bed with spiral posts, are named for forgotten celebrities. An antique mechanical bank with a hunter aiming his rifle at a bear cub is more than a toy. It represents the day President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a bear. But most intriguing are patterns that carry hidden meanings. In recent years, researchers have learned that some 19thcentury quilts included unique blocks that gave directions to those escaping slavery on the Underground Railroad. Hidden messages are not new. After the French Revolution in the late 1700s, it was not safe to side with the monarchy. But some members of the royal

family and their friends wanted to show their loyalty to the king. A design for Chinese export dishes based on an engraving published during the revolution shows an urn filled with weeping branches displayed in a circular medallion. Only a few realized that the urn was part of a message. The white space on each side of the base of the urn is shaped like silhouettes of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. In the tree branches are profiles of the two royal children. The plates, with the pattern name “Urne Mysterieuse,” sell for thousands of dollars each today, but the hidden message usually has to be explained.


I found a big old automobile horn in a pile of junk. It has three long brass tubes attached to the base that’s

Cowles Syndicate Inc. Photo

LOOK for the hidden faces under the tree. This “Urne Mysterieuse” pattern plate, 9 5/8 inches in diameter, sold for $1,888 at a Brunk auction in Asheville, N.C., in 2009. marked “The Minerva Auto Horn, HHM Co., Pat. April 9th, 1912.” Please tell me something about it.


The base of your old automobile horn could be attached to the exhaust system of an old

car to produce a loud noise resembling the sound of a train’s steam engine horn. The level of sound could be adjusted by the driver. The April 9, 1912, patent for the horn (No. 1,022,564) was granted to Willard Pennock of Minerva, Ohio. Pennock apparently opened a manufacturing company in Minerva or assigned the patent to a manufacturer. Eventually, four different sizes and styles of the horn were made. They originally sold for $5 to $10. One like yours auctioned in 2005 for $140. Q: I have an old phonograph that has a metal plate that reads “The Pooley Grand Prix Eufonola, Manufactured by the Pooley Furniture Co. Inc., Philadelphia.” It has a crank turntable. The bottom doors open to reveal shelves for record storage. What is the age and value

of this phonograph? A: Pooley Furniture Co. was founded by James Barnum Pooley in 1892. The company made all sorts of furniture, including cabinets for phonographs and radios. Phonograph cabinets were made by several different manufacturers. An ad in a 1916 edition of Talking World Magazine listed Acme Cabinet Co. of New York City as the maker of the Eufonola disc player. The first 78-rpm records were made about 1900, but the speed at which a record turned (revolutions per minute) was not standardized until about 1930. The Pooley is not selling well today and usually sells for less than $100. Q: I’d like to know something about a silver-plated tea set I bought at an estate sale. It’s marked “Academy Silver on Cop-

per” on each piece. The mark is round like a stamp. A: Academy Silver was in business in New York City from 1951 to 1961. The company made silver-plated hollowware. ●

Terry Kovel answers as many questions as possible through the column. By sending a letter with a question, you give full permission for use in the column or any other Kovel forum. Names, addresses or email addresses will not be published. We cannot guarantee the return of any photograph, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. The volume of mail makes personal answers or appraisals impossible. Write to Kovels, (Lawrence Journal-World), King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.


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