Dodging Raindrops: The Race to Plant 9,000 Christmas Tree Seedlings

July 12th, 2017

In our last post, we told you about purchasing evergreen tree seedlings. Once those seedlings are at Abbey Farms, the “race” begins. The vigor of the seedlings lessens each day they sit in cold storage, versus planted. Evergreens are best planted while they are still dormant. Moreover, once dug, the roots are in danger of drying out prior to transplanting. It is always our goal to plant them as soon as possible.

Before we begin to plant, we prepare the fields. In fields that are sparse with suitable trees, we cut down the remaining trees and move them out. We also cut down tall stumps so we can mechanically plant without damaging the equipment. Unlike corn or pumpkin planting, we do not till the ground first.

However, Mother Nature does not always cooperate with our schedule.

This year, with the wet weather, we delayed picking up the seedlings a week. Even so, the continued rain made planting those 9,000 seedlings agonizingly difficult. We even had a new mechanical tree planter to use! It sat in the shed, pristine and ready to go. More rain, so it sat idle even longer. The frustration factor increased, even though we knew we still had time to plant.

New Versus Old Tree Planter

Tree Planters

Pictured on top is the old planter, dating from the 1940s. Our new mechanical planter is pictured on the bottom.

As the calendar page flipped to May, we hoped that the new tree planter would prove to be our redeemer. Time was of essence.

The old planter (pictured, along with the new) likely dates from the 1940s. Sometime during the ’50s, the U.S. Forest Service donated it to the monastery. Up to this year, it reliably – most of the time – planted trees at Abbey Farms.

Using this one-seat machine, we can plant 200 – 300 tree seedlings in one hour. That is, if the soil conditions are perfect; something that rarely happens.

After a lot of online research by our farm operations manager, and phone calls to users of various brands of tree planters, we purchased a two-seat planter from The Mechanical Transplanter Company in Holland, Michigan. The unit, Model CT-12, is designed to work in the clay soil that is predominant throughout Abbey Farms. It also can capably plant larger plants, up to 30” tall.

Tree Planter in Action

Planting Christmas tree seedlings with a mechanical planter.

Adam Voirin, COO of Abbey Farms, drives the tractor while Eric Mott and Jeff Kus feed the planter.

Finally, a window in the wet weather opened and we hooked up the new planter. During our first attempt, we found that the fields were still too wet. We put tree planting on hold once again. With good drying conditions, we were ready to give it another go a day later.  After learning how to use it, and a few adjustments, we were off and running.

What a difference! With two people feeding seedlings into the planting shoe, in an “ideal” world, we can now plant about 700 trees per hour. Even with less than ideal conditions, we can maintain good speed and plant over twice as fast as previously. Check out some of our photos and watch the video to see the planter in action.

Hand Planting Christmas Tree Seedlings

Hand planting Christmas tree seedlings

Using a dibble to hand plant evergreen tree seedlings.

After planting the open areas with the mechanical transplanter, we hand plant. This may be to replace a tree that died, or to fill out areas that aren’t sparse enough to justify clearing. We try to space the trees six feet within the row, and seven feet between rows. We aim to grow 900 – 1,000 trees per acre.

Our small crew canvasses the various fields and uses a hand tool called a dibble bar to plant. We  took a couple of photos, but also found a video for you, if you are intent on learning how to use one!

Whether mechanically or hand planting, the roots need to go into the ground straight. Roots that are bent in a “J” or “U” compromise the tree’s growth. We don’t always catch the root issues, but we do trim extra-long roots before planting.

Growing

Like any plant after it planting, we count on good farming/forestry practices and ample help from God through Mother Nature for it to thrive. In our next post about growing your Christmas tree, we’ll show you how we trim the trees.

 

Eric, Eric, Farm Operations Manager…How Does Your Christmas Tree Grow?

May 23rd, 2017
Evergreen Seedlings and Transplants

Our first stop was at Peterson’s Riverview Nursery. The Abbey Farms order was ready and waiting for us!

