Conifer Confetti

When you move to a new city and state, you deal with the expected and the unexpected. The expected includes boxes that don’t unpack themselves (but what a great invention, right?), over-the-fence greetings with neighbors (categorized as “nice”, “cranky”, and “utterly weird”), and enough wrong turns on roads where you finally pull over and mutter, “Where the heck am I?” Unexpected includes the drip of a leaky pipe ($$$, sigh), chew-crazy squirrels in the backyard (anything plastic is fair game), and, oh yes… pine cones. Lots and lots of pine cones.

Five acres may seem like a lot to some of you readers but to us it’s downsizing from our ranch in Colorado.  You’d think a property a sixth the size of the former would suggest lower maintenance.  After last Sunday I’m not so sure.  My wife came in from the barn the day before and said, rather gently, “We should probably pick up the pine cones in the back pasture before they get out of control.”  Simple enough.  After we fed and watered the horses, we went out to the field with the muck rakes and began picking.  A muck rake can hold ten pine cones.  Around the first tree I figured I picked up fifteen rakes’ worth.  Again, simple enough… except we have at least twenty pine trees.  Do the math.  Our pickup amounted to a motherlode of pine cones, somewhere between two and three thousand.

Back in Colorado we had, like, one pine tree on our property (a magical one actually, which I wrote about in My Dandy-Lion Pine Tree).  After last weekend I’m thinking I should’ve amended our purchase agreement on the new place to say, “Remove nineteen of twenty pine trees”.

I need the “giant” version of this

What does Dave do with all of his pine cones?  Nothing, for now.  The most efficient system of gathering is to throw them against the base of the trees and then haul them away to the “yard waste” dump.  But in the three hours we collected cones, I had plenty of time to think about better ways to do it.  The neighbors suggested a “pasture vacuum”, which is like one of those big spinning brushes you see in the car wash, dragged behind the tractor.  Others suggested a big bonfire, pretty much the last thing a person from Colorado wants to see in their backyard.

My new pet

Here’s thinking outside of the box: I could get a pet Parasaurolophus, the dinosaur with a distinctive crested head.  The Para has thousands of teeth perfectly suited for their favorite meal: pine cones.  But I’d need a time machine so I can bring one back from sixty million years ago.  Looks like it’s still me and the muck rake for now.

Conifer cones”, which include pine cones, play a vital role in the evolution of the trees.  Between all those little wooden scales are the seeds, first pollinated and later released.  It’s a sophisticated process which you can read a lot more about here.  In its simplest terms you have the smaller, meeker “males”, who release pollen for the “females” to catch.  Then the females release the seeds, even after they lay in my pastures by the thousands, seemingly dead.

“He” (lower) doesn’t even look like a pine cone

There was a moment in all that raking where I followed a squirrel as he bounded across the grass and onto the trunk of one of the trees.  Up, up, up he went until he disappeared into the umbrella of the branches above.  And that’s where, to my horror, I noticed how many thousands of pine cones sat poised above me. Maybe millions… almost all of them female.  It’s like having the world’s biggest sorority row above my backyard, and every house is about to disgorge its girls for a giant party on the ground.  Maybe I should hire Sticky Vikki & The Pine Cones for the music.

“Widowmaker” cone

I know, I know, it could be worse.  I could live in Maine, where there are so many pine trees the state flower is the pine cone (and a pine cone is not even a flower).  Or I could have Coulter pine trees, with cones so big they’re nicknamed “widowmakers”.  Seriously, these ladies are massive – you don’t want one falling on your head. Speaking of falling, the mere sound of a plummeting cone is unnerving enough.  It’s like a warplane flying overhead and releasing a bomb, only the bomb whistles straight to the ground without detonating. “THUNK”.

I’d have a massive herd of these Scandinavian toys

We shared the story of our pine cone bounty with my brother-in-law, who promptly encouraged us to do something creative with them.  Make wreaths for the holidays.  Turn them into coffee and jam like they do in Eastern Europe.  Sell them as the fertility charm they’re supposed to be.  Nah, I don’t have time for all that.  We’re expecting extra wind in the next few days courtesy of Hurricane Ian.  I have another three thousand pine cones to pick up.

Some content sourced from the HuffPost blog, “Thirteen Things You Never Knew About Pine Cones…”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

32 thoughts on “Conifer Confetti

  1. Our property is 4 acres so I know what you mean by maintenance! We are on our 4th year of clearing out the dead trees to reduce fire risk.
    We have hundreds of spruce trees – I don’t even try to remove the cones on the ground! When we have a wet spring, we have (likely) hundreds of thousands of tiny spruce seedlings on the ground below the mature spruce. The seedlings rarely survive though – they can’t compete for water and light with the adult trees. The cones serve as a protective mulch for the roots of our trees… at least that is my theory!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. People gather the cones (and the needles) around the bases of the trees here, Margy. It’s actually a nice look as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. Eventually you need to reduce this “yard waste” back to a reasonable amount and haul it off. I’m also told the squirrels gnaw on the cones, but I think it’s more about sharpening their teeth than actually feeding off them.

