‘Come December 26, demand for Christmas trees will be nil’

Phil Wolstenholme at Palmer's Plants, Calverley Lane, Calverley, Leeds. PIC: James Hardisty
Phil Wolstenholme at Palmer's Plants, Calverley Lane, Calverley, Leeds. PIC: James Hardisty
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Neil Hudson looks at four staple elements of the traditional Christmas and asks the experts what kind of year it’s been and whether we can all rest easy come December 25.

Phil Wolstenholme is general manager at tree and shrub specialist Palmer’s Plants, Calverley Lane, Calverley, and explained the mechanics of selling cut Christmas trees.

“We sometimes begin looking for trees in July or August and that’s when we will put our orders in. This year we have ordered about a thousand trees all ranging in size. It’s not an exact science and it’s odds on you will have some trees left over but the ideal situation is to have none left by December 23 but that hardly ever happens.

“People are buying now but the busiest weekend I think will be December 8 and 9 and then December 15 and 16. If you haven’t got a tree by then, you either don’t want one or you are after a bargain.

“Most of the Christmas trees sold are grown in Scotland but some come from Denmark. A six footer will cost about £50 with an eight footer up to about £65 but we also do 12ft, 15ft and even bigger trees right up to 25ft, to order.

“A tree that’s 6ft tall might be in the ground six years, so there’s a fair bit of planning involved in the market and the people who run the nurseries go round checking things like numbers and quality and shape the so on.”

Adam Smith, manager of Wykeham Mature Plants, near Scarborough, North Yorkshire, said it had not been a bad year for tree growers.

“We do not specialise in cut Christmas trees but we do sell living Christmas trees, mainly to councils and village associations. Whereas a cut tree will range in price from £30 to £70 depending on size, for a living tree about 9ft tall you would be talking in the region of about £300. That’s all to do with the amount of effort required, because you cannot just leave a tree to grow on its own for seven years because the roots will go too deep and when you do come to move it you will simply kill it. It therefore has to be moved every few years, we have some pretty big plant pots.

“The other thing to remember about the Christmas tree market is its all over in about two months, so we will begin seeing orders on or around November 1 and I can guarantee you that even in the week before Christmas there will be people running around frantically wanting to buy a tree but come December 26, the demand will be nil.”

‘These vines have never let me down... but I’ve let them down sometimes’

Chemistry teacher turned vine grower George Bowden runs Leventhorpe Vineyard, between Swillington and Woodlesford - it is one of the most northerly vineyards in the UK and the only one within the boundary of a city.

George has managed the south facing slopes off Bullerford Lane for over 30 years. He said that despite the wet weather, they had enjoyed a good harvest.

“You have to remember we had a pretty decent warm period during the summer, when the Olympics were on, so for us it has not been a bad year. It’s not broken any records but in the end the vines came through and did what they were supposed to do.

“The vines here have never let me down, I’ve had occasions where I’ve let the vines down, however.

“I know people grumble about the weather in Leeds but we have not had it half as bad as some other places and people forget it has been a warm year.

“English wines are becoming big business these days, a lot of investors are interested, the Queen now has a vineyard and people are viewing it as a safer bet than it was.

“English wines are also winning top industry awards and taking on the big boys.”

George produces whites and reds priced from £8 to £11 and has come up with something new this year, a pink sparkling wine called ‘salmon blush’.

He added: “Wine is an integral part of Christmas for many, it’s part of the celebrations.”

‘As fresh as possible for customer’

Tim Lindley, from Hostingley Lane Turkey Farm, just outside Thornhill, Dewsbury, has been in the turkey farming business all his life.

He was born on the farm and at 48, he is still running
it. He said they began planning for this Christmas in January.

“We will speak to farm shops and get an idea of numbers in January and place our chick orders in February.

“The geese will arrive in May and the turkeys in June. We produce top quality free range turkeys and geese.

“A turkey will take 22 weeks to grow to full size and that’s a slow growing variety, which results in a finer grained meat.

“I think turkey has gone off the menu year round but certainly at Christmas it’s still very much the staple dish of the day.

“Our birds will range in size anywhere from 40lb to 80lb, they are high welfare birds, which means we look after them and that’s part of our philosophy, because at the end of the day they look after us. They can’t do their job right if we don’t do ours.

“We are taking orders now, the birds are still walking around at the moment but we will begin slaughtering them on December 3 and that will take seven days, after which they will hang for 10 days to improve flavour - all of this is done so that the birds can be as fresh as possible for the customer.”

People can order turkeys online at www.hostingleyfarmfreerange.co.uk.

The vegetable that divides opinion...

John Clappison is owner of W Clappison and Sons, founded in 1976, which produces four per cent of the UK’s sprouts and last year produced around 1,600 tonnes of what the vegetable most likely to divide opinion.

He said: “We begin planning for Christmas in January, planting seeds in green houses and by April or May we start to plant them out in the fields, then we would begin harvesting in October.

“Sprouts do divide opinion but they have changed over the years. For example, we now grow a much milder tasting sprout. They are in fact very good for you, they have five time more vitamin C gram for gram than an orange, they contain a lot of iron and if cooked right they taste wonderful. Some people tend to overcook sprouts, which is a mistake, they need to be crunchy ideally to be enjoyed. They are great in stir fries.

“There’s also no truth in the old wives’ tale that there needs to be frost on the ground before you pick sprouts.

“It has been a challenging year, we had a wet spring and that affected our planting schedules and the recent wet weather is causing us some problems with harvesting but there’s no need to worry, you will still get your sprouts on Christmas Day.

“While we supply sprouts all year round, our orders

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