The quick answer to this quirky take on a popular fairy tale question is “slowly with a lot of TLC.” This fall, as you search for that ‘perfect’ Christmas tree, keep in mind that growing Christmas trees is a long process. Six-foot trees and over take at least seven years to grow in our fields, and more likely over 10 years.

That is if everything goes well.  In a series of posts this year, we’re sharing what we learn about growing evergreen trees with you. First step is to pick up the seedlings. We tagged along with Eric Mott, the Abbey Farms farm operations manager, when he drove to Michigan to pick up his tree order.

First Step in Growing Christmas Trees – Ordering Seedlings

Evergreen transplants growing in field

These Canaan Firs are growing in a transplant bed. They were started in a seedbed, then transplanted to this bed where they will continue to grow until harvested for sale.

Each year Abbey Farms purchases between 9,000 and 12,000 seedlings from various tree nurseries in Michigan.  The nurseries supplying us with differing varieties of pine, spruce and fir trees the last couple of years are Peterson’s Riverview Nursery in Allegan, along with New Life Nursery and Alpha Nurseries in Holland.

Deciding which type of evergreen to order depends on several factors. These could include:

  • What grows in our clay soil and in our climate
  • Popularity
  • Disease resistance
  • Mixture of long- and short-needle species
  • A variety of species and varieties to ensure that we don’t have “all of our eggs in one basket!”

Choosing Evergreen Species and Varieties

Sorting evergreen transplants

Each nursery hires seasonal staff to sort, grade and prepare the seedlings for shipment. They are sorted by species and variety, and also by size. They are then bundled and/or boxed for shipment or pickup.

You’ve asked for them, and we’ve tried. Fraser and even Balsam firs are ever popular, but we haven’t had luck growing them in our soil. Firs, and generally all evergreens, like a sandier soil that drains well. Unfortunately, the soil at Abbey Farms is mainly dense clay. We’ve tried various firs, with the Canaan fir showing the most promise as it is more tolerate of poorly drained soils.

In 2016, we purchased about 11,500 seedlings, including 1,000 Canaan firs. Spruces we purchased were the deep green Norway spruce, some Colorado blue spruce and white spruce. The pines included Scotch or Scots pine (two varieties: French and East Anglia) and white pine.

2017 Seedlings

Evergreen tree seedlings

Trees, trees, trees! A field of evergreen seedlings and transplants at Alpha Nursery.

This year, we purchased 9,000 seedlings. Of the 4,000 Scotch pine we bought, they were equally divided between East Anglia and French varieties. We choose different varieties (seed source) as a disease deterrent. In theory, each variety may react differently to a disease, giving us a better likelihood of growing the trees to marketable size.  It takes about seven to eight years for the pine tree to reach a suitable size for cutting.

As a Christmas tree, the Scotch pine is known for its dark green foliage and stiff branches, which are well suited for decorating with both light and heavy ornaments. We didn’t bring in any white pine this year as we already are well supplied. The white pine has soft, flexible needles and is bluish-green in color. Because they are softer, they aren’t recommended for heavy ornaments. They have little aroma, too, which is one reason many of us like our fresh trees!

John Deere tractor with tree transplant lifter

The machine attached to the tractor is used to lift the transplants growing in the field. They will then be sorted and bundled for customer pickup or shipping.

Norway and Black Hills spruce make up the 5,000 spruce seedlings this year, with the majority being Norway spruce. The spruce will take at least 10 years to grow a 6-7 foot tree, and more likely 11 to 12 years. For Christmas trees, the overall color of Norway spruce is good. You’ll get good needle retention as long as you cut it fresh and properly water it.

The Black Hills spruce features dark green to blue-green needles, and grows in a nice pyramidal shape with less pruning – a time saver for us!

Seedling/Transplant Sizes

Loading trailer with evergreen transplants

The owner at Alpha Nursery helps Eric Mott, farm operations manager, load up the trailer to head home to Abbey Farms. Then, the race to plant begins!

When we purchase our trees, they are marked by a set of numbers, such as 2 – 0, 2 – 1, 2 – 2, etc. The tree nursery sows the seeds directly in a seedbed. The number of years grown in the seedbed corresponds to the first number, so a 2 – 1 tree grew for two years in the seedbed. It was then lifted and transplanted into a bed at even spacing to continue to grow until sold. The number of years in the transplant bed corresponds to the second number.