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  2. Hi Dave! The gardener in me just spent the better part of an hour researching pine cone mulch! My Dad used to pay my kids a penny a come when they were little, but he did NOT have 5 acres. I guess you’ve traded snow for cones? Thanks for sharing a bit of your new life!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the video on mulching! This is what our local “convenience center” does with all of the yard waste we bring to them. It’s a free service thanks to being the newest taxpayers in the state 🙂

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  3. Hi Dave,
    I am stuck on downsizing to 5 acres…
    Did you raise cattle before, or did some farming?
    The idea of tons of land sounds amazing, cones or no cones.
    Blessings and good luck with getting settled and finding a manageable relationship with the conifers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Horses demand a lot of pasture property if you expect the grass to come back year after year, Ana, especially in high/dry Colorado. We rotate them between pastures and always “rest” a pasture so the grass has a chance to grow back. If you lose the grass you’re paying a lot of money for bailed hay instead. Here in South Carolina the grass grows much faster (and we have fewer horses), so five acres is plenty, thank goodness!

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  4. If it ain’t one thing it’s another! I’ve never lived anywhere with that many pinecones around. A few here and there, but you’ve got yourself the makings for a wreath factory nonpareil. Good luck

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s one thing I don’t worry about in the desert – pine cones. I could trade you a few rattle snakes for a box of pine cones …

    And I’ve heard you’ll get about three years of our annually rain fall in about a day – don’t suppose you could mail me a few boxes of rain? 🙂

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    1. We’re on the very outskirts of Ian here on the west side of SC so we’re only expecting “tropical storm” results. Funny you should mention rattlesnakes (er, not funny). We do have them here – Eastern Diamondbacks – and they prefer areas where they can nestle, like big piles of pine needles and branches. Looks like I”ll be keeping the property well maintained whether I want to or not.

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  6. I wondered if you regretted your move when Hurricane Ian came knocking on South Carolina’s door last week Dave. Hopefully you had rain only and no damage. I see a lot of pine cones at the Park. When they are green and somewhat soft and occasionally dripping resin, the squirrels eat them by tearing off the scales (for lack of a better word) and eating the pine nuts. Pine nuts are healthy for humans to eat raw or roasted so maybe you should start collecting them. The squirrels like them raw. 🙂

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    1. The squirrels making off with the pine cones may be the one redeeming aspect of their presence on our property, Linda. Having a dog seems to keep them at bay. If they didn’t sharpen their teeth on all things plastic I’d be happier to host them. The neighbors say it’s only the grey ones, not the browns. We had no impact from Hurricane Ian, not even significant wind or rain, so my comment was in jest. We live several hours from the coast.

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      1. Well thank goodness there was no damage for you – I didn’t know if you mentioned where you lived since the move. As much as I like interacting with the squirrels at the Park, they can be a menace and do chew things they shouldn’t to whittle down their teeth, like the phone wires. I think I mentioned to you before that three times I had AT&T out because they gnaw on the outer part of the wire. I think I’m the only person on the block who still uses a landline.
        A city here in Michigan had two energy substations lose power, even having a transformer blow, caused by squirrels chewing on the wires. Both squirrels are no longer with us as you might have guessed.

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  7. Oh, I don’t envy you having to pick up all those pine cones! I think that’s worse than our annoyance: acorns. The squirrels love to bury them, of course, but contrary to common belief, they DON’T remember so well where they’re hidden. In the spring we can have a crop of baby oak trees in the yard, at the base of plants, even in our deck planter. I guess no place is without its drawbacks–except heaven! No mowing, weeds, pests, pine cones, or acorns to deal with there!

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  8. I hope you find someplace worthy or at least environmentally-friendly to dump those pine cones, rather than a landfill! I have quite a lot from my evergreens. I pick up a big bagful several times a season and dump them in an open space nearby. No new trees have popped up there yet, but they are at least biodegrading.

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    1. Yes, our understanding is the “convenience center” where we take our yard waste mulches for other uses, a benefit of our tax dollars. Nice to know it’ll be recycled.

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  9. Ok, stupid question – what happens if you don’t pick up the pine cones and just run over them with the mower periodically? I have it on pretty good authority that historically, most pine cones fell and that was that.

    I used to scrupulously rake and bag the fruits of 3 walnut trees in my 1/2 acre yard, but eventually quit and let either the squirrels or the lawnmower deal with them.

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    1. I can see that approach in my future, JP, especially if the “pasture vacuum” we’re about to buy doesn’t pick up the cones. We need it for the leaves, which will drop by the many thousands over the next month or two. No way I’m picking up all of those.

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