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Christmas Tree Dilemma

 
Posts: 28
Location: Livingston, MT (Zone 4B)
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Good Day Permies!

I am struggling a bit with the whole Christmas event and specifically that of the Christmas Tree.  I will list my dilemma and my thoughts, but what I'm hoping to find is some inspiration / ideas for a better way to do Xmas tree's (especially in the future as this Xmas is rapidly approaching).

1. Buying a tree from a lot.  Unless you know where the trees come from and how they were raised it is probably a monocrop that has been covered in chemicals...also I'm cheap and that option is expensive.
2. Fake tree...Can be used every year...made of such horrible garbage that it will fall apart eventually and cannot be recycled.  
3. Buy a live tree...High likelihood of dying as being inside will break the tree's dormancy (from what i have read).  Either keep it indoors for ~4 days or prepare to keep it the whole winter indoors and plant out in spring...potential option for us but we are space limited.
4. Harvest a tree from the forest.  We live in rural Montana with national forest land nearby.  We could go harvest a tree for next to free (typically $5) and use that.  We could compost the tree when done with it and overall the damage is relatively low.  However when we drove past the road to the national forest last weekend there was a solid stream of cars coming down from the forest...all with a 8' "perfect" xmas tree on top.  This got me thinking about how extractive this was from the forest and how the average person is probably harvesting a "perfect" tree from an open area and thus doing harm to the forest.  These are not trees that need to be removed from the forest...this is the next generation of trees being removed so that they can be a decoration for 3 weeks...Additionally I have run into a moral dilemma of viewing the forest as somewhere that I go to get things (like a store) and then stuff just magically repopulates...This is the exact mindset that leads to mass ecological degradation.  Even though we could practive good forestry (remove a gangly tree from the understory that probably won't make it and will eventually turn into forest fire fodder) I still struggle as I don't want to be a part of the concept that the forest is where you go to get stuff.  I don't want to be a part of the normalization that makes the poor forestry habits of others seem ok.  (I might also be reading way to much into this one .  
5. Craft our own fake tree.  I've seen some ideas on here of trees that look great...and it's probably the future for us, but i'm not sure i can get it done in time to get it decorated for this year.
6.  Potted plant.  We have done this in the past with a Norfolk pine...I can tell you now that we have exactly 0 Norfolk pines in our house (although we have moved multiple times so that might be why...don't recall if they died or got given away when we moved).  I have thought about getting the biggest Rosemary that i can find and shaping it into a tree shape...

I will also add that we have a 5 year old daughter who aboslutely loves Christmas and the decorating...  She has already stated that whatever we do has to look like a real tree with the smell and everything...  

So...Help me out Permies.  Have I gone off the rails on harvesting a tree from the forest (assuming I use good forestry practices)?  Anyone have any other thoughts / ideas / inspiration?

Thanks,
Colter
 
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here is a unique take on your xmas trees
no cut/no kill

https://livingchristmas.com
 
master steward
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Colter, do you have any organic Christmas tree farms near where you live? Or a place to buy an organic living tree?

I agree that a 5 yr old must have a tree.

I would discourage you from cutting a tree from the national forest as the forest supervisors usually frown on this and there might be fines involved unless there are signs giving permission to do that.  At the National Forest that we worked this was not allowed.

Do you happen to have pine trees?  If so you might be able to fashion a tree out of pine cones and limbs.
 
gardener
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Hi Colter;
Tough decision your facing.  We did most of the things you have suggested.   The Norfolk pines  we bought never survived.
The thing about that stream of cars coming out the FS road... Most of those beautiful 8' trees were really about a 15'-20' tree they whack down and top.
Sadly Douglas fir trees are scrawny things until they get some size. So no self respecting mon and dad will cut a Charley brown tree, when if they take that much nicer looking one and top it then they come home with a beautiful 8' tree.  Yup if the forest service saw that they would be fined but sadly government services have been slashed , so not much monitoring.
The smell can be created with branches,  Maybe think about one of those beautiful dried varnished "trees" they hang jewelry on.  With bulbs and lights  it would look good.
Yeah its not a real tree but it never needs water, it is always ready to use next year, it was a real tree branch at one time so its not a "fake" tree...  Certainly worse choices...
 
