Daddys Little Girl Takes Over the Farm By Laura Hickey, Associate Editor
Sue Bostic is a living legacy of her fathers love.
birds-eye view of rural Craig County during the breezy fall season is breathtaking
majestic mountains, dappled by morning sunlight, frame acres and acres of rolling
countryside. This land, dotted by thick patches of bright orange, crimson, yellow and
green trees and grazing livestock, is a hidden paradise in its own right.
Quietly nestled in this picturesque setting is Joes Trees, a Christmas tree farm,
where a single tree was chosen as Virginias finest to be displayed in the
Governors Mansion in Richmond this Christmas. The farms 100,000 trees of every
shape and size are planted with perfection, from a distance resembling a patterned quilt.
This tree farm clearly represents meticulous planning, undaunted devotion, and hard work
spanning many seasons and many years. The tree farm also represents the beautiful
relationship between a father and his youngest daughter.
Sue Sublett Bostic, proud owner of Joes Trees, remembers the sad day in 1988 when
her father was taken to surgery to replace a valve in his heart. Unfortunately, the
surgery took an unexpected turn for the worse. "Daddy died 12 hours after the
surgery, but on the way to the hospital that morning he was instructing me the whole time
about the tree farm and what he wanted me to do. One of the things that stuck in my mind
was when he said, If someday you have to take the farm over and you cant do
it, just remember to sell the trees and not the land. He wanted me to keep the land
in the family. He had never had surgery before, so it was a scary thing for him to be
going to the hospital and having major surgery," she recalls.
Bostic has been entering trees in the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers
Associations (VCTGA) annual competition since she became co-owner of the Christmas
tree farm with her mother, Erma Sublett, in 1993. Her ultimate goal: to be eligible to
enter one of her trees in the national Christmas tree competition and vie for the
distinguished honor of presenting a beautiful, fresh Christmas tree to the President and
first family, and then to have it grace the elegant Blue Room of the White House
throughout the holiday season.
Much to her surprise, the one tree Bostic entered in the VCTGA competition this year, a
stout concolor fir, was named Grand Champion Christmas Tree for 2000. Bostic says, "I
have been working hard to win this award for years. My entries have won in the specific
species category many times, but the top award eluded me until now. When it was announced,
I was almost in disbelief." Her 1-year-old son, Jake, was with her when she won the
competition. "After all the years of trying to win, I considered him my good luck
charm," Bostic says, referring to her son.
Sue Bostic, owner of Joe's Trees, attributes her current success to her parents, Erma and Joe Sublett (pictured here in 1982). Joe Sublett died after heart surgery in 1988, but his wife will always fondly remember him bringing her coffee in bed and picking wildflowers for her every day for 40 years.
The winning Christmas tree was chosen at the VCTGAs August
convention and a three-judge panel selected it with the following criteria considered:
foliage, density, uniformity, taper and marketability. The three judges included
representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, the National Christmas Tree Association and
Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Sixteen trees were entered in the competition from across
the state, according to Jim Clarke, VCTGA convention manager.
As winner of the Grand Champion title, Joes Trees will be entitled to provide a
tree for the Governors Mansion this year and will also be eligible to enter a tree
in the 2002 national Christmas tree competition quite an honor and, for Bostic, one
step closer to her ultimate goal.
Joe Miller Sublett, Bostics father, founded Joes Trees, located on Route 42
between New Castle and Newport, more than 30 years ago as an experiment. His experiment
involved growing concolor firs, which he considered to be the Christmas tree of the
Concolor firs, also known as white firs (Pinaceae Abies concolor), are known for their
delightful citrus fragrance. They are classified as exotic conifers and are distinguished
by a silvery blue-green-colored needle similar to that of a blue spruce. The trees can
live for up to 350 years and have soft, flat needles that extend at right angles from the
twig and curve in an upward direction with branches strong enough to hold most ornaments.
Yes, the tree can hold even those precious, but large and cumbersome, ornaments made with
love by the little ones.
