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Every 3 Years, I lose a Sunday

HowTos Nature NewEngland StuffYouShouldKnow WhereWeLive

We have a huge oak tree and for the last week its been "raining" acorns.   I love this tree but the acorns are driving me nuts! Whats the deal?

Oak trees go in a two- to three-year cycle depending on species. Acorn production varies for many reasons, and it takes a lot of an oak's energy and food to produce acorns, so a tree's health, vitality and resources can impact numbers. An oak's age relates to acorn production, which begins about the time a tree is 20 years old and increases as the tree ages and its canopy (top foliage) reaches a larger span.

Like many trees, oaks have irregular cycles of boom and bust. Boom times, called “mast years,” occur every 2-5 years, with few acorns in between. Oak trees still remain a mystery to researchers, in part because they exhibit strange synchronized behavior. Perhaps because of a mix of genetics and climate, trees are able to turn acorn production off and on in nearly perfect rhythm, with no scientific predictability except that it appears to happen every two to seven years. So what does trigger a mast year? Scientists have proposed a range of explanations—from environmental triggers to chemical signaling to pollen availability—but our understanding is hazy and the fact is that we simply don’t know yet.

New England is home to at least 10 different kinds of oak trees, and the acorn, the fruit of the oak, has long played a role in local culture. Though toxic for humans to eat, acorns were long believed to bring luck. For many New Englanders folk wisdom dictates that a big autumn acorn crop is a harbinger of a tough winter.

Acorns certainly have their attributes and many foods have been made from them. Acorns are high in vitamin B and protein, but because acorns – particular those from the red oak group – are high in tannic acid, preparation is key. Tannin can cause anemia and impede growth when too much is consumed, plus, it just plain tastes bad.

Soaking shelled acorns in several changes of hot water can leach tannin out. Alternatively, soaking for at least 12 hours in a solution of baking soda has also proven successful. Historically, grinding shelled acorns and pouring hot water over them was the technique used by Native Americans in California. Soaking in brine or lye as pickles and olives are, can also serve to flush out the bitter tasting tannic acid from acorns. Once the tannin problem is solved, you can:

1. Grind them into flour

2. Press them into oil (yield 30% fat content, similar to olive oil)

3. Dry and roast them into coffee (which is supposedly bad, but better than most Dunkin Donuts coffee)

4. Feed them to the farm animals - early american settlers let their pigs and turkeys bulk up on acorns.

My plan is to stuff this massive pile in my backyard into a tree and hunker down for the winter.

Amazing Acorn Facts
- There are about 90 species of oaks in North America. All oaks have acorns.
- Acorns belonging to trees in the Red Oak group take two growing seasons to mature; acorns in the White Oak group mature in one season.
- Oak trees have greenish, inconspicuous female flowers and are wind pollinated.
- Oak trees of North America annually produce more nuts than all the region’s other nut trees together, wild and cultivated.
- One huge oak can drop up to 10,000 acorns in a mast year!
- Masting takes a lot of energy! Oak trees grow slowly in a mast year and grow well the year after.

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