Anne Miller
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I did a little searching and found these ideas:



Here are the instructions for making that tree, he said he made it for less than $10.00:  https://www.instructables.com/DIY-Artificial-X-mas-Tree/

Here are some other ideas:


source



source



source



source
 
gardener
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It may not help anyone this year, but maybe look out for an artificial one being thrown away. Whatever damage making one does has already been done beyond your control, and you can keep one from going to a landfill and get several years' use from it for free. Maybe even look now or place an ad for a cheap tree on a local board or social media. Someone may decide to get a new one and get rid of their current one. Or maybe place an ad to remove an evergreen tree from someone's yard if they have one they want gone because it got too big or something. Mentioning you are trying to be environmentally friendly might help.
 
pollinator
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I could see why this would be quite the dilemma, since you're trying to find a solution that fits your values and makes your daughter happy. I think it's great that you are thinking about the forest as something inherently valuable rather than like a store. Perhaps she's too young now, but it would be wonderful if you can find age appropriate ways to talk about these things with her so she learns to respect nature like that.

While I really want a tree, I have similar issues with it. I contemplated a live tree, but after seeing one turn brown long before Christmas at my friends' house (who is otherwise great with plants) I decided against it. The solution I chose is to have several small "trees" of various sorts. I have a lighted ceramic christmas tree that was passed down to me by my grandmother. We got a little rosemary plant that was shaped into a tree, which smells amazing! After watching Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, I got inspired to get a Christmas branch, as they did in the movie, which was excellent and a great watch. Your dilemma reminded me of the Christmas branch bit. The idea being that they would only cut one branch for their "tree", so that the tree could continue to live long after. Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas
I went out in the yard to look for sticks for something like that, and a branch from our neighbors' pine trees had fallen into our yard! So I put it in a jar of water and put some tiny lights on it. Found some small apple branches, bundled them together and decorated those too. I'm sure you could do similar, but maybe with more branches of some sort of evergreen?

I know the smell of the Christmas tree has always been a huge part of it for me. But the last few times I got a cut tree, I noticed that it only smelled for a brief time. Maybe I just adjusted and didn't notice it or maybe it dried out. Either way, disappointing. I wonder if a better solution for getting the smell might be to find a pine or fir essential oil candle or diffuser of some sort?
 
pollinator
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We know someone who buys a tree every year, saves it in the pot for Christmas and then plants it outside. Just the normal kind of pine that you might buy for your property. I really want to start doing that.
 
gardener
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Possibly the wrong time of year to go looking, but what about cutting a tree from a cut line?

When I was little, my dad liked to stop on road sides and dig up small conifers and drive them home and plant them in the yard. The trees are maybe a bit small, but the trees growing on the road side or a hydro cut line are typically herbicided or cut down every few years. We called them "roadkill" trees, with the understanding it wasn't morally wrong to take them, since they were just going to be cut down or otherwise killed anyways. A small Christmas tree can be made a lot more impressive by putting it on a small table. Or, by having a few small Christmas trees!

Later we took trees from our own forest when we moved away from the city, but I didn't consider it exploitative because the whole tree was usedm bottom half eventually became firewood, extra limbs were just left to fertilize the forest, top of tree was thrown back in the forest to decompose too. We were admittedly one family only taking 2-3 trees per year. Often we chose a hemlock and sometimes the trees were very much a 'Charlie Brown' tree.

 
Heather Sharpe
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Meant to include these in my earlier post..oops.
The first is our Christmas branch, courtesy of the wind and neighboring trees. I see fallen pine branches in my area all the time.
The second is my ceramic tree. I have seen these in thrift shops and such.
Loving all the ideas folks are sharing!
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I’m enjoying several of these ideas. I live in a tiny house and don’t have room for a tree any more, so in my quest to find a new option I’ve decided that I’m going to make an evergreen garland something like the picture below. I can make it any length I want to fit my space, I can use all local plants, and I don’t have to kill a tree for it I can just gather branches.

Another idea that I’ve seen done is to plant an ideal Christmas tree evergreen in your yard somewhere that you can see from your living room windows, and keep it well pruned so that it has the classic Christmas tree shape. Then you just decorate it each year. It stays alive, you have a beautiful tree to decorate, and you can sit in your living room admiring its beauty as it gets to live outside. This is also safer because so many other tree options are a real fire hazard in the house.