A Hobby that Grew Literally!
According to Bostic, her fathers introduction to the tree-farming business came
through a 4-H project where Sublett was given several hundred trees. "He planted them
and watched them grow. He figured it would be a good investment to have money down the
road, and then somehow he just got hooked onto it. It started out as a hobby and then just
got bigger and bigger from there," says Bostic.
Jake, Sue Bostic's 1-year-old son and good luck charm, touches the Grand Champion Christmans Tree for 2000 grown on his mother's tree farm, Joe's Trees. The tree was given top honors by the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association at its August convention.
Bostic credits her parents with her current success. "I was 8
years old when I sheared my first tree. Now, I thank my dad every day for making me work
back then. I learned so much watching him," she says. "My mother has stayed real
supportive. By passing the farm on to me, she made all this possible."
Bostic, born and raised in Craig County, was the youngest child of six, with one
brother and four sisters. When speaking about the tree farm or her accomplishment,
Bostics conversation always returns to her father an indication of the bond
between this father and daughter. "I grew up following behind my father and doing
whatever he told me to do while learning each step of the planting, shearing and mowing
process. I would be on summer break and Daddy would say Were going out to work
today. At the time, I didnt think it was fair because all the other kids got
to stay home and I had to work. But now I wish he was here because he taught me more than
any college degree could. Hands-on experience and seeing it done each day gets embedded in
your mind a lot more than if you read it in a book," Bostic says. "He taught me
a lot back then that I didnt realize he was teaching me."
Bostic describes her father as being smart, gentle and kind. According to Bostic, his
motto was "If you cant say anything good, dont say anything at
all." Those who knew him knew he lived by this motto every day and instilled this
notion in those he loved. "Daddy would do anything for anybody. You could stop and
ask anybody up or down the road about him, and they would have nothing but kind things to
say. Thats how popular he was in the county," Bostic says.
Bostic now works as a part-time D.A.R.E. officer (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) in
Craig County. She accepted the position in March of 1996, three years after she became
co-owner of Joes Trees with her mother. Her husband and source of support, James, a
cable splicer for Verizon, assists Bostic on the tree farm whenever possible.
It is the small moments, however seemingly insignificant at the time, that later become
heartwarming, cherished memories. Oftentimes, these memories can powerfully describe a
relationship. One such memory for Bostic was when she and her father would spend many
quiet evenings together on the front porch. He sat in his rocking chair with her in his
lap as, together, they would sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." Bostic
affectionately recalls, "In the summer, we would listen to the whippoorwill and mock
him to see if he would answer. This was done each night, weather permitting, right up
until the night before he went to the hospital for surgery." Bostic was 19 years old
when her father died. "That was our time together and sometimes Mama would join
us," she adds.
On the day of Subletts surgery in 1988, relatives were allowed in the room to see
him a few at a time. "At 3 p.m. I went in to see him. He was unconscious, but the
nurse said to talk to him because he could hear us. As I stood there, holding his hand and
talking to him, I had tears in my eyes. The nurse said, You must be the baby,
and I said, yes, I am. Then Daddy gently squeezed my hand. This was the last
contact I had with him. But he knew I was there, along with the rest of the family,"
Bostic remembers, adding, "We all miss him so much!"
After her fathers unexpected death, Bostic was distraught for several years. Her
father had played a monumental role in her life and his sudden absence severely affected
her and those who loved him. "I was really close to my dad and so it devastated me
when he wasnt here anymore. When youre 19, you think your dads going to
be around for a long time and tell you what to do. Its not really when you want to
be on your own. I just wish he was here. I wish he could come back for one day. He would
be really proud that we actually won the competition," says Bostic.
In an attempt to separate herself from the memories associated with the tree farm her
father had loved, Bostic moved to Salem in 1990 and became a Roanoke City police officer.
Reflecting back, Bostic says she enjoyed her law enforcement job during that period. Three
years later, Bostics mother, Erma Sublett, found that managing the farm was becoming
more difficult. Soon after, co-ownership of Joes Trees was given to Bostic, who was
ready to devote her time and energy to not only carrying on her fathers legacy, but
also doing something she enjoyed for a living.
