Jim LaCasce, who is over 65, knows his trees. He grew up in the woods of western
Maine and earned a forestry degree at Syracuse University in New York. He then worked as a state forester and
a consulting forester in Maine before starting Finestkind Tree Farms in 1967. He was one of the early growers
of cultivated Christmas trees in what had been a mainly wild-tree market, persevering through the initial
reluctance of consumers to pay more for farm-grown trees.
Today, in a market dominated by cultivated trees, LaCasce's trees are judged to be
the best in Maine. This fall, Finestkind trees won in all four Christmas tree categories - spruce, white pine,
other pine, fir - at the state's annual Fryeburg Fair. One of LaCasce's balsam fir was judged grand
Article From The Boston Globe Magazine of December 24,
Written By: Edgar Allen Beem
Maine is known as the the Pine Tree State, and forest products constitute the state's largest
industry, so growing Christmas trees is a "natural" for Maine tree farmers. And what could be easier? You just
plant some trees, cut them down when they get big enough, and sell them during the holiday season.
Well, its not quite that simple - if done right. Fewer than a dozen of the Maine Christmas Tree Association's 200
members are full-time tree farmers, an indication of the challenges involved in raising a crop that takes 10 years
or more to bring to market.
The business is labor-intensive. The typical 6' to 8' foot Christmas tree is probably between 10 and 12 years old.
It has spent three years rooted in a seed bed, two years in a transplant bed, and six or seven years growing in the
field. During that time, tree farmers like Jim LaCasce are doing a lot more than just watching their evergreens
At his Finestkind Tree Farms (located on the outskirts of the town of Dover-Foxcroft, and bracketed north and south
by the woodland communities of Bowerbank and Garland) trees begin life in the seed orchard next to LaCasce's home.
The mature trees in the seed orchard are not particularly impressive; indeed, they seem quite mismatched and
mishappen. Each tree, however, has been selected for a desirable quality it possesses: deep blue-green color,
vertical branch angle, good needle retention, late budding, durability as a cut tree.
The seeds LaCasce harvests from the seed-orchard cones are dried, preserved, and then used to start seed beds,
where seeds are planted as densely as 1 million per acre. After three years, the best seedlings are transferred to
transplant beds at a density of close to 100,000 an acre. At 5 years of age, the trees are transplanted once more,
again with greater spacing, about 1,340 trees to an acre.
While some tree farmers plant new trees among old as they harvest a stand, LaCasce plants only on renovated ground.
After the year's crop is harvested, all the remaining trees are cut, the ground is plowed and harrowed, stumps are
removed, lime and fertilizer are added, and the field is replanted with new seedlings.
During their six or seven years in the field, Christmas trees must be butt-pruned by hand to remove lower limbs and
to create a "handle." Grass around the trees must be kept mowed, and the stands must be sprayed for pests such as
twig aphids and gall midges. The most laborious task, however, is shearing the trees every summer to create the
desired shape and density.
Finestkind Tree Farms is a family farm. Duane LaCasce, a trained forester like his father, believes the
award-winning quality of Finestkind trees is due primarily to the fact that he and his father do most of the work.
"We try to do as much ourselves as we can," says Duane. "We're in the fields all the time, and we're right there to
supervise our helpers."