A week before our skies filled with smoke and the Oregon wildfires raged in September 2020, we completed our noble fir cone harvest.
It seems that about every four 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 in 2020 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 in color and tend to hang down with the weight (figure 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 (figure 2).
Many cones fall to the ground and grandkids are excellent picker-uppers (figure 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 (figure 4).