This year, we purchased larger seedlings – some were already 3-feet tall! By replacing an old, outdated tree planter, we anticipate a better success planting larger seedlings. Cross your fingers – let’s hope it works!

Enjoy the photos of our excursion and watch for the next installment. You’ll see our new and old tree planters and watch a video of planting in action! If you have questions about growing Christmas trees that you’d like answered in an upcoming blog, please send them to info@abbeyfarms.org or send us a message on Facebook.

School’s Out For Summer! What’s a Kid to Do? Go to Summer Camp at Abbey Farms of Course!

May 10th, 2017

Does this sound familiar? Shortly after school ends, your children are already whining, “We don’t have anything to do.” Never fear, we have a fun and educational solution here – summer camp!

Building on the success of our first farm camp held last summer, we’re expanding the camps this year. Jackie Rakers, Abbey Farm’s educational programs and volunteer coordinator, fills us in on all the skinny about this year’s activities.

“Not all kids are interested in worms, plants and dirt,” Jackie mentioned. “This year, we designed the curriculum to appeal to a wider audience.”

To better suit various age groups, the camps are divided into three grade level groups. Each has a different age-appropriate theme. All camps are Monday – Thursday, 9 – 11:30 a.m. and cost $110 per child. Grade levels correspond to what grade the child will enter in the fall.

Summer Camp Descriptions

Summer Camp at Abbey Farms

Does your child beg to help in the kitchen? Third through fifth graders can have fun in the kitchen during Fun Food Science summer camp.

Class details for each camp/event:

  • Art Time on the Farm, Kindergarten through second grade, June 12 – 15: Campers will experiment with a variety of art materials and methods. Each activity encourages the development of creative thinking and problem solving skills. Campers should bring an art shirt or smock that stays at camp throughout the session.
  • Stimulating STEM, Second through fourth grade, June 19 – 22: We’ll have fun with science! Students will build Alka-Seltzer rockets and compete in an egg-drop engineering challenge. We’ll also experiment with Oobleck and Elephant’s Toothpaste, and much more.
  • Fun Food Science, Third through fifth grade, June 26 – 29: Campers will discover the basics of nutrition. They’ll also get busy in the kitchen and learn age appropriate kitchen fundamentals while creating healthy recipes from around the world. Because campers will handle food and eat their creations, this camp is may not be suitable for children with food allergies. Ingredient lists are given prior to start of camp session.
  • Farmtastic Fridays*, Kindergarten through fifth grade, June 16, 23, 30: As a group, children will explore all that Abbey Farms has to offer! From the Jumping Pillow and Zipline to the MegaDrop Slide and Tractor Tire Mountain, there is fun to enjoy around every corner. Each camper should bring a bottle of water and wear close-toed shoes and sunscreen.

In case you’re wondering…All campers will receive a healthy snack each morning. We’ll also have fun during a structured playtime on Abbey Farms’ many attractions.

*Farmtastic Fridays

We often get requests to play on the farm during other times than Pumpkin Daze. Because this is a working farm, it isn’t possible for us to allow access to the farm attractions year-round. However, with Farmtastic Friday, your children can enjoy our activities while being supervised.

Farmtastic Friday is open to all children, kindergarten through fifth grade, 9 – 11:30 a.m. The registration fee is $20 per child. Those students registered for a 2017 summer camp session are eligible for a discounted rate of $15 per child. Farmtastic Friday is available on June 16, 23 and 30.

Led by a Teacher

Image of Abbey Farms employee

Abbey Farms’ educational programs and volunteer coordinator, Jackie Rakers, can’t wait to meet your children at summer camp this summer!

Adam Voirin, CEO of Abbey Farms, says that one thing that sets these camps apart from many others is that a licensed educator leads them. Jackie Rakers plans and leads our summer camps. She is a 2013 graduate of Aurora University with a degree in elementary education. She has additional minors in special education, social studies and science.

