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A real Christmas tree is by far the more sustainable choice. Shutterstock/Happy Hirtzel

From the Garden Buying a real Christmas tree supports local jobs and brings a certain magic to the home

A real tree is a much greener option than one made from plastic, writes Michael Kelly.

I’VE BEEN OUT talking to various media outlets this week about the idea of having a greener Christmas.

It’s interesting to me that we have moved on so quickly from the hype of Black Friday and Cyber Monday to an almost Lenten remorse, forcing us to think about becoming more sustainable. 

The main sustainability problem about Christmas of course is our excessive consumption, and the need to buy more stuff at a time when our planet desperately needs us to buy less stuff. 

If we could address that, then we wouldn’t need tips for a greener Christmas. But admittedly such sentiments wouldn’t make for great radio.

A few times this week I’ve been asked about whether we should buy a real or fake Christmas tree. I don’t understand why that’s even a debate.

A growing Christmas tree produces oxygen and stores CO2 while it grows, both of which are valuable traits in these times. Almost all Christmas tree growers plant a new tree when they harvest an old one.

It’s true that all that stored carbon in the tree will get released when it decomposes, but by chipping and mulching the tree you reduce the emissions by up to 80%. Most local authorities take back trees after Christmas and will chip them down also. 

After Christmas we spend a bit of time stripping our tree down. The branches are snipped off and get chipped and used as mulch, with pine needles much loved by fruit bushes in particular. 

Then we chop up the trunk and stack it for a year to season it before using as firewood. The ultimate green Christmas tree would be a living one that’s grown in a pot and moved in and out each year – but it would take someone with far more patience than I to manage such an endeavour.  

Compare all that with the fake tree made from plastic and a nasty concoction of toxic chemicals that will take thousands of years to decompose. 

The cheaper ones will probably need to be discarded after five or six years. Not to mention that it was probably made in China, using up more of our planet’s scarce resources to be shipped here. 

The real tree on the other hand is supporting local jobs at a time when our horticulture industry desperately needs that, but you should check that when buying it just to be sure. 

Have a think also about what you’re decorating the tree with – LED lights will reduce the energy consumption by 80%. Try to avoid adorning it with plastic tat (or at least continue to use the decorations you already have rather than buying new ones). 

It was pointed out to me by one interviewer that perhaps the greenest solution would be to not buy a tree at all. I don’t agree.

In the dark and bleakness of winter, there’s a magic to bringing a living plant in to our homes, particularly when it’s evergreen and comes with that evocative smell.

In these days of just eight hours of daylight, the Christmas tree is a shining reminder that brighter times are ahead. 

The Basics – Sow Garlic 

If you haven’t already done so, it’s a good time of the year to sow your garlic.  The tradition is to sow them before the shortest day of the year later this month. 

The bulbs benefit from the cold snap they are likely to get if sown now. Some varieties however can be sown in spring but they won’t grow as big. 

Pick a sunny site, with good fertile, free-draining soil.

Apply an organic fertiliser before sowing.

Sow each clove just below the surface, about four or five inches apart, in rows 12 inches apart.

If soil is very wet, sow in module trays and transplant when sprouted.  

Recipe of the Week – Winter Omelette 

This recipe uses two great stalwarts of the winter kitchen garden – squash and leeks.  The yoghurt is an interesting addition. This recipe serves six. 


  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts, cleaned and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 350g winter squash, diced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint and the same quantity of fresh dill.
  • 8 eggs
  • 150ml Greek-style yogurt
  • 40g freshly grated Parmesan cheese 


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Heat one tablespoon of the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pan.

Add the leek and cook, stirring, until tender, about three minutes.

Add the garlic, stir together until fragrant, about 30 seconds, and add the squash.

Cook, stirring, until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Stir in the dill and the mint. Remove from the heat. 

Place the remaining tablespoon of oil in a 9-inch casserole dish, brush the sides of the pan with the oil and place in the oven. 

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Whisk in the yogurt and the Parmesan. Stir in the squash mixture. 

Remove the baking dish from the oven and pour in the egg mixture.

Place in the oven, and bake 30 minutes or until puffed and lightly colored.

Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. 

Michael Kelly is an author, broadcaster and founder of GIY.


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