The other evening I took a wander down to a corner of the property I don’t visit very often. It is a boggy shady spot that we planted out around 6 or 7 years ago, I wanted fig leaves to wrap some cheeses in but while I was getting them I was really excited to spy the first pine cones on the lone pine nut tree that we planted in among the natives and other edibles. Pine nut trees take 6 years before they set nuts so the timing was bang on.
It sounds like a long time to wait when you’re thinking about planting edibles but if you just plant it and forget about it, it’s like getting an unexpected pressie when you find them suddenly producing. I couldn’t have been more chuffed. With Christmas bearing down on us it got me thinking about how you could make use of this tree for the first 6 years of its life before it starts nutting and I thought it would make an excellent Christmas tree.
It is a bit of a kiwi tradition to cut down a pine tree for Christmas. Wayward roadside seedling pines that have been minding their own business all year suddenly start vanishing and cars are seen driving around with pine trees draped on the roof like bad toupees. Rural kids, like these two enterprising locals below, take to the hills with the pruning saw and make a bit of pocket money selling Christmas Trees.
When you get the tree home the rituals continue, it is usually too big for the available space and then you have your choice of strategies for trying to keep its needles intact until the 25th. My favourite is putting a disprin in the water, like you’re curing it of a hangover.
The smell of pine needles makes the house feel like Christmas, unless you are allergic in which case they make the house feel like one big sneeze. But instead of chucking the tree out after the big day, how about a living pine tree that could go on to produce edible pine nuts for years to come? Any pesto maker who has over zealously filled a bag of pine nuts from the bulk bins knows the horrendous price they are per kilo.
Pine nuts trees are as tough as old boots and grow pretty much everywhere a radiata pine tree will grow and they get to the same size too. They are not quite so straggly looking and I think their tidy, upright branches make them the perfect Christmas tree. Obviously they are going to get a bit big for keeping in a pot and bringing inside each Christmas, but for the first 10 years of their life they would be small enough to decorate in the garden.
They don’t need a pollinator so you can get away with having one tree if space is an issue. When they are mature you’ll get approximately 5kg of shelled nuts from each tree. Getting them out of the shell is tricky, you can see why they’re so expensive but when you try fresh ones they’re so sweet and yummy you won’t go back to shop ones.
The photo below is another group of pine nut trees we planted a few years later and they aren’t producing cones yet (I ran over and checked!) but you can see what I mean about the compact branches. Who else thinks these would be better than a plastic tree, or a live one that you just throw away? Think about the pesto!