November12, 2009. They’re falling around me as I walk outside, they land on my car as I drive, they cover my lawn and gardens. and I’ve used a shovel to scoop up raked piles and toss them into the woods. I’m not the first, and likely not the last, to remark on the copious acorn crop this year. If you follow weather lore, a heavy crop of berries and acorns forebodes a severe winter, and many acorns on the ground on September 29th foretells snow cover on Christmas. It seems to me that acorns started falling in early September and they haven’t stopped yet. Get your shovel muscles ready – first for scooping piles of acorns to toss into the woods, then for managing piles of snow.
It may be easy to %#@&! the nutty acorn, especially when one falls from 30 feet or more and lands on your head – OUCH! – but knowing more about the fruit of the oak may help us garner a little more respect for acorns. Apparently it takes an oak tree (genera Quercus) anywhere from 20-50 years to produce an acorn crop – and anywhere from 6-24 months for each acorn to mature. But slow-and-steady oaks make up for delayed output by dropping thousands of acorns over their 70-80 year life span. Also, just like any other fruit, acorn production varies from year to year, according to some internal oak clock, rainfall, and frost occurrences. Oh yeah, bugs and disease might have some say in acorn production too. Robust acorn-making may only happen every 4-10 years, but with each crop overall numbers increase. For math geeks, here’s a formula for figuring acorn production according to oak age.
When you live in a wooded area populated primarily of oak trees, you really don’t notice exactly which tree is producing the acorns from year to year – you just know that if you’re not careful while walking on a pile like this you’re likely to end up with your rear end painfully resting on said pile. Now-a-days, we don’t see a heavy acorn crop as a food source for us, but Native Americans thought differently and made acorn flour or dried and stored them as a winter staple. Other cultures around the world have also developed many ways to use and relish acorns – Wikipedia.org.
Heavy acorn drops are great for many birds – jays, pigeons, some ducks and woodpeckers, wild turkeys, and squirrels – creatures I don’t mind having around. But lots of acorn food is also good news for rodents such as mice and chipmunks – I can hear Chip and Dale singing happily – and deer populations – Bambi’s probably frolicking too. Both of these creatures can do a ton of damage to gardens and shrubs. Oh yes, bear also like an acorn snack. As much as I try, the rodents and deer still control how much of my yard looks, and the thought of there being even more of them makes my gardener’s heart shudder. So I’m pulling for some really heavy snows with the hope this will naturally decrease the rodent and deer numbers. In the meantime, I’ll take comfort knowing that some of these many acorns will sprout and, long after I’ve left this earth, will grow to be the size of their parents. Hopefully my granddaughter will have the opportunity to both relish and curse a heavy acorn crop when she is grown and tending her own spot of ground – Great oaks from little acorns grow – and maybe … when she gets a little bit older … I’ll have the chance teach her how to whistle an acorn cap.