A few decoration ideas for an outdoor tree.... you can smear a mixture of peanut butter and bird seed into pine cones you find on the ground and then tie them into your tree, this way local birds become your tree decorations. If you live in an area that gets snow you get your tree flocked for free.

To answer your question about harvesting a tree from the woods locally, I would personally say that as long as you are doing it with intention and awareness then it’s fine, because you will be making sustainable decisions.
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pollinator
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You can try constructing a "tree" using a few cut limbs tied together. We have done this for a small tree four our boys bedroom. Cable ties are good for making a strong structure.
 
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You're reading too much into #4. The forest is a place that we go to examine, learn from, and care for. If you take your time selecting an understory tree that is contributing to excessive fire danger or is shading scarce habitat for threatened wildflowers, you can do some real good. The important thing is that you take the time to learn before you take the tree. The forest is not adapted to a complete absence of human intervention; rather it has suffered in recent times from a lack of thoughtful intervention. Frequent fire-setting used to maintain an open understory and meadows where wildflowers and berry bushes could grow. More recent fire suppression activities, the loss of the carrier pigeon as a spreader of seeds and the chestnut as the dominant canopy tree have radically changed the landscape. What is there today is neither "natural" nor "correct," it is carelessly artificial and can benefit from the return of mindfulness to forestry.
 
gardener
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I do like the idea of buying a potted tree to plant later, and if you put it somewhere interesting that tree could even be decorated next year (to be seen through the window, for example).
But I've also done the branch thing, many times when I was unable to source a tree (living abroad) and it definitely gets the smells and sights of Christmas rolling. (I totally forgot about the Jug Band connection!!) I think that, plus creative decorations around the house, are great for kids.
 
gardener
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Growing up, we had a massive blue spruce in our yard. The thing was at least 45 feet tall, so most years we didn't do anything with it, but I remember one year my father used the bucket-truck from his work to decorate it. That was glorious. I decided that once I owned land of my own, I was going to plant a nice pine every 10 to 15 years within sight of the house and decorate it yearly. You lose the 'presents under the tree' aspect, but I think it could make a really nice tradition and excite the kids endlessly to watch the tree from their yard transform every year. Obviously you would need a pine that isn't going to jump up to 20 feet right away, but if you have the space to plant a new one periodically, it might be a great option.
 
master gardener
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elle sagenev wrote:We know someone who buys a tree every year, saves it in the pot for Christmas and then plants it outside. Just the normal kind of pine that you might buy for your property. I really want to start doing that.



This is what my uncle did, for years, until he was just not physically able to, anymore. I always thought it was a beautiful tradition.
 
pollinator
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Round here every few miles there are people selling their own xmas trees, often on a fell it yourself basis. yes some are rounduped every year to keep them clear of weeds but you can soon see that by simply looking at the field. I would ask around possibly on facebook and see if anyone local grows them.
 
Colter Schroeder
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Thanks everyone for the great ideas.  Few quick points:

We would be getting a christmas tree permit which would allow us to fell up to a 12' tree (probably what a lot of people are doing and then keeping the top...never thought of that...which makes it all the worse).  
I do believe that humans can have a positive impact on the forest, and can and should be involved in it's tending.
We might be able to find an organic tree farm...although we might not...Montana is not a thriving metropolis.
I love the branch idea, I think we could cobble together something pretty tree like with some of the branches that fall.
We will be planting some trees in our yard once we get the house built...we are still in construction mode so we are living in a barn.

I think for this year (given our constraints) we will either get a permit and go find a true 6-8' charlie brown tree that needs to be removed and then compost it when done, or go branch hunting.  

Thanks for the conversation!
 
pollinator
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I am a solid fan of the cut tree, where the lower most branch(es) are left - as is done on the tree farms. What many may not know, this does not, generally, kill the tree, a branch simply takes over, growing rapidly from the extensive root system, and can be reharvested over and over.

My understanding is a NEW tree takes 10+ years to reach "holiday" height; five years for the "branch to attain holiday height for the second harvest, and only 2-3 years for each harvest after that. So, theoretically, a cut tree (harvested properly) is a very eco friendly product.

