Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Meet Mike Godzyk of Sibgo Tree Company

Michael Godzyk took over operation of the Sibgo Tree Company (www.sibgotree.com) in Colebrook from his father in 2001. His dad started the farm with another tree farmer back in 1969. Mike manages a total area of about 200 acres and sells about 10,000 trees each year.
He’s been working on the farm and learning the trade since he was a kid, and has college degrees in both landscape nursery management and landscape horticulture. His four-year-old son is already learning how to plant Christmas trees on the farm.
Last year Mike took state champion for trees and reserved grand champion honors at the annual Big-E fair. Here’s what he had to say when we spoke September 8.

How big is the farm?
My whole farm together is about a 200-acre farm. I have about 60-70 acres of workable trees, and another 75-80 acres planted on leased property. The rest of the land is a little wetlands area and forested areas.

Does the business include anything other than Christmas trees?
I also have a side business where I do ball and burlap trees with the Premier tree spade. I do that in the spring and fall. I’m actually trying to expand a little bit. I’m doing some potted trees, and I’m going to do shrubbery and potted shrubs. It’s growing them right in the ground in a pot, so you can just take them right out when they’re ready. Some Christmas trees, but also landscape plants like maple trees.

What types of Christmas trees do you grow?
I grow mainly Fraser fir, probably 80 percent. Probably 5 percent is a Fraser-balsam cross, and the remainder is balsam fir. I grow my stuff right from seed. I’ve selected seed from certain seed trees – a bluer tree. It’ll flush a little bit later – that means it will be more disease resistant. We’re playing around with some other stuff, too, called exotics. One that I’m really interested in is a Korean-balsam cross. I have a bunch of Korean firs that are about eight years old, and I’m just going to use those as a seed orchard.

What’s the process for harvesting seeds?
You pick the cones and put them up to dry, then have to sift them through a couple of screens. Then you have to blow all the unwanted material out of it, and you’re pretty much left with a pure seed. Then you put it in the seed bed. I like to do that in the fall, because the thawing and freezing process will help stratify the seed coat.

How many people are on your staff?
My wife, Lisa, helps be quite a bit with the bookwork and whatnot. During harvest season, I’ll get about 20 guys in here at a time. Harvest season only runs about November through December. My other big time is during shearing season, when we prune the trees, and that starts in July and goes through Labor Day. I basically use high school kids for that, and I get about 10-12 guys. During the spring planting season I’ll have about five guys, and we’ll put in about 20,000 trees per year.

How many Christmas trees do you sell each year?
About 90 percent is wholesale. The other 10 percent is retail. I don’t do choose and cut, because I have two retail lots, in Manchester and Raymond. I usually sell anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000. I buy in a couple thousand trees, too.

What do you like best about running a tree farm?
Just being my own boss and being able to go out and do what I have to do to make it work. I like every part of it. I wouldn’t want to do anything else, ever. My favorite part is probably harvest season, though, when everything gets ramped right up. I get an adrenaline rush out of it.

What are some of the challenges you face as a tree farmer?
I’ve had a major moose problem on one of my lots. I’ve probably lost about $50,000 worth of product. We’ve dealt with moose problems in the past. You just expect a little bit of a loss here and there. But last year it was a major problem.

What do you do when you’re not working at growing trees?
Basically in the wintertime I plow snow and go snowmobiling, just to keep myself busy. That’s basically the only thing we can do up here.

What is something about Christmas trees that the average consumer probably doesn’t know?
The whole maintenance and care of the tree to bring it through its whole cycle: the seed selection, how to get your nursery going, the planting, the chemicals that you have to use, your licensing, the equipment that you need. From seed to get in the field is basically five years. After it’s in the field, it takes another five to 10 years.