Holidays are over, and I'm finally back in Brooklyn after a very loooong visit with my parents, grandparents, sister and cousins. I spent nearly five days in the suburbs for Christmas! FIVE! Thank goodness I'm home.
Now that I'm crafting a home with my new Domestic Partner, I'm making some discoveries. (Sidenote: I borrowed the phrase "crafting a home" from a cute DIY home blog and I need to give props to the blogger Kim. It describes me perfectly!) I'm doing a lot of new things in this home that I never did before, such as sharing a bedroom (which means no more pink lace comforter) and sharing my food (guess who ate all the Pignoli cookies?!) (Ok ok, it was me. If I don't confess, he'll start a rant in the comments). BUT I DIGRESS!
What I'm saying is, this is the first time I've had my own Christmas tree! I never had one in my early twenties because I needed to save my money for drugs (KIDDING, MOM), and then I had a Jewish roommate for 5 years who didn't want one and it didn't really bother me. For Christmas 2011, we decided to go with a teensy apartment-sized potted-plant tree. It is literally 2 feet tall and I love it.
I chose a live Christmas tree in a pot because I love houseplants, so I hope to keep this lil' guy all year 'round and he'll grow a little big bigger each Christmas. It will be pretty neat 15 years from now to say, "We've had a home together long enough that our Christmas tree is now 4-feet tall!" But also, it's very possible that I can't give it enough light and nutrients indoors and it will die on me by Valentine's Day. Here's a good blog entry on the Norfolk Island Pine, a "year round Christmas tree".
I've always had mixed feelings in general about the whole concept of a Christmas tree. If you get down to the basics, the tradition of Christmas trees simply involves cutting down a 15-year old evergreen tree so that you can keep it in your house for 3 weeks and then get rid of it. Tree murder! Additionally, Christmas trees are a real fire hazard: The NFPA quotes an average of 240 home fires each year that start from Christmas trees, which basically become tall piles of dry fire wood after a few weeks indoors.
Despite all of this, artifical trees are no better. They are actually less eco-friendly than real trees because they produce more greenhouse gases and are made of plastic, which uses more water and other resources to produce, and can't be recycled when you're done with them.
So even though I thought I was anti-Christmas tree for a while, my official position is now: If you're gonna get a tree, get a real one, and get it from a farm. Christmas tree farms eliminate the need to cut trees from forests and create habitats for animals, help reduce soil erosion, produce oxygen, and of course, the trees can be recycled in many ways.
Here's how you can safely and sustainably dispose of your Christmas tree (and do a little good at the same time):
1. Local Tree Recycling Programs
Most cities & towns offer curbside tree pickup in early January. You can find the exact dates and info on the same website where you find your trash and recycling pickup schedule. In my home of New York City, trees will be picked up from the curb from January 3rd-14th 2012, and will be chipped into mulch to be used in public parks and community gardens throughout the city.
If you want to get a little more interactive with your mulch donation, you can participate in MulchFest 2012 all over NYC. Bring your tree to these locations to watch it go through the mulcher, and they'll even give you some mulch to take home for your garden. But really, the thrill here is seeing your tree become mutilated in mere seconds. COOL.
2. Create Mulch
For those of you who own a fancy mulcher, you can just stick the whole tree in the machine and Voila! Christmas mulch!
For people like me who don't have enough space to store my socks, nevermind a mulching machine, we can make mini-mulch from the dry tree needles. Start by spreading a tarp outdoors and shaking your dry tree to remove any loose needles. Then you can manually run your hands along each branch to pull off the rest, letting it all drop and collect on the tarp. Spread the needles over your planting beds for a free & sweet-smelling mulch. Use the wood of the tree for firewood (below), or put it to the curb for recycling.
Pine needle mulch actually has some unique and useful properties. Unlike woodchip mulch, needles will decompose into your planting bed and alter the pH levels, so it's great to use around acid-loving plants such as roses, garlic, tomatoes, and mint. And as I explained in a previous post, you can also use high-acid mulch to color your hydgrangeas! Needles also don't attract the same pests you'll get with wood mulch, like termites and slugs. UGH I hate slugs.
3. Chop Fire Wood
Obviously, a dry tree with lots of dry needles is great fire wood. But make sure you're seeing the key word there: DRY. If your tree is sappy or still green when you burn it, you'll be getting a smokey mess in that backyard fire pit.
And one more thing. For some insane reason, my boyfriend took a Christmas tree from his friend Jonny's house and put it in the back of his Caravan, where I discovered it this weekend when I took the van on a Home Depot run. Apparently we are going to make fire wood for our fire pit, and I've also informed him that I want to get some needle mulch out of the deal. But for now, the tree is still in the car. Check back in March... I have a feeling it might still be there.