To avoid the pesticide/monoculture dilemma, one could harvest a "forest" tree, an over large tree or even have a modest grove that, in rotation, provides the family tree.

By following the practice of leaving the lower branches alive and well, attached to the "stump", the tree lives on with the established root system. This could be an ideal, low cost, low effort way to generate holiday/winter income farming/selling organic Xmas Trees. It is also a handy way to keep a desired tree from attaining dangerously, lofty, heights.
 
gardener
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I have a huge Christmas tree in my front yard.
It there because I bought a small live tree, thinking I would grow it to a big live tree and then harvest it.
By then , I had my own little one, who objected strenuously to me killing a tree that they personally knew.
So there it stands, about 10 years old , getting bigger every year, shading out more productive plants...

Lorinne points out the cut and come again nature of many tree farms operations.
You could do the same with your  permit , find a 12 foot tall tree and cut off the top 8 feet of it.


I have thought about a micro tree farm on a city sized lot, the weed control done by resident chickens or ducks.
 
pollinator
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I have pretty much all crappy Chirstmas trees on my property. I have a few babies that I keep cleared around so that in 7 years (what I hear is the time needed for  the average Christmas tree to grow) I will have some righteous trees to choose from. Then I won't have to do this:

Cut the nicest looking tree I can find and take a few limbs off another. Drill some holes in it in the appropriate places. Insert the donor limbs into the holes for a pretty good lookin' tree.
 
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Lorinne,
We did just thst for the first four years in this property.  We have some spruce rather close to the house and topped one a year, taking the top 10 foot off a 35 foot tree.  The trees are all now as tall as they were, with multiple leaders rather than a single tip.  I guess we'll have to think about topping them again, I'm slightly nervous about them getting too tall since we have 90 mph winds most winters.
Since the last was topped, the spruce we have planted in the tree field have been big enough to take one for Xmas.  Theoretically we could take one that has turned out to be in an unfortunate place, but my DH has different views as to what the best tree would be - usually one that needs another 3 foot removing before it fits in the room!  However, as another has said none of it goes to waste....
 
pollinator
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Colter Schroeder wrote:Good Day Permies!

I am struggling a bit with the whole Christmas event and specifically that of the Christmas Tree.  I will list my dilemma and my thoughts, but what I'm hoping to find is some inspiration / ideas for a better way to do Xmas tree's (especially in the future as this Xmas is rapidly approaching).
[-------]
I will also add that we have a 5 year old daughter who aboslutely loves Christmas and the decorating...  She has already stated that whatever we do has to look like a real tree with the smell and everything...  

So...Help me out Permies.  Have I gone off the rails on harvesting a tree from the forest (assuming I use good forestry practices)?  Anyone have any other thoughts / ideas / inspiration?

Thanks,
Colter




Kudos on your well thought out reasoning. After years o cutting a tree each year, we sprung for an artificial tree that came all decorated. It was pricey but when you count all the ornaments that are included [we added a few family heirlooms, of course] it is not so bad. We can even add the smell [artificially] We've had it for years [like 10 years]and it is still in great shape. This year, because of COVID, our kids will not be coming so we'll do our best to celebrate with them through Zoom. The presents will be mailed in. We just hope they will all arrive in time for the Zoom meeting. We'll eat something special [and feel guilty about gaining weight later].
Your 5 year old has been good I assume? As a teacher, I think that your situation is actually a teaching moment. A great time to teach her about the Christmas tradition and how although it is lovely, it deprives the forest of essential trees that she will not get to see next year because a tree will have been cut. Kids are quite sensitive to the idea that you have to kill something beautiful for a few days of pleasure.
But there is a way to change your yard into a living wonderland: I use Christmas laser light projectors, decorating all the trees in my yard in minutes for a fraction of the price. I project on the house too. The simplest ones are quite inexpensive, and you can decorate not only any evergreen you might have, but also bare deciduous trees and bushes. It  creates quite a lovely scene. Try to have one that moves a bit. The other ones can be stationary: I have one that looks like blue snowflakes coming down on everything. You could tell your child a little white lie that Santa sure could use some light down here so he can find the house. [We tell them so many, and this one is not so bad, really]
One note of caution is that you should place it 8-9 ft. You must orient it in such a way that you don't risk blinding pilots flying over.
A big plus: no messing with watering, needles on the carpet, risks of fires. Setting it up is a breeze and taking it down too. Each one is smaller than a breadbox, so that simplifies storage as well. This type: https://simsupply.com/departments/hardware/holiday-decorations-and/prime-wire-cable-led-5w-holiday-landscape-laser-light-projector-lflerg05-lflerg05-900155/?CATARGETID=120012830001669631&CADevice=c&gclid=Cj0KCQiA5bz-BRD-ARIsABjT4nhvLj2zbzj6Kl1ADN-crPJgUI9AwEnsOdNsTWBnHuK52qfymey_XlwaAmtqEALw_wcB
is better than:https://www.acehardware.com/departments/home-and-decor/holiday/christmas-lights/9439381?x429=true&gclid=Cj0KCQiA5bz-BRD-ARIsABjT4ni04S30qZZQhp3Qqs3CA4BVlVi53BOCRFf1nWwEOVEZ7cPXRF4EmRQaAnHPEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds
: You must project it safely and make sure she knows to look at things that are lit, not at the lights themselves as they could hurt her eyes
Trust your child. They understand a lot more than we give them credit for, and when they understand their mom & dad's concerns, they will help and go along enthusiastically, you'll see.
And if you feel that you MUST get a real tree, you can make up for it next spring by planting a nice one in the yard... or several, to make up for all the trees that people will be cutting this Christmas...
Good luck to you.
PS: Don't buy the most expensive: The effect is so much better if you place 4-5 small ones than if you get one with all the bells and whistles, like with a timer.
 
