Bert, I’ll see your live tree hunt and raise you one Bulgarian

I just can’t resist telling our Christmas tree hunting tradition.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, we drive out to Monroe (about 45 minutes north of Seattle) to our favorite tree farm, where we look for the perfect noble fir.  Here, Jim demonstrates his dubious taste in trees:

Jim's tree

This year, Charlotte brought a tennis buddy home from college. Nasko lives in Bulgaria and wasn’t traveling home for a holiday they don’t celebrate.  So he got to experience the Great Scott Tree hunt for himself:

My son Jack (on the left) complained that he NEVER got to choose the tree (Mom retains veto power over all selections), and happily for all of us this year he picked the winner:

Jim does the cutting, and the kids do the carrying:

This tree farm also has hot chocolate and candy canes, which we all enjoy before returning to town (Monroe that is) and having lunch at the local Taco Bell. It’s a tradition that started when the kids were littler and you don’t mess with tradition.

Needless to say, we will ALWAYS have a real tree.

The Real vs Fake Debate

My post on Christmas tree safety got blog readers Michael and Thad into the never-ending debate of what’s better for the environment: a real Christmas tree or a fake one.  As is often said: “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”  In the interests of full disclosure I will admit my bias is on the real tree side.  My first job in high school was shearing Christmas trees back when minimum wage was $1.65 /hour (1976).  Also in the interest of full disclosure I work closely with the Christmas tree growers in Michigan and elsewhere and get a small amount of research support from the state grower’s association.  

Michael and Thad’s discussion turned pretty quickly to the bottom-line when it comes to carbon footprint.  Which choice looks better depends on the assumptions you are willing to make.  The critical ones, of course, are how long do you keep a fake tree and how far do you drive to get a real tree.  If you buy one artificial tree and keep it 50 years it replaces 50 real trees.  If you buy a real tree from a tree lot that’s on you way home and don’t make a special tree to get it, the real tree comes out looking good.  The American Christmas Tree Associate (a trade association for artificial trees, NOT a growers’ group) has commissioned a life cycle assessment and claim the carbon footprint question is a wash   This is in contrast to some earlier claims they had made the artificial trees were greener – based largely on the distance driven to get a real tree.

One thing to note is that there are other environmental impacts besides carbon emissions to consider.  Artificial trees are typically made from non-biodegradable plastics and most Christmas tree plantations require some pesticide and fertilizer inputs to keep trees looking good.  In many parts of the country Christmas tree plantation can provide habitat for certain types of wildlife, especially birds that use the trees for perches and nesting.  

Hannah and I embark on Tree-hunt 2011…

While everything seems to get boiled down to carbon comparison these days there are certainly more things to consider.  For those that buy a tree at a local ‘choose and cut’ farm, there is certainly the satisfaction that at least some of your holiday purchases are supporting the local economy.  At the end of the day, however, the debate between real vs. fake for most people gets down to one of two factors: tradition and convenience.  Even though my heart is on the real tree side, I can’t deny that pulling an artificial tree out of a box from the attic each year is easier than going out on a cold wet, December day and getting a tree from a farm and then bringing it home and setting it up.  But my mom was German and we always had a real tree in the house when I grew up.  Now that I have my own family, my daughter and I have a tradition of going out to a local Choose and cut tree farm and looking for the perfect Fraser fir.  No artificial tree can ever replace that. 

Fraser firs at Daisy Hill farm.  Still got a couple years to go, but eventually I’ll be cutting my own.

Quiz Answers

Some great guesses!

Most identified the seed head of a Clematis – this one is Clematis tibetana, also known as Orange Peel clematis due to the leathery golden-orange petals/bracts. It’s a late bloomer anyway, and the profusion of swirly seed heads sparkle in the autumn sun.  Quite vigorous when compared to the large-flowered clematis species and hybrids; more along the lines of sweet autumn clematis  (Clematis terniflora).  Covers small structures and slow-moving terrestrials in a single season.

The second was a stumper – though most folks were barking up the right tree/annual/perennial and guessing some apetalous members of the Asteraceae.

It’s Ajania pacifica (most of us learned it as Chrysanthum pacificum or Dendranthema pacificum) or "gold and silver chrysanthemum".  A very well-behaved, low, mounding, old-school perennial; best with good drainage and plenty of sun.  One of the last perennials to bloom for us; it’s also very frost-tolerant. The gray-green foliage is edged in white, and despite several hard frosts, still looks great.

Meat in Compost?

Over the years I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how to compost.  I’m not a composting expert, and don’t want to pass myself off as one, but I do understand the basics and I like to think of myself as a proponent of composting.  Having said that, there is a composting practice which I’m asked about frequently that I never know quite how to answer.  Should you put meat into your compost?

The easy answer to the question of whether meat belongs in compost is that it is an organic material which will break down just fine along with all of the vegetable matter in your compost.  But there’s more to it than that.  I’ve been to some areas that specifically forbid meat in compost because of the vermin that it will attract.  And it’s true, at least to some extent, that meat attracts vermin.  Rats, raccoons, and other mammals will go after meats.  It’s the high protein content.  How can they resist?  While leaves and grass can have as much as 4% nitrogen, meats will typically have between 5 and even as high as 16% nitrogen.  Of course they go for it! 

Besides the vermin issue, if raw meat is placed in a compost pile it tends to stink, especially if it isn’t mixed into the pile.  Cooked meat (table scraps) breaks down a little bit more slowly than raw meat and doesn’t stink as much.  Because of the high nitrogen content of meat it will get a compost pile to compost a little bit faster.  Personally, I’m in favor of using meat in compost piles as long as you’re careful to turn the pile frequently to keep it inside the pile where it can’t do as much harm.  If you’re a casual composter then you might want to avoid using meat because of the potential problems.  So there it is – in my mind the answer to whether you should put meat in compost or not comes down to how closely you like to monitor your pile, whether there are laws against it in your area, and also the likelihood of mammals getting into it where you live.  Also, at most meat should be a small component of a compost pile — not the main component.