Bostic was entering a growing industry with a bright future. According to the VCTGA,
the Virginia Christmas tree industry has grown in response to consumer demand for fresh,
local trees and now contributes approximately $34 million annually to the states
economy. An estimated 1.7 million Virginia-grown Christmas trees are sold annually
throughout the United States.
The farm, now a 100,000-tree farm, has both a choose-and-cut operation and a wholesale
business selling trees throughout Virginia. In addition to concolor firs, Joes Trees
grows Fraser and Douglas firs, white and Scotch pines, Canaan and balsam firs, and blue
spruces. In addition to Bostic, Joes Trees employs one other full-time person April
through December. During the holidays, Bostic brings up to 15 part-time employees on board
The tree farm continues for miles, in some areas as far as the eye can see, with Fraser and Douglas firs, white and Scotch pines, and blue spuces of every shape and size.
Joes Trees also boasts a wreath shop that is one of the
largest wholesale suppliers in the state. Sue Huffman, wreath shop manager, has won
several awards for her intricately decorated and undecorated wreaths. In 1999, one of her
decorated wreaths captured top honors in the decorated wreath category of VCTGAs
annual competition and was named the Grand Champion decorated wreath for 1999. "When
we started making wreaths, we sold a few hundred. Now our sales are in the thousands,
thanks to Sue Huffman. You will not find one anywhere in the state or out of the state
made with the same quality as she makes hers," Bostic notes.
Also in the wreath department: Joes Trees is promoting a new program this year
called Send-A-Wreath. This program allows you to send a unique gift to distant family,
friends, or employees to help brighten their holidays. For each wreath purchased from
Joes Trees during the Christmas season, Joes Trees will plant a seedling in
the persons honor. The beautiful wreaths are sure to add a special touch to any
The Charlie Brown Tree
Amidst holiday excitement, shoppers scramble to find the perfect Christmas tree for
their family. Although the perfect Christmas tree varies from family to family, the most
popular species of tree this year is the Fraser fir, which has short, soft needles in a
deep green color, according to Bostic. "Most people want a full tree, but the perfect
Christmas tree for me is one that has a few openings and strong limbs to hang my heavy
ornaments," Bostic explains.
Despite her description of the perfect tree, Bostic oftentimes ends up with the ugliest
tree in the bunch, the one all other shoppers passed over. According to Bostic, her father
would always wait until Christmas Eve to put up the family Christmas tree, and it would
always be the tree that didnt sell the "Charlie Brown tree."
Despite her determination to one day be able to bring home the best tree in the lot and
elaborately decorate it with her growing collection of red and gold ornaments, Bostic
finds she has unintentionally followed in her fathers footsteps. Her choice of trees
in past years have included a tree run over by a truck and a tree with a hole in the side.
Older Than Christianity
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, "the tree, used as a symbol
of life, is a tradition older than Christianity and not exclusive to any one religion.
Its a part of our holiday customs that not only engages our sense of sight, touch
and smell, but also our sense of tradition, hope, and good will."
Sue Huffman, wreath shop manager entered two wreaths in the undecorated and decorated wreath category of the VCTGA's competition in 1999. Both of her wreaths were named Grand Champion by the panel of judges.
The first recorded reference to the Christmas tree dates back to
the 16th century. In Strasbourg, Germany, families decorated fir trees with fruits,
colored paper and sweets. In the 12th century, the evergreen tree was being hung
upside-down from ceilings at Christmastime in Central Europe, as a symbol of Christianity.
The first German immigrants to the United States brought with them the custom of
decorating a tree at Christmas. From there, the trees continued to grow in popularity
during the 17th and 18th centuries. The White House Christmas tree tradition was initiated
by Franklin Pierce, our 14th president.