pioneer
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Another route you might think about on the artificial tree side is a remnant from days gone by...goose feather trees. There are still craftspeople who make them and you can get nearly any size...even the smaller traditional tabletop trees. Additionally, they have kits now if you fancy trying to make one yourself.











We have two smaller trees from this artist in Bardstown, KY:

https://artistdirectory.ky.gov/Pages/Artist-Profile.aspx?id=222

Alas, when looking up links to put in this post, I found that she died earlier this year:

https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/kystandard/obituary.aspx?pid=195320829

She was as nice as a person can be.

Dennia Bauer (video above) may also be on FB.





 
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Cannot see your problem. Just learn how to do Bonsai and you will be able to keep your tree from one year to the nexr, We do this on a commercial basis and hire out christmas trees from one year to the next. We start a new batch of trees from our own seed every year and within 5 years there in our rental stock. We normally hire them out for approx 10 years by which time there 15 foot at which point there planted into our forest. The bonsai is carried out every 3 years root pruning and repotting which helps to keep them compact. Secret over christmas is to remember there a live tree and need lots of water so a water tray under the plant pot is essential and water once a day. Normally only lose about 5% of trees on hire due to customer neglect.
 
gardener
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When I was little my father planted various evergreen seedlings from state programs in old fields, and put some extra spruces on a steep hillside near the house. By the time I was 8 or 10, some of those were big enough to harvest for Christmas trees, and then one was too big so we cut it a couple of feet off the ground. The lower limbs curved up and became leaders, and we got two more Christmas trees from that same stump in later years.
 
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When I was in high school, I worked at a Christmas tree lot three years running. The biggest rush was always from the day after Thanksgiving (when we opened) through the first week of December. After that, sales dropped off dramatically, then gradually dwindled as Christmas approached.

So in years when I've decided upon a fresh tree, I go to a lot on December 20th (which is when my schedule slows down enough for me to be home and fully enjoy the tree), figure out who is in charge, and ask if they're willing to cut a deal with me. It's rare for them to say no at that point, because it's one more guaranteed sale that might not have happened otherwise. If I ask them for a deal on their scruffy/imperfect trees because I'm just going to cut them up for greenery, they'll give me a couple for free about half the time.

It's all in how you ask. I don't push the issue; I'm not obnoxious about it; and I don't act like I'm doing them a favor. I just ask, and the worst thing they can say is no, and if they do, that's okay; there are other tree lots I can try.

