Monday, December 02, 2013

On the Pine Cone Trail

The year I was in second grade, my mom made pine cone Advent wreathes as gifts for all our teachers.  We took a family walk through the neighborhood and gathered all the pine cones.  It was my job to glue them to a special advent wreath form.  My mom spray painted them gold, added a big purple bow to each wreath, and the traditional advent candles (three purple, one pink).  She made a wreath for us too, and it was actually pretty awesome.   All this is a roundabout way of telling you that I have long been aware of the potential of the pine cone.

Which is why I went out early, the day after Thanksgiving, to the Monticello trail to gather pine cones for a garland.  Most of the pine trees are near the bottom of the hill, but I hiked the two miles to the top, hoping for a different species of tree to add variety to my collection.  And right near the top, I found a pine with perfect, symmetrical pine cones, only they were all firmly attached to the tree, and the ground beneath it was suspiciously absent of cones.  Another collector must have beat me to the spot.

Perfect but unattainable.

Most of the people on the trail gave my brown paper shopping bags the side eye, as if they thought I had just looted Monticello of its silver.  Is it really that eccentric to pick up pine cones off the ground?  You can buy them at Whole Foods--something like $3.00 for a smallish bag, and I need ninety pine cones for a six-foot garland.  In the end, I found the mother load of pine cones on a short side trail.  I filled both my grocery bags.  Two brown paper grocery bags full of pine cones are surprisingly heavy.  It's probably only half a mile from the side trail to the parking area on Dairy Barn Rd, but I was DYING by the time I got to my car.  It was a pretty day for a walk, though.

The next step is to wash them, which I did in the bathtub.  Pine cones come home with a lot of flotsam: pine needles, leaves, dirt, as-yet undiscovered insect species, etc.  It took freaking forever to divest my pine cones of all this junk.  Next, you bake them at 200 degrees for two hours--to kill the bugs.  Despite heaping my roasting pan, and filling a baking pan and a cookie sheet, I had more pine cones than would fit in the oven, and had to do this step in batches.  If you choose to do this yourself, note that the pine cones will leak sap all over your pans and it WON'T come off.

My bath tub, full of pine cones

I want a green and white garland, so I followed the bleaching process outlined in this tutorial.  It calls for a crazy ratio of bleach to water.  I tested a small batch, since to do them all at once would mean filling my entire bathtub with bleach.  I let them sit overnight, rather than the 24 hours recommended in the tutorial, and got uneven results.  Some of the pine cones were bleached, others were still brown.  The white pine cones seemed dangerously close to disintegrating so I removed the whole batch from the bleach.

Bleached and unbleached pine cones side by side

Then you have to bake them again! (Actually, you're supposed to sit them outside in the sunshine to dry, but hello, it's December.  Baking is offered as a faster alternative.)  It was 7:00 am and my house--again--became permeated with the smell of damp pine cones, only now with a hint of bleach.  One thing is certain, I am NOT bleaching the rest of these things.  I abandoned my green and white idea and spray painted some of them with gold rustoleum, and I'm not sure how I feel about them now.


I am already bored with this project and I still have nothing even close to resembling a garland.  The only thing to do at this point, is dump the pine cones back into their bags and go to the library and check out a Georgette Heyer novel.  Done. And Done.  If this thing ever becomes a garland, I will be sure to show you.  Do you do any holiday crafts?


  1. Do handmade gifts count as holiday projects? If so, then yes. If not, then no.

  2. Handmade gifts totally count as projects.

  3. Good nelly! That's one helluva project so far. I always toss the pinecones I find into the freezer to kill the bugs/eggs and then just put them to use decoratively. Never bothered to wash them, but I bet spray paint would effectively coat the if I were inclined. What JOB!

  4. My husband revealed to me last night that his family used to make popcorn garland for the Christmas Tree. This is a man who once announced in the middle of dinner that "for future reference" he doesn't "eat canned vegetables." His mom is super sally homemaker -- in the best way, love her -- so he grew up on homemade jam and applesauce and such. I shouldn't have been surprised about the garland. I quickly pointed out that if we put popcorn garland on our Christmas tree we would only create a further incentive for the dogs to attack the tree. Nipped that project in the bud. But generally I love a good crafty project, especially if involves spray paint.

  5. Not very crafty. I do make wreaths for our family out of pine boughs, holly bushes and some lovely orange berries from my backyard.

  6. I made a pine cone wreath when I was a kid in school. Sadly, my arts and crafts kung fu is not strong these days so I will have to buy my wreath this year.

  7. Wow. I just bring pine cones in and use them straight up. I don't even freeze them for bugs. Of course, I live in northern Illinois, and I assume any bad bugs are already frozen :-)

    When your mom made those wreaths, did you guys soak and bake the pine cones too? What a job!!

  8. A for effort, honey. I was taken aback by the washing and baking to kill bugs ... but the bleaching? That's some super-advanced business there. Even if you don't complete your garland for this year, you can take it on as a project for next year. And you can be smug in the fact that you didn't give Whole Paycheck any dinero for your pinecones. Huzzah!

  9. wow.....quite an effort.....they look great though!!