Nature Notes from Common Ground
Week of October 19, 2020
Weekly Nature Note
What's happening in nature this week?
Have you ever noticed that some years there seem to be so many acorns on the ground that you have to be careful not to roll away as you walk? And when the wind blows, you hear the plunking of falling acorns throughout the forest and sometimes have to watch your head? And other years, there aren’t many? Years when trees produce a super abundance of fruit/nuts are called “mast years.” (“Mast” is a word for the fruits of trees and shrubs.)
It sure seemed like a mast year last year at Common Ground. We collected tons of acorns and hickory nuts. This year...not so much. Mast years tend to come every 2 to 5 years.
Scientists aren’t totally sure exactly what causes a mast year, but they have some interesting ideas. Some point to the availability of resources for the forest trees, while others speculate that the weather plays an important role. Another cool possibility is that the trees are actually controlling the populations of the animals that eat their fruits and nuts.
According to this hypothesis, trees produce fewer acorns to reduce the populations of animals that eat them (like chipmunks, squirrels, mice and deer), as there is not enough food. The next year, when the population has dwindled, the tree will suddenly produce an overabundance of acorns. There will be so many acorns that the animals won’t be able to eat them all, making it more likely that those acorns will sprout into trees. We don’t know if this is really true, but it’s pretty neat to think about trees manipulating their environments like this!
Nature activity of the week
Acorn Hunt: Even though this is not a mast year, take a walk in your neighborhood, or in a nearby forest, and hunt for acorns. Carry a basket or small bag, and keep your eyes peeled for these treasures! If you’re not finding any, start looking at the trees - do you see any oaks? Once you’ve collected a few (and enjoyed the fresh fall air in the process!) here are some other activities you can do.
Acorn Sorting: Sort them by size, by color, by shape, by whether or not they have hats. What else could you sort by?
Acorn People: A few dots of paint or some googly eyes quickly turns an acorn into a head wearing a hat! Add some clothes, and voila! Make a whole acorn family!
Acorn Cooking: Follow your culinary curiosity! First you’ll have to break the acorns open, then soak in water for a while to remove the bitter tannins. (Choose acorns from white oak trees, if you can, as they start out less bitter.) Then, roast and enjoy! If you're feeling more ambitious, you can dry them and grind into a flour or meal, and bake with it! (Note that acorns are gluten-free, so your baked goods won’t rise, and will be more crumbly than you’re used to.) For more detailed instructions, click here and here.
Hike of the Week
Each week we will share a kid-friendly hike or other outdoor adventure.
This week, visit Gillette Castle, in East Haddam, Ct. This medieval-looking building was designed by actor William Gillette as his private residence, on a hill overlooking the Connecticut River. With 184 acres, there’s tons to explore, including trails, a train tunnel, and the riverbank!
Preserving Food, Preserving Culture Workshop
About this series
In this time of virtual learning and social distancing, we seek to support teachers and families in getting outside in safe and healthy ways. We hope this series provides content and activities to help your students or your family engage in nature-based learning, whether you are learning in person or virtually.
Some of the funding we rely on to keep Nature Notes free comes from the Robert F. Schumann Foundation and The Claire C. Bennitt Watershed Fund, established by the South Central CT Regional Water Authority.