“This plays into continued education over the summer – but make it fun,” Adam explained. “Being on the farm, you can get your hands dirty a little bit, but the kids can still get out and learn. Plus, they run off some energy on our attractions.”

Not only does Jackie run these summer camps, she is in charge of school field trips to the farm in the fall. With her educational background, the fall field trips are a favorite Abbey Farms activity, and one that is growing yearly.

Summer camp sign up photo“I always like when the young kids visit, because it is usually their first time being on a farm,” Jackie commented. “They are excited to see how pumpkins grow, to see the garden grow and also that ‘we grow apples on trees!’”

Register Online

Sign up your children for this one-of-a-kind summer experience by visiting our online store at www.abbeyfarms.org/store. It is easy to complete your summer camp registration on our secure website. If you have unanswered questions, please call Jackie at (630) 966-7775, extension 4.  We hope to see your children this summer on the farm!

#abbeyfarms, #urbanfarms, #summercamp, #stem, #foodfun, #farmtastic

It’s Open. It’s Beautiful. And It’s Free. Visit Our Spring Open House on Sunday, April 30

April 27th, 2017
Welcome to Abbey Farms.

Welcome to Abbey Farms!

Hear ye! Hear ye! Come one. Come all. The spring open house at The Nagel Emporium at Abbey Farms takes place on Sunday, April 30, 1 – 4 p.m. The venue is located at 2855 Hart Road in Aurora.

Grab a friend or two, tour the venue, and take in the sweeping views of the surrounding grounds. Our rustic-chic barn venue is in its third year of hosting romantic wedding receptions, stylish corporate events, “fun” fundraisers and other special happenings.

Staff photo at 2016 open house

Linda Voirin of Garland & Lace with Wendy Felder, Abbey Farms venue manager, at last year’s event.

According to Wendy Felder, the event gives you the chance to check out a variety of resources at one time. Wendy is the venue and resource manager at Abbey Farms.

“The Nagel Emporium Annual Open House is for everyone and anyone who would like to learn more about hosting an event here,” Felder stated. “Admission is free, and it is a great opportunity to see the beautiful venue and its surrounding landscape and outside spaces.

“Whether you are just starting to plan, thinking about planning, or well into your plans, this is for you,” she continued. “Everyone is welcome!”

The Sugar Path Bakery

Yum! Examples and samples from The Sugar Path Bakery at last year’s event. One of our preferred vendors!

Meet Vendors at Our Open House

Wedding flowersBesides touring the venue, you can visit with preferred vendors. Ask questions and enjoy light refreshments and catering samples. Vendors invited are:

  • Bakeries: DeEtta’s Bakery, Nothing Bundt Cakes, The Sugar Path and Vanilla Sugar
  • Caterers: Angeli’s Catering and Restaurant, Belgio’s Catering, Chef By Request, Enticing Cuisine, Pal Joey’s , Tasteful Affairs Catering, and Uncle Bub’s Hickory Smoked BBQ Restaurant & Catering
  • Décor and Vintage Rentals: Garland & Lace
  • DJ’s: City Street’s DJs, DJs For You
  • Florists: kio kreations, Schefflers Florist, Town & Country Gardens
  • Hotels: Comfort Inn & Suites of Geneva, Hilton Garden Inn Naperville/Warrenville, Hotel Arista, Residence Inn Naperville/Warrenville
  • Insurance: Tim Wulff Insurance Agency
  • Photographers: Elite Photo, Edward Fox Photography
  • Wedding Ceremony Venues: Naper Settlement Memorial Chapel, Shannon Hall/Batavia Park District, The Historic Pavilion/St. Charles Park District, Trinity Chapel in Wheaton
Couple talking with staff member during 2016 Open House

Chat with our Abbey Farms staff.

Of course, you can meet and chat with all of the Abbey Farms’ service-oriented staff.

Did we mention? The event is free of charge! We appreciate your pre-registering at our store, but you are welcome to register at the door, too. Spring has sprung, mark your calendars, make plans to tour the venue, and wander the beautiful grounds. See you on April 30!

