The holiday season is over and Christmas trees will soon go the way of tinsel and wrapping paper, from a means of celebration to trash container fodder. But Winn Weaver is gathering as many as he can get.
“Everyone thinks Christmas trees are such a waste but they are useful,” said Weaver, the owner of Winn’s Compost at Ohio Gulch. He collects hundreds of trees for recycling into compost this time of year.
“I am basically a microbial farmer,” said Weaver, whose winters are spent turning food waste and other plant materials into a composted soil amendment well suited for local gardens in the spring. Ground-up Christmas trees are an integral part of the process.
Winn’s Compost receives about two tons of local food waste each week through a waste diversion program started seven years ago. The waste comes from Sun Valley Resort, Albertsons’ grocery stores, the Valley Club and other companies. Every two tons produces about one half ton of rich compost.
“About half a ton is left after composting,” Weaver said. “That’s primarily because food waste is 60 to 70 percent water.”
Millions of microbes slowly eat the food waste and breed. The result is mixed with plant material to make compost that is high in nutrients, amino acids and vitamins and minerals that plants need.
“Compost is basically microbe poop,” Weaver said. “The food waste they eat has well-rounded ingredients that soil needs as much as humans need.”
Weaver said the Christmas trees are acidic and that the needles contain beneficial nitrogen.
“The soils in the Wood River Valley are more on the base, or high, pH side so the Christmas tree material brings it down to a compost that is around 7 to 7.5 pH. This is good for tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries and other fruits.”
During the winter, Weaver measures his compost piles for water content, temperature and oxygen levels, all of which can be used as indicators of microbial activity. In the spring, he tests the pH level of his compost at a testing facility in Twin Falls.
Weaver said that by then the plants are hungry for it. The microbial poop, along with bits of Christmas trees, are taken to the roots of plants where sugar is made by the plants for the microbes to eat.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” he said.
So, as the darkest days of winter turn toward spring, billions of microorganisms will be working at Ohio Gulch to help turn Christmas trees into new life.
“Christmas is about rebirth after all,” Weaver said. “And afterward we begin the process of the new year. I make sure Christmas trees begin their own rebirth. They help create the food that goes into our mouths that begins the cycle of life all over again.”
Winn’s Compost takes old Christmas trees for free. Drop-off sites will be available until Jan. 17 at Rotary Park in Ketchum and on the corner of River and Bullion streets in Hailey—as long as they’re as clean as they were in the woods.