October 6, 2012


When food is raining down, it's easy to get caught up in the fun of gathering more acrons and forget the need to preserve acorns already collected. In the haste to learn how to produce more food, it's easy to overlook the challenge of learning how to properly store the food produced.

One of the key considerations in this case is to ensure that the acorns are dry enough that they won't become moldy in storage. Drying the acorns is especially important when gathering green acorns right off the tree. A few days back, Ruben and I stopped by a road-side tree loaded with green acorns, and quickly gathered four gallons of nuts while enjoying some pleasant conversation. One of the things I really like about living in community is the opportunity to combine work with companionship.

drying acorns on the roof of a container

I've been storing the buckets of acorns in a shipping container. Being uninsulated steel structures, the insides warm up considerably during these fall afternoons, so I presumed that the acorns were drying out; they certainly looked dry on top. Still, I wanted to make sure there were well dried out, so I rigged up a drying station on the top of the container. I laid two 16' long 4x4's down the roof, and laid out a tarp so that it covered the 4x4's forming a long valley. This ensured that the acorns I'd spent time gathering didn't roll off the container and have to be regathered.

As I poured out the acorns onto the tarp, down at the bottom of the buckets I found the wiggling larva of the long-snouted acorn weevil. I also was surprised to note that the acorns in the lower half of the buckets were visibly wet.

acorn grubs from the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket of acorns

The wetness was easily handled by the gentle afternoon sunshine, but the inadvertent "development" of a method for gathering grubs raised some interesting possibilities. For one thing, it's certain that our chicken and fish will be delighted by the opportunity to feast on these guys. They're high in fat (often up to half by weight) because a grub has to have stored up enough fuel to go through a long metamorphosis. While they're not something we're likely to add to the menu, at least as long as the Safeway's still open, it's sobering to note that these grubs are one of the most concentrated food resource our land produces.

And it's the process of becoming sensitive to the many ways we can concentrate solar energy that is key to our work at building sustainable food systems. In that sustainable energy comes from the sun, it's trees and grasses that form the basis of our primary energy gathering systems. Both take sunshine, rain and carbon dioxide, and combine them to produce biomass such as acorns and grass. We then use animals and fungii to concentrate and transform that biomass into tasty and nutritious food products, some of which we consume directly, and some of which we feed to other animals for further concentration or transformation.

When the acorn weevil lays her eggs in a green acorn, she starts a process that converts starchy heart of the the acorn into fat and protein that comes in discrete packages that are ideal for feeding to chickens and fish. While modern folk recoil at the thought of eating a grub, their presence in an acorn is no impediment at all to a pig or chicken, indeed, it's an "enhancement" since they're aggressively out looking for forms of concentrated energy.

In the wild, when troupes of chimpanzees feed on fruit trees, they often seek out the part of the fruit that contains a worm and eat that, discarding the rest. It's not that there's a lack of nutrition in the remainder of the fruit, it's just that their digestive track can only process a given amount of food in a day and they have to save room for the bits that pack the most benefit. Similarly, foods like apples and asparagus are welcomed parts of a balanced human diet, but not in lieu of fat and protein.

a large acorn often contains multiple grubs

Some ethnobiologists report that grubs can be very tasty. Personally, I can't say due to the fortunate fact that I've never gotten myself into a situation where I was hungry enough to want to find out. For now I'm content to file away the understanding that a grub's edibility is generally based on what it feeds on. For example, grubs that consume poisonous mushrooms can concentrate the poison in their bodies, an effect which is used by certain African tribes to poison the tips of arrows they use to bring down large game.

Since these grubs are eating acorns, my guess is that they could be safely used as a food source in extremity; for now, I'm happy to pass them on to the chickens, a compromise that seems to be as pleasing to the chickens as their eggs are to me.