A week before our skies filled with smoke and the Oregon wildfires raged, we completed our 2020 noble fir cone harvest. Those four days of clear blue skies now seem like ancient history. The fires are also leaving behind many unknowns for Christmas tree growers and major tragedies across the state.
First on the fires and then cone harvests. As I write, I’m hopeful that five newly grafted Christmas tree seed orchards east of Scotts Mill have survived the fires. All of these were near timber and homes and in the middle of the level three evacuation area. These are orchards containing the best of our Trojan, Turkish, and noble fir testing and a promising private Douglas-fir orchard. These have taken years of effort in the testing, grafting, and maintenance to get established and growing. Fingers crossed on these surviving the fires that surrounded them.
Sadly, some of our test plot sites near Silver Creek Falls State Park seem to have been consumed or badly damaged by fire. We gained the information we needed from measurements last month, but a grower lost some beautiful noble fir fields. I know these are small losses given the scale of the damage across the region. Our hearts go out to those suffering from these fires.
Now, for noble fir cone harvesting. It seems that about every 4 years we have a decent harvest of noble fir cones from the woods and in seed orchards. The PNW Christmas Tree Association has two small orchards- one near Dixie Mountain and one near Buhl. We had a good crop this year at Buhl and a light crop at Dixie Mountain.
Determining when the cones are “ripe” to harvest is always a guessing game, especially when the cones are 30-40 feet up. Typically, noble fir is ready to pick around Labor Day. But both Labor Day and cone maturity moves around year to year. When ready, the cones are tan color and tend to hang down with the weight (Fig. 1).
Getting the cones out of the tree is the hard part. Trained squirrels would be the best, but they are hard to come by. Next best is lifting pickers into the tree crowns with ground lifts. Tree climbing is also an option (Fig. 2).
Many cones fall to the ground and grandkids are excellent picker uppers (Fig.3).
At the end of the week we harvested around 200 five gallon buckets of cones from two orchards. For perspective, each bucket holds around 25 cones which should translate into a pound of seed. A pound of seed will produce 3,500 seedlings. So, our 200 buckets will someday produce around 700,000 seedlings (Fig 4).