What Kind of Tree Do Acorns Grow On?

 

 

 

From Our Archives – October 2007
GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)
The Contrary Farmer

A teacher friend called recently with a strange message. “I just found out that a lot of people don’t know what tree acorns grow on.”

He (I will call him John because that’s his name) first became aware of this strange phenomenon after another teacher asked him the question. The other teacher didn’t know. John got to wondering. So he asked one of his high school classes to raise hands if they knew where acorns came from. About two thirds did, so John, long experienced with high school students, asked one of them for the whereabouts of acorns. The student, embarrassed, said he didn’t really know. John addressed the class again: “Perhaps you didn’t understand the question,” and then he repeated it. This time, with the threat of being asked hanging over them, only a handful of the students raised their hands.

Perhaps this class was an exception, John thought. He had the opportunity a little later to ask the question of a larger group— about 250 people. Only a handful knew the answer. Asked John of me: “Are we supposed to believe that people are getting a good education?”

The truth is, many of us, perhaps most of us, are illiterate about the world of nature. Our attention in life is focused elsewhere. Perhaps the way to resolve this kind of ignorance is to make up computer games based on natural history. But electronic games might not be the remedy for this kind of illiteracy. The problem is that the knowledge achieved would be almost entirely virtual. You could have a game based on identifying bird species— call it “Guess The Bird” — but the knowledge gained would be like that of many birdwatchers. They can name the bird they see, or even hear, but they don’t know the least little bit about how that bird fits into the ecosystem, which is the most important part of learning about them. For instance, which birds depend on acorns for an important part of their food supply?

There is nothing wrong with not knowing something that ought to be common knowledge. It is only wrong when people don’t know that they don’t know. Everyone today likes to spout off about how we should manage nature but very few of us know enough about the issues (like population carrying capacity, like climate change) to discuss them intelligently. Not knowing where acorns come from is symptomatic of something very perplexing. A culture which is that ignorant is going to be unaware of a great many more facts about nature and that could lead to environmental suicide. A culture that doesn’t know where acorns come from obviously doesn’t know much about trees at all, and so will go heedlessly on destroying forests until it destroys the ecosystems of about half the earth. If you don’t know where acorns come from, you won’t know that acorn flour was once a staple food of native Americans, especially in California, and could be a staple food again. If you don’t know where acorns come from, do you know where oil and coal come from? Do you know where a healthy environment comes from? Do you know, for instance, that a mature shade tree gives off 60 cu. ft. of pure oxygen every day? Do you know where most of the building material for houses comes from? Where good furniture and tool handles come from? Where most fruit and edible nuts come from? Where rubber comes from? Where coconut, varnishes, nutmeg and turpentine come from? Where millions of acres of fertile land came from? Where hundreds of species of wild animals come from, some of which were probably our evolutionary ancestors? Where the life-saving fuel for many millions of people comes from?

Will a society that doesn’t know where acorns come from really know where humans come from?
~

An Organic Hero

 

From Our Archives – October 2007
GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)
The Contrary Farmer

Chuck Walters is almost blind but, using electronic equipment that can render printed words into sound, he continues to keep a lively presence in his magazine, Acres USA: The Voice of Eco-Agriculture and to turn out book after book on farming and economics that make mincemeat out of the political and economic powers that he believes are reducing farmers to mere slaves operating food factories which are not sustainable. That’s why he is surely one of the most revered and most vilified leaders in the world of agriculture. I think he is a genius. Mega-agribusiness thinks he is a crackpot.

Mr. Walters grew up, literally, in the dust bowls of the 1930s. He remembers his mother putting wet sheets over the doors and windows of their home to keep out the dust and watching the sheets turn to panels of mud. He remembers children dying, literally asphyxiated with dust. He remembers “cows that died with balls of mud as big as softballs in their guts.” So when he writes about the ruination of the land by bad farming, he speaks from his own gritty experience. He served in both WW II and the Korean War, so when he talks about the stupidity of war, he talks from his own grim observations, He has an advanced degree in economics, so when he discourses on the dangers inherent in current banking policies and the in mega-consolidation of businesses and farming, he speaks from a position of authority. He was the journalist-publicity director for the National Farmers Organization (NFO) when it began, baring the scandals and injustices that made farmers fighting mad, so when he writes about the insidious manipulations of the oligarchies of power to turn farmers into “hog pen janitors” he knows the territory.

Easy Way To Start A Grove Of Trees (with Black Walnut Jam Cake Recipe)

 

Public Domain

 
From Our Archives – December 2007
GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)
The Contrary Farmer

I spent an hour in late November planting two acres of bottom land to trees. If that sounds like a prodigious task to accomplish in such a short time, not to worry. All I had to do was walk back and forth across the plot, dropping black walnuts on the ground in rows about 25 feet apart. I dropped one about every two feet— too thick really but to take into account the possibility that some won’t germinate and that squirrels might eat a few. I had gathered the nuts, still in their husks, from under a mature tree along our creek. When finished, I drove my tractor’s tires over the walnuts to squish them into the soft ground a little so that they would have good contact with the soil. That was all the planting necessary. Next spring, the walnuts will swell and crack open and a root sprout will burrow into the soil so quickly you can almost see it in motion. I admire people who are busting their guts and their backs transplanting thousands of little seedling trees to renew woodland, backyard plantings or urban forests, but it is so much easier to just plant the seeds, and invariably they will surpass the transplants in growth.

In nature, all seeds, including weed seeds, grass seed, etc. fall on the surface of the earth in winter and sprout when weather conditions are right. In the grove of trees our house sits, thousands of maple seedlings that have fallen on the forest floor come up every spring without any help from anybody. Along our creek, black walnut and ash seedlings sprout and grow like weeds from a few old mother trees, also without any help. All oaks, hickories and just about any tree will do the same in their proper climate. Squirrels do bury acorns and nuts, but trees don’t need squirrels to increase and multiply.

In a natural situation, where seed-producing trees are present, seedlings grow thick enough that they will self-prune and prune each other into a stand of nice, clear trunks. Without human labor, they shade out smaller seedlings, their own and each other’s lower limbs and eventually competing weeds and bushes. All that pruning advice that forestry handbooks wax so earnestly about will only gain you about three years, hardly worth the labor for trees that need 50 years to grow to marketable maturity.