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GARDEN OF ED

The Flip Flops Are Hung By The Chimney With Care
updated: Nov 26, 2011, 9:45 AM

By Billy Goodnick

As the end of 2011 nears, I've been checking off all the significant dates on my calendar. I just survived National Undo the Top Button of Your Slacks For One More Bite of Turkey Day. But I sat out Black Wear A Football Helmet To Shop for Deals At Midnight Friday.

On the heels of these revered holidays comes the ever-perplexing fortnight known at our house as Are We Gonna Get a Christmas Tree This Year? Let's face it, Santa Barbara isn't exactly the land of winter holiday icons. Segways are more practical than one horse open sleighs, LEDs take the place of icicles on our eaves, and there are only so many tiny surprises you can conceal in a flip flop.

Last night Lin and I discussed going treeless for the first time since our now-21- year-old son, Benjamin Cosmo, was born. We've outgrown needing a spot for Santa to leave the 12,347-piece Wuthering Heights-themed Lego set our boy once coveted. Even better, there'll be no rearranging of furniture, and no worries about Biff the Wonder Spaniel lapping sappy water from the tree stand.

If you're certain about having a Christmas tree this year and want to make the most environmentally enlightened decision, you've probably wondered what's the greenest way to go. If you're on the fence, let me lay out a few options to consider.

Scrooge It: The No-Tree Option: First off, no one says you have to have a tree to enjoy the holidays. They're a throwback to the pagan winter solstice when trees that stayed green through the cold, snowy winters were revered (this was in the days before Legos). You can still share good tidings, sing Grandma Got Run Over By Reindeer, and watch Sugar Plum Fairies prance ‘til Guy Lombardo plays Auld Lang Syne. There's nothing greener than just skipping the whole shebang.

Festoon Your Fir: Some folks are content wrapping lights around a tree in their yard, balancing an angel on the tippy top, and calling it done. Throw in a string of low-wattage LEDs to add sparkle. However, this approach raises the problem of where to put the gifts. You could still leave them under the tree, provided you surround it with a chain link fence and encase the presents in stainless steel to keep the neighborhood pets and kids at bay.

Pot Your Pine: There's a strong argument for buying a living tree, planting it in a patio pot, then bringing it in the house for a few weeks. I worked in retail nurseries for years and that approach meant big sales, consisting of a fragrant conifer, big container, water-tight saucer to keep the floor dry, and bags of potting soil. In my experience, though, most trees look pretty pathetic after a year or two braving the elements. First of all, the species that pass for Christmas trees don't exactly thrive in SoCal. Conifers like firs, pines, and spruces are from cold, moist climates and need just the right spot and lots of supplemental care to make it through the year.

They require vigilant snipping to maintain they're iconic shape and frequent rotation to assure balanced exposure to the sun. Most folk's enthusiasm and rigor fade quickly. Add the possibility that any number of mollusks, insects, arachnids, and zombie gnomes might take up residence in the branches and soil, and you might want to reconsider.

My Take On Fake: The good news about artificial trees is they don't require ending the life of a carbon-based life form. (Well, at least not recently--they're made from polyvinyl chloride [PVC] which comes from crude oil, so although the statute of limitation for murder has likely expired, there's a good chance that a stegosaurus or two gave their all for your tree.)

The overwhelming bad news is that manufacturing PVC entails one of the most environmentally destructive processes on the planet, leaving behind a wake of carcinogens; worse, the stuff never decomposes. Eighty-five percent of them come from China where worker safety and environmental protection is stuck in the Stone Age, then they're shipped overseas on fossil fuel-farting cargo ships and trucked cross-country. More troubling still, many manufacturers use lead to make the "needles" supple. California's Prop 65 requires that the trees carry warning labels, due to the potential for lead poisoning. Imagine keeping your kids from touching the tree. Yeah, right.

Oregon Chainsaw Massacre: Most of what we find in Christmas tree lots have spent their useful lives in the Pacific Northwest, grown on small-scale, family-owned, environmentally respectful farms. I picked up that factoid from Michael Bondi, an Oregon State University Forestry and Extension Agent who told me, "There's no degree in Christmas-tree-ology, but if there were one, I'd have it. Many of the growers I work with are mom and pop operations, living on the same land where the trees are grown," Bondi said, "so they tend to be good stewards of the environment."

While waiting for their inevitable demise, these trees provide habitat for beneficial insects, birds, and four-legged wildlife, all the while sucking up carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. They're low impact, according to Greenpeace, whose website states, "Real trees are carbon neutral, absorbing as much carbon dioxide…as they will emit when burnt or left to decompose."

There's a down side to everything: To get to our living rooms, trees are shipped via truck, meaning a carbon footprint that is cause for concern. I was hoping to solve that problem by directing SB locals to the choose-and-cut tree farm on Patterson Avenue. Alas, when I cruised by earlier this week, all that's left is open space and bare dirt. The closest I could find was G.P. Ranch in Los Alamos (805.344.4605), and Hidden Springs, in Atascadero. Or check this website for others if you ain't from around here.

If you're going the non-local cut tree route, there are plenty of choices. I'm a sucker for supporting non-profits like the Boy Scouts or church groups. If not, you can still keep your money in the local economy by shopping at Big Wave Dave near La Cumbre Plaza (just cuz the name's so cool), Anthony's (55 years in the biz) at Earl Warren Showground, or Lane Farm at Hollister and Walnut in Goleta.

And when the holiday has passed and you've tired of finding escaped needles in your toothbrush, it's time for conscientiously disposing of your now-brown evergreen. If you own a brush chipper, you can reenact that disturbing scene from the movie Fargo then spread the remains in your garden to benefit the soil. Or--after you've stripped the ornaments, lights, stand, and water dish--visit LessIsMore.org (SB County Solid Waste Division) for disposal options, including curbside pick-up or drop-off at the transfer station. These nice folks will grind the tree and recycle it back into the community as mulch for residential and public gardens.

I don't think I'll miss having a tree taking up space in the house this season, but I will miss the aroma of a conifer forest pervading the air. Guess I'll have to visit the car wash and pick up a case of air fresheners.

So which way are you going? Leave a comment and let's get the conversation started.

 

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