ECO-Tours only purchases trees and dirt to plant them in...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Picking And Planting Acorns

If you want to be the most effective, have the greatest impact on improving the forest, it is important to know specific steps as well as the best way to give yourself to the process. Watching squirrels, I often pondered why some would frenetically "plant" anything remotely resembling a nut and others would meticulously tap and listen to each potential nut. I wondered what they were listening for, what they were trying to glean from their odd actions. Then, I got interested in planting acorns myself and little by little I began to think like certain squirrels. Although humans are necessarily at a great disadvantage to the tiny mammals who do most of the tree seed planting, we can improve our chances of leaving in our path, permanent positive change by taking a few simple steps.

This week I was walking in an area with many oaks, lots of deer and virtually no people pressure. miles from the nearest road, we found a virtual carpet in some areas of acorns, in a variety of types and styles. There were some that were not much larger than a pea, while others were bigger than the girth of my thumb. Tiny red striped ones and giant yellowish-green ones. While I can't claim the same intimate understanding that the squirrels seem to have for these tiny fruits, I am starting to learn a few important facts. Many of the nuts were light by comparison to others. They most often had a tiny worm hole that allowed access to a previous critter to the interior, the energy reserves for the potential tree inside. perhaps they were full of air, perhaps the next generation of acorn eating insects, I didn't take time to dissect them. I collected over a gallon of the heaviest ones, perhaps a thousand tree seeds in all, but it didn't take much time out from a beautiful walk in the woods.

Many of the acorns were extremely dense and once you know what you are looking for, even the warmth or coolness of the seeds after a cool night out on the forest floor was enough to tell the hollow ones from their full of life neighbors. The oaks are what are called mast seeders. Often, several years will pass without and acorns, or perhaps just a tiny number, but then when they do cast seed, they carpet the floor of the woods with a virtual mat of seed. This helps them in two ways. Since deer love these morsels, it protects the next generation of trees by not being in the same place every year. Perhaps in a lifetime, a specific area may only be "good eating" for them once or twice. The animals, therefore, do not habituate to the areas where the trees are. That means that their search parameters may not extend to each little copse or outcrop. After you look over a certain area a few times and come away unsuccessful, the deer may decide not to go to the effort to "look" for food there the next year. Additionally, if there is a heavy acorn crop, there is a chance that the deer will eat themselves full and yet, leave behind enough "extra" seeds to begin the process of regeneration in spite of being a favorite food for the local critters. Similarly, the insects who bore into the heart of the fruit cannot possibly compete with the sheer numbers of nuts that collect on the forest floor.

As effective as squirrels can be in planting trees, they are helped by their nearness to the ground. Humans have to stoop and bend to gather and plant these little packets of life, squirrels are down to Earth enough to make their finds and excavations without additional tools. They seem to occasionally exhibit special skills at sorting and gleaning the acorns that have the most value as a carbohydrate source for the coming winter, but this also reflects a storehouse of energy that will increase the chances of the tree that sprouts from this packet will survive. Most of the places that ECO-Tours of Wisconsin works to reforest have had their squirrel population extirpated because forest over has been eliminated. at best we are bringing trees to areas with moderate to severe impact and we constantly seek to emulate natural processes that, without our action, might take hundreds of years to occur. Trees are notoriously slow at colonizing new areas and we are the agents of change with the power to increase the spread of forest cover exponentially, if we so choose. Most nuts get buried naturally within a few hundred feet (100meters) from where they fall, of these, many get dug up by the critters that planted them and many are either forgotten or the squirrel that planted them dies before they can be used for food. Conversely, humans are not motivated by hunger, perhaps all we have to give nature is redistributing a few acorns. After all, in every sense, is that not what we do?

I regret carrying on about this, but who else is speaking for the trees? When our own children are born into the world, is not each child blessed with an infinity possibility?  Who are we to know that they won't be hollowed out financially by legal loan sharks, sit and think for a while about all those people who have financed their unemployment with credit cards. In the good times, people financed careers on credit and while the money flowed, times were "good". What will flourish born out of that seed crop? Like the hollowed out acorn, truly throwing bad seed, the only benefit to the carbon cycle is the husk and cap, waiting to once again be incorporated into community, the soils and basis of a carbonic structure upon which life, on our planet, flourishes. Even if only one in a thousand grows, something will come out of it. we need to be the kind of society gives more chance to our progeny, not less. The current slate of money backed "leaders" are all-in on a risky bet, that going backward, or re-starting old policies will be the answer to our economic woes. We are of an age in which light speed communications are trivialized, moving averages can blur exponentially, as enlightenment sweeps over the population in waves. Entrenched beliefs can change, for the vast majority in a matter of hours, changing forever their perspective. In a society that I believe has the best chance of survival, we will honor the trees, reestablish them in significant ways, protect the lungs of the planet which are the plants and trees that surround us. If I have to relinquish myself to being an over-sized squirrel, for a few days each year, then so be it. There are some devices that are made for seed collection, but when mechanically harvesting, make allowance for the sorting time. You have to "feel" the fruit. once you develop the touch, you can detect the less viable nuts. However, it is less tiring than harvesting bent over. Sitting works, and under you, you may be pressing some of the nuts into the forest floor, possibly eluding sniffing deer. The best collector I have seen on the market is like a wire whisk, radiating out from a central axle, the basket created rolls on the ground like a rugby ball, the spaces between the metal hoops spread to admit the nuts and trap them inside when they return to their original shape. So, take that bent back and all, you can pick up nuts with a device like this as fast as two dozen squirrels, but again, you have to sort them or allow for low germination rates. During [planting, I still like the fid type device that just opens a hole big enough to admit the seed, then use the same fid to press the seed down into the soil. like my friends in gardening that use the dibble, when there is good soil, additional disturbance just raises the eyebrows of those dewy-eyed tree seed eaters, the deer.

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