Well, at last the longest holiday of the year is over; that glut of commercialism promoted from September through New Year’s by retailers. I once heard it called Merry Thanksgivoween, but it’s also become the most important time of year to beware of all the garbage created by the excess condoned in society! Christmas has come to mean “open greed and waste” in the same way that Disney asserts “wholesome family entertainment” must come with a hefty price tag.
Of greater to concern to those of you who garden… “How do I reduce the impact of the holiday on my own personal environment, much less on a global scale?” Fortunately, there are a lot of things the conscientious gardener can do to “give back” to the earth during a time of year that has come to mean ‘exploitation.’
Okay! Okay! Enough of the “Bah humbug!” Let’s get down to what to do about all the trash and “tailings” of the holiday from well-meaning relatives and friends that didn’t listen when you said, “Let’s not overdo it this year.”
A first point to address is the trash. Of course the cardboard and paper are some of the easiest to keep out of a landfill… recycle them! Most communities have great facilities for recycling paper, but even if not, I know many here in Anchorage and the surrounding area who use cardboard or paper as fire starter in their wood stoves, cat box lining, or even save it for reuse next year when you have “too many gifts” to package and send away. If care is taken as you unwrap, it’s easy to reuse wrapping paper for numerous years.
As for Styrofoam packing? Cut or break it up to make your own “packing popcorn” or beanbag filler. Plastic is recycled in most urban centers now, so that’s one of the best ways to dispose of any excess you have laying around. Let it become a new milk jug or someone’s composite deck.
Perhaps the most gratifying thing to which to REASSIGN value is that Christmas tree! If you bought a live one and kept it in the house for less than a week, Kudos! You’ve been reading my advice and following it! Now you can dig a hole in the yard and plant it for years of enjoyment in the landscape. It’s been an early and heavy winter thus far. We’ve accumulated over 2 feet of snow here in Anchorage, so you might have to dig a little to get down to the soil and it will take some “hammering” to get a hole dug. If that’s not a high priority right now… It’s okay to leave the tree in a protected spot near or even IN the garage if it isn’t heated! The tree should winter over okay. You might pile snow all around it to help insulate it and help prevent desiccation of its needles as described in last month’s article. When the soil finally thaws, that’s a good time to plant too!
However, even if you didn’t think that “green” for the holidays, there are still things you can do to make good use of that tree. A favorite of mine is setting it up in a snow bank in the back yard and “redecorating it with strings of popcorn, dried berries, and ornaments made of pinecones swathed in suet or peanut butter and then rolled in bird seed. This easy “birdfeeder” will give hours of enjoyment for the coming month or two, especially if you continue adding new edible decorations as the originals are consumed by grateful recipients.
By about February’s end, the needles will start to dry up and fall off. They make a great amendment for mulching, or you can simply add them to your compost pile with the first “cleanup” mowing later in spring. They’re easy to suck up with your grass clippings and layer into the pile as you awaken it by turning it the first time.
When the branches are bare, it’s time to start clipping them off too! They work as fire-starters, but even for those of you with no fireplace or stove, they can be use as props for heavy perennials or as climbing poles for beans, peas, squash, cukes or pumpkins in the vegetable garden. Simply cut them off where they join to the trunk and then shove them into the ground near newly sprouting vine vegetables. The tendrils will wrap around the twigs and use them as support while the plants grow toward the sunlight. The trunk can also be used for such a purpose, but since it’s fairly stout in comparison, it will support more and bigger vines.
That done, if Christmas isn’t truly over until “you throw the tree away” then you can enjoy Christmas throughout the coming year… and if you have any vestige of the true Christmas spirit, then you realize gardening green is a way to spread that cheer to others by being a good steward of the blessings that can’t be bought… clean air, clean water, good soil and friends/family to share it with.