3939RE: [fukuoka_farming] acorns
- Dec 23, 2003Hello everyone, I should make it clear that my acorn interest comes directly
from J. Russell Smith's 'Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture'(originally
published in 1929), but that his sources are those referred to recently by
Francisco, the 'dehesa' practice of cork (Q. suber) and holm oaks (Q. ilex)
to provide both 'cork and pork' sustainably.
I can't unfortunately briefly summarise his comments as there are more than
50 pages on oaks in the book and it does lack the practical farming detail
hinted at by Francisco. Still, there are little gems like the following
that, with some personal experience and other similar work that I've come
across in tropical climates, temperate forest gardens and the notes of Marc
Bonfils (who I learnt today is alive and well and living in Provence)
suggest a strong lead for future work:
"In some sections of Spain and Portugal, the young ilex trees are allowed to
grow where they have by chance sprung up in the fields. Around and under the
trees the machineless cultivation of wheat and beans, barley and hay, goes
on just the same. This combination of crops gives a beautiful parklike
landscape. The cultivation helps the oaks make acorns, and after the grains
and other crops are harvested, the hogs are turned in to gather the mast
As to the 'genetic' variability suggested by Stephen I think the 'sweetness'
is a stable factor and the only selection needed is for taste (ie the oaks
of acorns come true, AKA homozygous). This doesn't mean that there wont be
some differences between parents and offspring, only that they wont be as
variable as with some fruit. If you place 'ballota' oaks together you're
likely to increase your chances of similar offspring but then you loose the
genetic diversity for long term stability. For John's idea I'd suggest using
'sweet' oaks from as many sources as possible to set the whole project in
train and be around for the next several hundred years to ensure good
selection. The acorns I'm offering come from a tree that is on communal land
just a few metres from Souscayrous and is 'wild'. It's not too old and
hasn't produced too many acorns yet (200-300 at a guess) - and no John,
we're not too late as there were still many on the tree, or at least there
were but the recent wind will have brought down many and it will depend on
whether the herd of goats and sheep beat me to them tomorrow!
As to Q. garryana, Smith says this: 'One tree noted produced five hundred
pounds of acorns, another six hundred pounds. A third, rather small,
produced two bushels. Crops occur at intervals of from three to four years.
Fruit is frequently killed by frosts.' This is under forage crop and not for
human consumption, though leaching would work.
From: sinniss@... [mailto:sinniss@...]
Sent: mardi 23 décembre 2003 16:47
Subject: Re: [fukuoka_farming] acorns
I think the oak tree project is a wonderful idea. Some thoughts on this.
From recent posts (thanks for these!), it looks as if selecting for
"sweeter" acorns already has taken place, at least in parts of Europe,
even though it is over a span of generations (as it would need to be)
and the process isn't complete yet. This is good news, because the
project needs that head-start.
The difficulty, as I understand it, is that crossing two "sweet" oaks
doesn't necessarily give you more sweet acorns from the next generation.
Suppose there are a dozen different genes for tannin production. Unless
the two trees in question are sweet because of the same gene, then when
you cross them you are back to the standard level of tannin production
(tree A was sweet because of it's unusual on gene 3, tree B was sweet
because it is unusual on gene 8; when you cross them you get a tree that
is typical at both genes). If I'm not explaining this well, perhaps one
of the plant-breeding people on this list can say it a better. The point
is that if you stay at it for a large number of oak generations you will
get there, but it's not like breeding for non-bitter almonds (cyanide
content in almonds is governed by fewer genes, or maybe just one). Ten
plus years per generation of oaks, so this is a long term project. Worth
it, though, in the end, and besides, even the less desireable acorns can
be eaten if they are leached first.
Tannins are indeed harmful in quantity, like anything else, and (though
I've not seen it myself) it is possible make yourself sick with too many
bitter acorns. Shuts down the digestive stystem, and hard on the kidneys
too. That unpleasant taste is a warning worth heeding. Yes, some dilute
tannin in your tea or your greens or whatever is fine, but those large
quantities of tannins are there precisely to prevent the all the acorns
from being eaten, whether by insects, pigs, or humans (otherwise, no
next generation of oak trees). So, whether by treating the acorns or
breeding the trees, you need to be eating a low tannin acorn meal to
stay healthy if you want to make it a staple in your diet.
Leaving the oak trees entirely to breed alone, without doing any
selection, could lead back to bitter acorns. The tannins are there
because they give the tree some advantage (or possibly they are there as
a side effect of something else that gives the tree a survival
advantage). Does this mean that the sweeter trees are the weaker trees?
I'll check some of my local native oaks (Q. garryana) for edible acorns
again, and if I find something interesting I'll let you all know
(Jean-Claude, have you sampled any? there should be some in your area as
well). Perhaps there are some better trees (better, that is, from the
point of view of a human). Oaks are only a part of the climax forest in
these parts, and a small one, so the sample size is small. Perhaps some
Q. ilex imports will be necessary for a starting point instead;
according to reference books they will grow here.
I have another idea towards edible forests, but it belongs in another
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