On years when I don't go for a fresh tree, I've got a scruffy, much-mended artificial one that I drag out and set up; it looks okay once it's decorated, as long as the room isn't too brightly lit. I bought it in 1995 when I was still doing holiday craft shows and needed a cheap display tree in a hurry, so it's been around. This year, I'm on the lookout for a newer, taller, better-quality one, even if it has to wait until after Christmas; it's surprising how many of them Goodwill gets. I can't bring myself to buy a new one (my frugality and my anti-consumption ethos make me recoil at the idea), but buying a secondhand tree is totally okay.
 
pollinator
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I may not have enough trees and bushes to warm the house, but I made a Christmas tree out of them!

I used maple and mulberry twigs as a "scaffolding", and I tied juniper and thuja branches to them (with a linen cord). It smells great. I wanted to get rid of the juniper entirely, but it likes the place where it is now - next to a raised bed which used to be a compost pile - so it grows quite vigorously and I usually place the cut branches on garden paths. But perhaps I should bring them home more often, because they smell great; thuja as well.

I'll post a picture of my maple-mulberry-juniper-thuja Christmas Tree tomorrow! Once it's decorated it'll look totally like a real one, I think.
 
Flora Eerschay
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Looks like Permies forum is having some hiccups, because some of my posts disappear and come back again... anyway, here is today's photo of the Christmas Tree; one of  the ties at the bottom opened and it's falling a little bit... I need to fix it!

Edit: no hiccups, I just didn't realize that there are two similar topics ;)
fallingtree.jpg
falling Christmas Tree...
falling Christmas Tree...
 
Flora Eerschay
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Sorry for spamming you with my Christmas Tree, but I'm in love with it ;)

I fixed it - and I hope it won't be made mostly of linen cord sooner than later... :D

I even feel a little tempted to make another one, but I scratched my hands badly while making this one, because I'm too clumsy with the cord when I'm wearing gloves...
myChristmastree.jpg
Back in shape!
Back in shape!
 
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After 40 some years of receiving and collecting cherished ornaments and the memories they bring, I am opting for something like this. Fir scented candles, or potpourri for the smell.  If I get really motivated, I'll decoratiean outdoor tree with popcorn strings and other goodies as  a gift for the wild critters.  Plan to plant a blue spruce in a strategic spot, once we are established in our new digs. That will become the future living Christmas tree.


https://images.app.goo.gl/GUS6EHzC52L9Y9od7

Though I find this one intriguing.

https://images.app.goo.gl/vAST1bqcD3znMFSd8


 
pollinator
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Nothing but a fresh cut Eastern Red Cedar which I believe is actually a juniper, will do for me. They are our only wild evergreen aside from an occasional American Holly but they are almost rare as hens teeth. We have lots and lots of the cedar and they are one of the first trees to reoccupy disturbed areas. The picture is ours for this year, I swiped it from the state right of way where a few years ago they dug a cut into the limestone to reroute the road. I'll bring it in when ever the woman says too.

For along time I cut them form my own place but I have a  habit of culling smaller ones that might compete with any really nice ones and I ran out of small ones. I do that with the ones along the highway too.  Unlike most people here I don't consider them weeds. I think they are beautiful especially the really big ones. I don't know but think they may also come in male and female because some but not all get blue berries and some get a LOT of blue berries. If you drop a few of those berries on the wood stove the house smells real good.

I guess they call them red because they often have a reddish tint to the bark and leaves but if they are in shade and or a damper area they are more green. Occasionally you see one with a bluish tint. The bluish ones are rare and I don't harvest them.
2020-C-tree.JPG
Eastern Red Cedar Christmas Tree waiting for decorations.
Eastern Red Cedar Christmas Tree waiting for decorations.
 
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Location: New England
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When my mom was a single, trying to live on a retail salary, and needed to do Christmas for her kid— she started a family tradition of getting the tree on Christmas Eve. They were usually 1/2 off.  This doesn’t work in New England, the lots are gone by then.

We always took down the tree and burned it as part of our New Years celebration.

My husband and I started taking  the largest chunk off the bottom on New Years Eve, writing the year on it and saved it, to be burned the following Christmas Eve. I really like the continuity and making the waste into something special.

These days we don’t do Christmas. I have lights and table top artificial trees if I feel so moved.

Joannes had sold Christmas tree scent in a bottle if you need that.
 
I got this tall by not having enough crisco in my diet as a kid. This ad looks like it had plenty of shortening:
Rocket Mass Heater Manual - now free for a while
https://permies.com/goodies/8/rmhman
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