P.S. Don’t keep this a well-hidden secret; share with friends, family and on your Facebook or other social media page!

Hashtags: #AbbeyFarmsOpenHouse, #weddingvenue, #eventvenue, #free, #caterers, #bakeries, #NagelEmporium, #agritourism

Click before Cooking: Abbey Farms Online Store is Open for Business

March 29th, 2017

We have fresh news for you – Abbey Farms now has an online store! A selection of our private labeled food items are just a click away.

Apple Cider Donuts

Yum! Our Apple Cider donuts are available to pick up the first Saturday of the month. Order yours via our online store!

It is easy to order online and pick up locally at Father Bede’s Produce Barn by the windmill on Wednesday mornings. Alternatively, ship your appetizing products direct to you or to a friend as a gift. Shipping and handling charges are an additional charge for this option. Wednesday morning pickups are available from 9 – 11 a.m.

We even have our delicious – and locally famous – Apple Cider donuts available. Preorders are required, in quantities of one dozen, for $11.50/dozen. Pick up your order on the first Saturday of each month at Father Bede’s Barn (smaller barn) from 9 – 11 a.m.

How to order from the online store

A rotating stock of Abbey Farms products are available to order online. You can even order fresh baked pies for Wednesday pickup. As you shop, our system automatically prompts for each step of the way. To order:

  1. Visit the Abbey Farms online store by clicking this link.
  2. Select a product or products and click either “Select Options” or “Add to Cart.”
  3. This will send you to a new page where you can select quantities. For most products, you’ll also have the option to click “In-Store Pickup Wednesday.”
  4. Select the quantity you’d like to order, then click “Add to Cart.”
  5. Once clicked, your cart totals will be calculated. It will show a total cost, including tax and shipping, with the option to either checkout or continue shopping. If you’ve chosen store pickup, shipping isn’t charged. Otherwise, there is an option to enter your zip code to get the estimated shipping charges. Two other options on this page are to enter a coupon code, or a gift card.
  6. Once you go to check out, you will need to set up an account, if you haven’t previously. The form asks for your name, company name if applicable, address, and a phone number. You can also check “Ship to Different Address,” where you will get a new form to enter the correct address. There is also a place to add special requests for your order, under “Order Notes.”
  7. On the “Continue to Shipping” prompt, you will be given three shipping choices: UPS Ground, UPS Second Day Air, or In-Store Pick-Up.
  8. After determining your shipping method, you’ll proceed to Payment where you will securely enter your credit card information.
  9. Once you verify your order, shipping requests, and credit card payment, you will click “Submit Order.” By submitting the order, the checkout process is complete and you can no longer make changes to the order.
  10. And…you are finished!

Recipes

Online Store Product

This Citrus Rosemary Grilling Sauce is available through the Abbey Farms online store. It tastes delicious used in the Grilled Pork Tenderloin recipe we’re sharing with you.

Usually, 50 or more products will be available online. Many of our unique food items will add a kick or new flavor to some of your tried and true recipes. Here are two to get you started!

Cheddar Cilantro Corn Muffins Recipe

Grilled Pork Tenderloins

We hope you find our online store easy to use. If you have problems, contact us via email info@abbeyfarms.org, or call (630) 966-7775 during normal business hours. Let us know what your favorite products are, too. Bon appétit!

Hashtags: #AbbeyFarms, #OnlineStore, #AppleCiderDonuts, #FreshBakedPies, #BonAppetit

Tags: Online Store, Abbey Farms, Condiments, Recipes

Thank a Farmer: Today is National Ag Day!

March 20th, 2017

Abbey Farms is proud of our role as an urban farm. So, were happy to support National Ag Day 2017.

Yes, we may be more agri-tourism related, but we are also committed to produce fresh food for your table. Each year our produce market has grown, and we plan to plant more vegetables this year as well. Next year, we’re excited that our dream of an apple orchard begins!

2017 National Ag Day

National Ag Day

The theme for National Ag Day 2017 is “Agriculture: Food for Life.”