The Christmas tree, a showcase of ornaments highlighting precious family memories, is
the centerpiece of holiday gatherings. With the warmth from a crackling fire, families and
friends gather around the tree to enjoy holiday treats and celebrate peace, hope and good
will. On Christmas morning, excited children rush downstairs to discover brightly wrapped
packages hidden beneath the glowing tree, adorned with everything from silver tinsel to
handmade bows. However, when the last Christmas tree is hauled to the dump or burned in a
compost pile, and all the precious ornaments are tucked in boxes and stored away until
next Christmas, the work of the Christmas tree farmer continues full force in preparation
for the following year.
Always Something to Do
"As a tree farmer, theres something to do in the field every month and every
week, unless, of course, you have bad weather," Bostic explains. She puts into
practice the valuable planting and growing techniques she learned from her father. In late
February, weather permitting, she sprays herbicides for grass and weeds. In March and
April, the trees are planted. In May, its time to fertilize and start mowing as the
grass begins to grow. June marks the time to shear (cutting branches to give the tree a
desirable "upside-down cone" shape) the trees and watch for insects. If insects
are a problem, Bostic sprays the appropriate pesticides. In July, she tags the trees and
divides them into categories based on species, height and quality of the tree. When fall
arrives, Bostic puts nitrogen down on the marketable trees in order to achieve a greener
color. White and Scotch pines are color-enhanced in order to get a deeper green. And then
comes the busiest month of the year, December, when shoppers wind their way through the
fields in search of the perfect tree. During December, Bostic focuses on making sure the
trees on the outskirts of the farm are trimmed and attractive for curious passersby.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, Christmas trees can take from
four years to 16 years to mature. During the time a Christmas tree is developing into a
well-shaped six- to eight-foot tree, it faces many hazards. Trees can suffer from too
little or too much sun or rain; destruction by rodents, insects, disease, hail or fire; or
overgrowth from bushes, vines and weeds. Christmas trees are pruned annually. By holding
back rapid upward growth, the grower can encourage the tree to branch more quickly, and
gradually achieve the full bushy appearance consumers look for in a Christmas tree.
For More Information
If youre interested in
learning more about
Joes Trees, please contact
them at (540) 544-7303
or toll-free at (866) 544-TREE.
What makes Sue Bostic wake up every morning and devote her days to growing Christmas
trees and managing the farm besides carrying on her fathers legacy? "The
most rewarding part of the Christmas tree business for me is seeing the same customers
every year. I look forward to that. They change and their kids are growing and
its just a lot of fun," she reveals.
It was a cold, blustery afternoon in March and a typical day working out in the field.
Bostic was helping her mother and father plant Christmas trees, a process that usually
involved teamwork. As she fondly recalls, "Daddy used to put them [the trees] in a
coffee can as a small seedling and then water them for a year. We were transferring them
from the cans that day. I got aggravated and sat down and told him that I didnt want
to help anymore. He said that was fine and that I could sit there, but couldnt go
back to the house until the work was done. Thats the way he taught us growing up. If
you work together, itll get done quicker."
In loving memory of her father, each year on his birthday, Dec. 12, Bostic holds a
Christmas-tree lighting in his honor. As the Christmas tree is lit, brilliantly glowing in
the dark, Joe Subletts family and friends gather in front of Joes Trees to
remember the gentle man who impacted their lives in such a memorable way.
Standing in the cold, this year Bostic will quietly remember her father and how he
contributed so much to her current success. In past years, more than 80 people have showed
up at the lighting to pay tribute to the man who, as described by Erma Sublett, his wife,
"loved nature and life, was energetic, and was not afraid to take chances."
Bostics sister, Sonja Sublett Switzer, says, "He always stressed doing your
best and taking pride in your work. He was a teacher of things you could never learn in
With inspiration and successful teaching from her father, both on the field and off,
Bostics success in the Christmas tree industry wont stop here. If she
continues to follow in her fathers footsteps and produce top-quality trees, Bostic
may one day realize her dream to have a Christmas tree in the White House, standing tall
and representing Virginia and her father.