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. The smell of pine needles does make 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?
There are a number of varieties of pine tree that have edible kernels but Pinus pinea, European stone pine, is the one I’m growing. It has a really tidy little mop top when young and I think it would make a wonderful Christmas tree that you could plant out afterwards rather than throw away.
A year ago 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 spotted shiny green pine cones peeping out of the needles of the lone pine nut tree planted in among the natives and other edibles. Pine nut trees take around 6 years before they set their first nuts, so the timing was bang on.
Scooting back inside to look up when I could pick them, I was already concocting visions of homegrown pesto later in the summer when the basil came on. But google told me my hard little green pine cones were 2 years in to a three-year journey to maturity, so I had another year to wait.
Nine or ten years from planting may sound 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 Christmas present when you find them suddenly producing.
So one year on I paid the trees another visit and sure enough the tight green cones had bulked out into lovely large chestnut brown cones that were ready to harvest. I couldn’t have been more chuffed.
Pine nuts trees are as tough as old boots and grow anywhere a Radiata pine tree will grow and they get to the same size too! They don’t need a pollinator so you can get away with having one tree if space is an issue.
I dislodged the cones with a pole saw and carried them back to the house to dry in an old soil sieve propped up in the sunny front porch. Apparently you need to harvest them before they open or the nuts will fall out or get eaten. Sure enough, the cones popped open to release the pine nuts after a week or two. When I say released, I mean the cones opened. The pine nuts were still locked away in tight little cases that defied all conventional cracking methods. A pair of pliers and a good movie proved the most effective extraction method.
I think these living Christmas trees are so much better than a plastic Christmas tree, or a live one that you just throw away – and think of the pesto! I will admit that cracking them is a labour of love, but the sappy fresh cones, placed in bowls, will fill the house with the smell of Christmas. And any festive visitors who ask “anything I can help you with?” can be set to work with a pair of pliers.
I was surprised at how many nuts the one tree produced from its first harvest. I’ve got another row of pine nut trees that will start producing in another year or two so I might have to come up with a better way of cracking them. Any suggestions?
So before you rush out and get yourself a plastic Christmas tree or a one use radiata job – think about buying a pinenut tree for your living room this Christmas then plant it out and in a decade or so you’ll be picking your own pinenuts too – by then I will have worked out how to crack them for you.