March 21, 2017 is National Ag Day. The Agriculture Council of America (ACA) organizes the promotion. ACA is a nonprofit organization composed of leaders in the agricultural, food and fiber community. They dedicate their efforts to increasing the public’s awareness of agriculture’s role in modern society.

According to ACA, the National Ag Day program encourages every American to:
• Understand how food and fiber products are produced.
• Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products.
• Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy.
• Acknowledge and consider career opportunities in the agriculture, food and fiber industry.

This year’s theme is “Agriculture: Food for Life.” It marks the 44th anniversary of National Ag Day. In its honor, we’re sharing some agriculturally-related facts with you!

Consider this…

Did you know that 2 million farms dot America’s rural landscape? According to America’s Diverse Family Farms, families – individuals, family partnerships or family corporations – operate about 99 percent of U.S. farms.

There are over seven billion people in the world today, which means that’s over seven billion mouths to feed every day. Thankfully, today’s farmers produce 262 percent more food with 2 percent fewer inputs (labor, seeds, feed, fertilizer, etc.), compared with 1950. However, the world’s population is predicted to grow to nine million by 2050 – 2 billion more mouths to feed. Whew!

Agriculture in Illinois

In Illinois, there are 72,200 farms according to the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service. (What a mouthful!) About 75 percent of the state’s total land area is farmland.

FarmFlavor.com says that Illinois ranks at the top for several of the nation’s most important commodities. This includes ranking Number 1 in soybean production, Number 2 in corn and Number 4 in swine. Illinois is also a leader in several specialty crops, such as pumpkins, buckwheat, horseradish and Christmas trees.

Pumpkin Varieties

Look for even more varieties of pumpkins grown on Abbey Farms in 2017.

Abbey Farms is, of course, a contributor to the production of pumpkins and Christmas trees. The Farm Flavors website also says that pumpkins grown in Illinois had a production value of $47.13 million in 2014. The state’s producers harvested 7.45 million hundredweight of pumpkins – enough to fill almost 1,865 full-size pickup trucks. Kane is one of the top 10 counties in Illinois for producing pumpkins.

This year, our pumpkin patch will be larger, according to Eric Mott, Abbey Farms farm operations manager. Last year, we grew about five acres of six different varieties of pumpkins. Eric says Abbey Farms sold 60,000 pounds of pumpkins last year, nearly all of it grown on the farm. He hopes to plant 12 or more varieties of pumpkins on 8.5 acres this year. This means that those of you looking for interesting decorative pumpkins will have more to choose!

Farm education

Jackie Rakers is an Illinois-certified teacher and head of the Abbey Farms education program. She is currently adding the final additions to this summer’s camps. The camps will feature age-appropriate educational activities and farm-based play. Watch for more information about the various thematic camps and registration soon!

In the meantime, we encourage you to learn more about how your food is grown. National Ag Day recognizes and celebrates the abundance provided by American agriculture. Value the importance of agriculture in your daily life. And remember, thank a farmer and all those who work in this vital industry!

Tags: National Ag Day, Farmers, Abbey Farms, Pumpkins, Farm Education, Agricultural Education, Thank A Farmer, Food, Farm Fresh News, Farm to Table

Hashtags: #AgDay #AbbeyFarms #CommunityFarm

We’re Branching Out – Abbey Farms Apple Orchard to Sprout

March 20th, 2017

When you think of Abbey Farms, it is likely that you don’t think of apple trees. We’re going to change that! We’re laying the foundation for a 20-acre apple orchard, to be grown on the west side of Hart Road. Look for the identifying sign along Hart Road next time you’re in the area. You’ll also see a mound of dirt in the fields, this is where the orchard will take root.

Why Apples?

Adding an apple orchard is part of our long-range growth plan, a plan that is rooted in our history as a Christmas tree farm, but offers diversification to provide alternative income sources. In our previous post you learned how disease can devastate a tree crop, which can cripple revenue.Abbey Farms Apple Orchard logo Thus, cultivating other ways to fund the mission of the Marmion Abbey is imperative.

