September 30, 2012


We're just past the peak of the acorn drop, and I'm delighted to report that we're already reaching the 20 gallon mark. This feels like a good occasion for some observations on the harvest so far.

18 gallons of acorns safely stored away from squirrels and piglets

It's been our practice in sustainability research to work first with a small system, learn what we can from that, and then step up to a larger system. In practical terms, a system that is ten times larger than a system that one has mastered will introduce a number of variable that weren't evident at the smaller scale. For practical purposes, a system that's ten times larger isn't a brand new game, but it's not far from it either.

When you're looking at a map, zooming in or out by a factor of ten opens up profoundly different perspectives; I've found that to be true when looking at sustainable systems as well. In the past we've gathered up a gallon or two of fall acorns to try out various ways to process them into human-ready food, and we've learned from that process. Now that we're stepping up to a harvest that's better than ten times the scale we've worked with before, we're observing a raft of new aspects. This update is an effort to record some of that new perspective.

For example, we knew that acorns come in a variety of sizes and shapes, but this year's greater focus on acorn harvesting is showing some patterns that we hadn't been aware of before. The most notable observation being how water availability affects acorn production. It's not just that the oaks that have had access to water have produced a larger number of acorns, but what we're also seeing is a remarkable difference in the size of the individual acorns.

the range of acorn sizes we're seeing this year

The acorn at the "9 O'clock" position is a good example of the average acorn that our forest produces. In areas where the forest hasn't been thinned yet and there are too many trees competing for moisture, the size of the acorns is smaller, and a number of trees didn't produce any acorns at all this year for the second year running.

Last year, and for the first year that I can remember in my twenty plus years on this land, none of our oaks produced any acorns at all. Because that was so odd, I made a point of checking to see if other oaks in our area bore acorns that year, and as far as I could find, none of the oaks on the heights within ten miles of Windward bore acorns last year. As I result, I've been paying special attention to this year's crop.

This year we had a wetter than average spring, and then almost total dryness since June. The limited soil moisture that the oaks have had to deal with during the time when their acorns were forming probably limited the size of the acorns produced‒except for locations in which land usage enabled a different outcome.

By way of example, the acorn at "3 O'clock" came from the trees downhill from our main garden. I was also able to gather notable quantities of similar sized acorns from a tree that was growing along side the creek that drains the snow run-off, as well as a tree that was on the up-hill side of Bowman Creek grade, the steep road that leads up and out of the north end of the Klickitat canyon. My guess is that the roadway served to block the flow of water down the steep hillside, thereby creating a catchment that benefited the tree. The trees on the downhill side didn't have any acorns that I could see.

The huge balloon size acorns at the "6 O'clock" position came from trees that are downhill from the gray-water system we use to deal with water from our laundry room. In addition to the unusual size, the trees appeared to have laid on just as many acorns as the other trees so my guess is that the total pounds of acorns produced by those trees greatly exceeded the poundage produced by the oaks that didn't have the benefit of the gray water.