Yesterday I shared photos of my finished Opuntia Christmas tree, today I'll show you what's underneath. I started with a small tomato cage and some chicken wire. This wasn't the fist time I used a tomato cage as the base for our Christmas tree, back in 2014 I built a tree out of foraged conifer branches using a tomato cage as the base.
I found a ring (I think it was once part of a shower curtain set) to pull in the three metal bits that would normally get shoved into the ground. I wanted a cone shape to work with.
I wired the chicken wire to the bottom of the cage (what would be the top, if it were being used for it's intended purpose) and then made a few vertical cuts straight down the wire hexagons and just started wrapping the wire around the cage frame work and back on itself. This resulted in a couple benefits I was unaware of at the time. First of all the Opuntia pads all together were very heavy, the chicken wire helped reinforce the cage and made it sturdier. Secondly, once I started wiring the pads in place it was helpful to have smaller holes, more wire to connect the pads to, if that makes sense.
Once the chicken wire completely covered the tomato cage I removed the shower curtain ring.
What's with the binder clip?
This was an old tomato cage and it had gotten bent during its many years of use. No matter how hard I worked to make the base level, it just wouldn't sit flat. I have a stash of binder clips in the garage, for winter protection efforts (wrapping and securing burlap or towels), and so I wired one in place to keep the tree form straight(ish).
Here's the raw material, the Opuntia pads — 35 of them — sorted roughly by size.
Finding the pads proved rather difficult, until we stopped in Panaderia 5 De Mayo at 1134 SE 82nd Ave, here in Portland. Is nopales a seasonal food? None of the other Latin markets we tried had any! Finally when Andrew asked at Panaderia they offered a small, clear, plastic bag with maybe 3 pads in it, cleaned of all glochids and spines. Kind of limp and slimy. We asked if they had others and that's when we were shown a crate full of pads, intact! It looked like they'd just received a shipment. I had no idea how many I needed but guessed 35. That would prove to be 5 short, but luckily they still had several left when I discovered the miscalculation, plus when I returned they let me pick through the crate and find the small ones, since I was at the top of the tree. All told I bought just over 14 pounds, at $1.99/lb that meant $28.47.
Later I read something in the New York Times about the rising cost of trees this year: "You’ll probably pay more for your Christmas tree this year. Blame the Great Recession. Growers planted fewer trees in those lean years — and the shortage is now upon us. And prices have been rising all the while: The average buyer spent $36.50 on a tree in 2008; last year, the figure was $74.70." Makes $28.47 sound like a bargain right?
So how to attach the pads to the frame? I pierced them with a skewer.
And used a length of florist wire to attach them to the chicken wire.
Over time the Opuntia blood built up on the skewer and made me a little sad.
Those little spines in the pads never drew my blood, but a few managed to make me rather uncomfortable, as they worked their way into my fingers. Even using my trusty cactus tongs I wasn't safe.
At first I wired them on so the new one lapped over the old...
But as I worked I realized an in-front, then in-back, pattern was better. It would allow me to make changes as I went, if things were a little more random.
Plus it allowed the next row to lay better.
Here's as far as I got with my original 35 pads, 5 short!.
So close! I got 8 more pads went I went back to the market. Insurance. I've since used the extra 3 to replace ones that started to get blemishes as the tree's been indoors on display, it's almost been two weeks already!
I had no idea how heavy the finished product would be, plus there's no place to grab a hold of it. I moved it indoors on this stool, and then very carefully (with gloves) transferred it to the rattan piece it's now sitting on.
I honestly liked the Aloe "star" better without lights along the edges, but Andrew's a lover of Christmas lights so I added them for him.
The Aloe stem was literally just shoved into the top of the cage. I later added a little wire just for security.
The tree rests on a metal tray from IKEA, it's lip hides the base of the tomato cage/chicken wire frame.
So....that's all there is to making your own cactus Christmas tree. I expect several of you to improve upon my design next year!
Weather Diary, Dec 11: Hi 44, Low 30/ Precip 0
All material © 2009-2017 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.