Long-time Abbey Farm patrons have witnessed the addition of the popular Pumpkin Daze, a farm produce stand and The Nagel Emporium. The Abbey Farms Apple Orchard is the latest addition and we’re excited to introduce this newest venture to you!

We’re planning to begin planting in 2018. With newer orchard cultivation practices, you will be able – weather permitting – to harvest in 2021.

Apple Orchard Prep

In the meantime, a lot of soil work is necessary: first is the fill clay, then lots of topsoil with the goal of making this soil better than any around here. The orchard will be well-drained and irrigated to help offset Mother Nature’s weather mood swings. The neighboring houses will offer shelter from windburn for our trees, too.

You’ll quickly see that we’re subscribing to newer orchard practices once we start planting. We’ll purchase dwarf apple trees. And, besides being irrigated, the trees will be trained onto trellises with denser planting than orchards of the past.

What this means for you is that when it comes time to open the orchard for you-pick, it will be easier to navigate the orchard and pick apples – without needing ladders. For us, it means we can take better care of the trees, resulting in healthier trees that bear more apples.

Environmental Benefits

As with our Christmas trees, these trees contribute to a better environment in an urban setting. For instance:

  • Each apple tree will absorb CO2 and produce about 260 pounds of oxygen a year, about enough for two people for 365 days
  • The apple trees are a great source of pollination for our local bee population
  • Apple trees help to absorb runoff water, stopping erosion and preserving topsoil
  • It will also add to locally-sourced food options for you and your family and many in the surrounding community

Which Apples Should We Plant?

We hope to plant over 20 different varieties of apples – maybe not all the first year, but within the first couple of planting years. With over 2,500 varieties grown in the United States (per the University of Illinois Extension Service), we have lots to choose from!

Are you a fan of Honeycrisp? Or, do you yearn for old-timers such as McIntosh or Cortland? Perhaps you’re a Granny Smith lover. Do you prefer eating apples or cooking apples – or a mix? We have 5,000 or more trees to plant the first year and we hope you’ll share what apples score high on your wish list.

Although we may not be able to plant everyone’s favorite, but we welcome your feedback as to which types of apples you and your family enjoy the most – and why. Let us know by commenting below, telling us on Facebook or tweet Abbey Farms with the hashtag #myfavoriteapple!

Grow Your Memories

Small boy picking apples

Photo courtesy of Tim and Selena Middlestream, Apple Picking 2006. Via Creative Commons licensing.

As we grow our apple orchard, we invite you to grow your memories alongside by sponsoring an apple tree. By investing in our orchard, you and your family will not only receive special apple picking privileges, you’ll have the opportunity to give a gift that keeps on giving. (Sorry, we couldn’t help it!)

With your $225 tax-deductible donation, you’ll receive:

  • Exclusive invitation to a ground-breaking ceremony scheduled in 2018
  • Seasonal summer progress visits to the Apple Orchard for the first three years of tree growth
  • Commemorative plaque that will stay in place for the life of the apple tree (20 – 25 years or more)

You’ll also receive special picking privileges:

  • Each tree sponsor is entitled to early picking rights off their tree with a complimentary ½ peck of apples included during the first five years. Additional apples will be available for sale at market value.
  • Admission-free access to the Apple Orchard for the first five years for the sponsor’s immediate family (up to 6 people).
  • After early sponsor picking, your tree will be opened to the public for seasonal picking to help create memories for many more families!

Tree Replacement

We all know Mother Nature is not always kind, so if your sponsored tree should die prematurely, we’ll replace your tree or move your plaque to a different, unsponsored tree.

Most of all, we want to ensure that your tree provides delicious apples and photo opportunities for years to come. Christmas cards, perhaps?! Sponsoring a tree can be a way for grandparents to honor a new grandchild or it can serve as a living memorial to a cherished loved one. Imagine children’s faces as you experience the changes in your tree each year.

To plant a seed and grow family memories that are rooted in tradition, visit our online order form, or see a cashier in the Emporium. Sponsorships are limited and make a wonderful Christmas, birthday, wedding or anniversary gift. If you have questions, email us at info@abbeyfarms.org.  We are excited to grow the next branch of Abbey Farms and sincerely thank you for entrusting your family memories with us!

