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Local business avoids harmful chemicals when creating holiday decorations

December 4, 2009
By JOHANNA BOYLE Journal Ishpeming Bureau

MARQUETTE - Nothing quite brings on the holiday spirit like the decorations - garlands, wreaths with red bows, the smell that comes from a freshly-cut Christmas tree.

One Marquette County business has taken the decoration business - and the greenery that goes with it - to a new level of environmental friendliness.

April Meister, who owns The Smiling Dog Flower Farm with husband Dan, creates and sells holiday wreaths, centerpieces, swags and arrangements made from evergreen cuttings from the couple's small tree farm.

Article Photos

To create holiday wreaths, swags and centerpieces, April Meister of The Smiling Dog Flower Farm relies on environmentally-friendly methods to grow her evergreen trees. She also uses deciduous trees like dogwood to add splashes of color. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)

"I prefer things that are real," Meister said. "I don't like plastic."

The farm, which produces cut flowers during the summer growing season, also grows a variety of evergreens and deciduous tree branches that work well in arrangements. All the farm's produce are pesticide and herbicide-free, Meister said.

"We don't use pesticides," Meister said. "Primarily what we do is try and use as little environmentally-damaging products as possible. I don't use any sprayed evergreens."

Christmas trees and other evergreens used in decorations are often sprayed to keep down harmful bugs and weeds, even sometimes sprayed to produce a greener green after the tree goes dormant for the winter.

"Trees go dormant in the winter. Once they start to go dormant, the ultraviolet light affects the needles," Meister said. "Once you bring your greenery inside and you give it warmth again and a little bit of food, you can bring some of that green back."

To help cut greenery retain its natural color, Meister suggested watering it with a mixture of 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of sugar, a quarter teaspoon of bleach and a quart of warm water.

The Smiling Dog farm comprises about five acres - one in cultivation - of property at the Meister's home near Beaver Grove and another 10 acres in Skandia. Besides evergreens, Meister also uses branches from dogwood and other trees that naturally have bright red or yellow coloring.

Each season, the Meisters harvest that year's crop of trees, which are regularly rotated to allow the soil to recuperate. In general, the more sun a tree gets, the fuller the branches are, Meister said. To control harmful insects, Meister uses organic and mechanical means so beneficial insects like bees are not harmed. Weeds are controlled by hand weeding, mulching and horticultural vinegar.

Once ready to begin creating the holiday decorations, the trees are then stripped of their branches.

"It's a series of a lot of chopping and cutting," she said. "I would say I use at least 85 to 90 percent of each tree. I don't have much waste."

One tree can produce around 10 wreaths, with the remaining pieces used for centerpieces and other decorations. Each wreath takes about 20 minutes to put together, and is designed on the spot depending on the shape of the branches.

"I go with the flow of whatever I'm working with. A lot of times they turn out better than what I could have come up with," Meister said.

While the trees are disassembled just outside the couple's home, the branches are then transported into the basement where they are kept in a walk-in cooler and arranged. The compressor that controls the cooler also helps to heat the rest of the basement, Meister said.

Having worked in the floral industry for more than 30 years, Meister said seeing the sorts of pesticides and chemicals that are used in other countries for growing flowers made her want to use greener methods in her own work.

"Our water table is directly below what we grow," she said. "That water table is also shared by our neighbors. I think it's our responsibility to keep our water as clean as possible."

The Meisters are regular vendors at the Marquette and Gwinn farmers markets and can be reached at 906-362-3759.



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