Pick pine cones and make money

Looking for an outdoor side hustle?

Photo of Angela Mulka

Make money this September by collecting a bushel of pine cones. One bushel will net you $75 and help the Michigan Department of Natural Resources plant trees in state forests.

Starting Sept. 1, you can pick red pine cones and drop them off by appointment at six DNR locations, three being in the Lower Peninsula. Eager folks could start collecting during the last weeks of August to get a head start.

The amount was raised this year to $75 from $50 in previous years because collecting fresh red pine cones is, "not the easiest thing to do," according to Jason Hartman, a forester with Michigan Department of Natural Resources. And, the department is dealing with a shortage of seed supply.

Trees have to have branches low enough to the ground for people to pick fresh pine cones off from. The pine cones cannot be dead, therefore they can't really be collected off the forest floor, according to Hartman.

Fresh cones can be found on state forestlands and in recently gathered squirrel caches — yes, you can steal from a squirrel. 

Collectors can also ask permission from loggers cutting down red pine trees to pick the cones off the top of the trees. The simplest way, however, is to pick from living red pine trees where branches extend close to the ground.

Commit the following criteria laid out by the department to memory, because old cones or the wrong species won't get you any money.

• Make sure you’re picking the right species. Red pines have craggy, reddish bark and 4- to 6-inch needles that grow in pairs. Scotch and Austrian pine cones will not be accepted.
• Cones should be picked off the tree; fallen cones on the ground are likely to be too old or wet. No twigs, needles or debris.
• Cone scales should be closed, with a little bit of green or purple tint – all brown and open, and they’re too far gone.

Be sure to store pine cones in a cool, dry place in mesh bags. Onion bags will be provided by the Department of Natural Resources at drop-off locations. Don't use burlap or plastic bags, which can hold moisture and ruin the pine cones. Tag bags on the inside and outside with your name, county where you picked and if the cones are natural or from a plantation.

Drop off cones by appointment at select Department of Natural Resources Customer Service Centers and Wyman Nursery:

• Marquette - Bob Tylka, 906-250-9225
• Newberry - Jason Tokar, 906-440-1348
• Wyman Nursery (Manistique) - Sheila Clark, 906-341-2518
• Gaylord - Tim Greco, 989-619-5519
• Roscommon - Jason Hartman, 989-390-0279
• Cadillac - Sue Sobieski, 231-775-9727, ext. 6904

What happens to the red pine cones once they're dropped off?

They're put into machines that gently warm them and then shake them, allowing the seeds to drop out and be stored until it's time to plant them. This process helps foresters replant the forest and replenishes the supply of red pine seed, which is in high demand, according to a press release from the department.

Register as a vendor in the department's online system so you can get paid for your efforts.