Campbell Vaughn: Don’t just toss your old Christmas tree

When I was a little younger and had extra time on my hands, my buddies and I would ride around and load up utility trailers with discarded Christmas trees. We would take them to the lake or a pond we had permission to fish and start sinking them. We had a blast messing with these discarded decors, but had even more fun when we would start fishing around them the next spring. How does the whole sunken Christmas tree system work?

 

Once you have gathered some trees, you can’t just throw them in the lake and have them sink and start fishing. These green trees will float. The optimum way to sink these trees is to have them stand up just like they would in your house, minus the star on top.

Start by standing the trees up. Cut some of the limbs out in the middle and make some cavities for larger fish to penetrate. Cut a few extra limbs off the bottom to expose the base and nail a few 20-penny nails halfway in the trunk to act like rebar. Set the trees in an old planting container – the wider the container is better than its height – maybe a 10- to 15-gallon pot. Pour 4 to 6 inches of concrete around the base, making sure the base is submerged. Let it sit at least overnight for an instant permanent Christmas tree stand. Load up these fish mobile homes on the boat and head to the water.

The ideal location is going to be in about 20 feet of water on a point or flat with little moving water. Throw out a marking float to pinpoint the location where you are going to sink the trees. Sink the trees in groups of five to six, which will concentrate the fish better. Usually fish will only stick to a few of these piles, so sinking more than five or six is futile. Make sure you mark where you put the new fish domiciles on your GPS or place a buoy to locate because they will be hard to find once they are out of site.

Once these habitats are submerged, the food chain begins to work. Algae will begin to grow on the limbs, minnows will eat the algae, small pan fish will eat the minnows, and the big guys will feast on the small fish. If we have done everything according to plan, we can catch and eat the big guys. The trees should last for at least five years and as long as 10.

So what are some other ways we can use Christmas trees after all the holidays? How about treating your outside friends to a little post-Christmas party?

Place your tree in its stand outdoors. Invite your feathered and furred friends to a great winter’s feast. Both birds and squirrels have high metabolisms and need loads of calories to help stay warm during the winter.

Fill bird feeders and hang them from the boughs, or drape the tree with an old pinecone trick. Wind a cotton string around the pinecone scales and loop the end so that it can hang from the tree. Then mix peanut butter (thinned with a bit of vegetable oil) with birdseed and spread the mixture on the cones. Roll in more birdseed and hang. Press in fresh grapes, sliced apples and coconut.

Some birds, such as brown thrashers and northern mockingbirds, will enjoy dried apples and oranges. Cut fruit slices horizontally, perpendicular to the core or stem. Then dry them in a food dehydrator or in a warm oven. Attach with cotton string and hang. Buy a bag of fresh cranberries and with a needle and thread string four or five pieces of popcorn then one cranberry for a colorful red and white pattern. This is a good activity for children to do, and birds and squirrels will love it.

Use this recipe to make your own suet and hang it in an old onion bag. Birds love it.

2 cups of fresh ground suet (rendered beef fat)

1 cup of peanut butter

2 cups of yellow corn meal

2 cups of birdseed

1 cup dried fruit pieces

Melt suet in a pan over low heat. Allow to cool thoroughly and then reheat it. Stir in peanut butter until well blended. Add dry ingredients to the mixture and blend well. Pour into cake pan or casserole dish and cool. Cut into squares and place in onion bag and hang.

Millet, cracked corn and mixed birdseed should also be sprinkled on the ground around the tree for ground-feeding birds.

Another great way to recycle a Christmas tree is to use it for mulch or erosion control. The needles dry quickly and decompose slowly, making them an excellent moisture and mold-free mulch for ground-covering crops and soil washes.

The Home Depot in Evans will be having its annual Christmas tree grind Jan. 7 starting around 7:30 a.m. Bring your trees minus ornaments, tinsel and lights, and bring back your trailer to pick up a load of mulch. Or go in with some friends and rent a chipper and collect some trees left on the street and feed the trees through it. Spread the wood chips under shrubs to suppress weeds and add organic matter to the soil.

City of Augusta crews will pick up Christmas trees with their regular yard waste service. They will also take the trees at the landfill, for free, for city residents. The city landfill also offers a cubic yard of mulch for $15 if you are out that way.

The city of North Augusta will pick up discarded Christmas trees on regular yard waste days.

Reach Campbell Vaughn, the agriculture and natural resources cooperative extension agent for Richmond County, by emailing augusta@uga.edu.

 

More