News from Abbey Farms: Rooted in Tradition, We’re Growing Family Memories

January 13th, 2017

Welcome to our blog! Follow along as we share the news and stories of Abbey Farms. In the months and years ahead, you’ll experience the issues – good and bad – inherent in growing our trees from small seedlings to your perfect Christmas tree. We’ll share the ups and downs of farming, of hosting events and of building a vital nonprofit organization through agritourism.

People on Abbey Farms tractor

Stop in to meet our full-time staff! Left to right is Jackie Rakers, Jeff Kus, Wendy Felder, Eric Mott and Adam Voirin.

You’ll meet our staff, our volunteers, the vendors and supporters we count on. Most importantly, we’ll share the stories of some of you who create your memories with us. We have an abundance of dreams and plans and our faithful readers will be some of the first to know! To launch this journey, let’s travel back to our roots.

Cows and Corn

In the 1940s, the monks of Marmion Abbey acquired the property that Abbey Farms occupies. From day one, the operation has been a nonprofit organization to benefit the monks and their mission.

The farm was originally a dairy and corn farm. The monks slowly integrated the property into a Christmas tree farm during the U.S. Government-sponsored Soil Bank project in the late 1940s to early 1950s. And, the Abbey has not looked back since!

As you can imagine, the area surrounding Abbey Farms has changed dramatically since the first trees grown on the property were planted in 1949. Now surrounded by residential neighborhoods and paved streets, Abbey Farms takes environmental responsibility seriously.

Clean Air

If we all think back to our biology classes, we learned about photosynthesis. You remember, don’t you? It’s the process where in its simplest form, CO2 [carbon dioxide] and H2O [water] plus energy [sunlight] are converted into O2 [oxygen] and (C6H12O6) [glucose]. The oxygen goes into the air we breathe.

This makes trees and plants the air-purifiers for the earth. At Abbey Farms, our Christmas tree fields convert enough carbon dioxide into oxygen for over 2,100 people yearly!

In its heyday, Abbey Farms sold over 10,000 you-cut Christmas trees each year. This lasted until the early 2000s when the farm began a slow decline. A tree epidemic necessitated the destruction of 20,000 to 30,000 trees. Add in the challenge of farming in the center of residential neighborhoods and an ageing monk population, tree sales dwindled to about 1,300 a year.

Ushering in Change

Abbot Vincent Bataille O.S.B., the president of Marmion Abbey and Abbey Farms knew a change was necessary – and soon. During the resulting search for ideas, Father Michael Burrows O.S.B., thought of one of his past students, Adam Voirin, who has a degree in landscape architecture from Ball State. It made sense to pick up the phone to see if Adam would consider taking over the reins to revitalize. He did say yes! Eight short years later, this sole-source of income Christmas tree farm transformed into a multi-faceted business. It encompasses Christmas trees, a pumpkin farm, seasonal produce store and most recently, a rustic-chic rental venue ¬– with the seeds for more just taking root.

Fast Forward…

Today, Abbey Farms employs five full-time staff and a team of seasonal workers and volunteers that make sure every dollar earned goes to good use at Marmion Abbey. The good news keeps coming! We grew more pumpkins than ever before in 2016 (60,000 pounds were sold) and are already exploring what specialty pumpkins to add to the mix next year. Purple or blue perhaps?! And, the Pumpkin Daze festival that focuses on old fashion farm fun continues to enjoy year over year growth, with over 32,000 visitors in 2016!

Abbey Farms Christmas tree sales have rebounded to over 7,500 trees a year and continue to climb. We’re planting more seedlings each year, which means you’ll find a better selection of trees to choose from in the years ahead. Keep in mind, a tree can take up to 15 years to grow to a sellable height, so please practice patience. Those 11,000+ seedlings we planted last spring are going to need some growing time…

Name Our Blog!

We’d love it if our readers would give us some naming ideas for this blog. We’d like to make it fun, unique and reflect our venue. What say you? Add your thoughts to this post or head over to our Facebook page and give us your suggestion(s). Brainstorm away!