Gathering Acorns

Two weeks ago we ran out of acorns to feed Emma and Ronnie deer. FD and I had been picking acorns since September. The first acorns were picked from oaks on our own property, but grass growing beneath the trees made it almost impossible to search around on the ground for fallen acorns. Picking them from higher up in the trees had meant me climbing on top of the buggy in order to reach them. When we ran out of nuts from our own trees, a co-worker from FD’s work let us pick from oak trees on his property. And again, the tall grasses left us picking from high up in the trees, and it was getting more difficult to find acorns still in the cupule’s or little caps. Most acorns had dropped to the ground by October. When that supply of acorns ran out, a man in town who had heard of our plight offered to bring us acorns raked up from his front yard. But we quickly found Emma and Ronnie were not much interested in those nuts. I wondered if the good ones had been culled out by squirrels, and the discards left to rot. I had read that, unless one was out early competing with squirrels for nuts, what was left on the ground was probably wormy. Of course there could have been other reasons, and maybe the deer sensed something amiss. So instead of good eats, Emma and Ronnie had piles of discards in their pen that I eventually raked up and hauled off to the woods.

Forrest Gathering Acorns_1723

Forrest and I have spent many hours gathering acorns for Emma and Ronnie.
Forrest and I have spent many hours gathering acorns for Emma and Ronnie.

And it wasn’t simply a matter of picking acorns all of this time. It did not take too long to realize that once picked, the acorns needed to be spread out to dry or they would mold in the buckets. I had no intention of letting my hard-sought acorns spoil. I had three drying trays to hold about five gallons of acorns which was perfect as there was plenty of room on the front and back porches for drying. Unfortunately, I had not considered that Buddy and Punkin, the orphaned squirrels we had raised, and all of their neighborhood friends would steal them from the porches. So, we shoved the dining table and chairs against the wall, allowing floor room in the dining area to spread out the acorn cache in the drying trays, and got an oscillating fan going. I was feeling pretty good about this setup, until a couple of days later I began finding white grub-type larvae crawling all over the floors, and our little dog Bear was eating them! I researched these maggot-like larvae and found them to be acorn weevils. They are harmless, but I did not want them wiggling into my carpets or being squished all over the tile, and though I am sure they were a wonderful source of protein, I did not like the idea of Bear eating them. The only place remaining to put the acorns was out in the storage building, which would not be as handy as having them at the house. But it was a good decision –  I was aghast the next morning when I opened the storage building. Hundreds of white larvae were crawling from the trays. Now I wondered how many probably did get into the rugs and carpeting in the house before we moved the trays!

The acorn weevil bores a perfectly round 1/8 inch hole in the side of the nut in order to emerges. The oblong nut on the far right middle has been damaged by weevils. Deer, squirrels and other wildlife easily determine with a quick sniff what nuts are good and which have been damaged by the weevils.
The acorn weevil bores a perfectly round 1/8 inch hole in the side of the nut in order to emerge. The oblong nut on the far right (center) has been damaged by weevils. Deer, squirrels and other wildlife easily determine with a quick sniff what nuts are good and which have been damaged by the weevils.
Throughout the day I sweep up several dozen of these weevils and give them a toss onto the driveway.
Throughout the day I sweep up several dozen of these weevils and give them a toss onto the driveway.
A closer view of the acorn weevil.
A closer view of the acorn weevil.

So after a dry spell with no acorns for Emma and Ronnie, I was quite elated last week when FD asked if I wanted to pick acorns on a friend’s property just a few miles out of town. He informed me we could visit this place over the autumn and winter months to gather acorns as we needed them. And best of all, the ground beneath was dirt covered by fallen leaves. It would be easy to brush leaves around and harvest the acorns laying scattered about. I laughed to myself as I crawled around on my hands and knees that afternoon, picking up acorns that had fallen to the ground. I felt a bit like Sam Gribley, in “My Side of the Mountain” by Jean Craighead George. Sam was a young boy who ran away from home to the Catskill Mountains, to live off of the land, make a home, and survive by wits and research from books. In gathering food for winter, Sam picked acorns to grind into flour for making acorn pancakes and for thickening hearty stews. With FD and I following a somewhat Paleo lifestyle, the idea of using acorn nut flour appealed to me but I had long ago researched the process of transforming acorns into flour, and the work involved did not interest me in the least. Of course in the book the author does not bother to go into detail about the tedious process. I found myself wondering if Sam Gribley would seriously have gone to so much trouble for a wee bit of flour?

I will be crawling around on the ground harvesting acorns for another seven weeks until we release Emma and Ronnie into the wild. Soon there will be no elm branches to cut or cat brier to harvest. The tender grasses and woodland plants will be dying back as the colder temperatures set in. I have been happy to do my part as a deer mother to provide the nutrition a deer mother in the wild would lead her offspring to – the plants and browse I observed Daisy deer eating and leading her babies to nibble. But I wonder if in the weeks and months down the road I will miss my days foraging and gathering plants and browse? Will I yearn to sit under the great oak trees gathering acorns? Could I ever grow curious enough to discover why the deer find those crunchy nuts so irresistible?  Just maybe I will take the time someday to pick a bucket of acorns and go through the process to grind a bit of acorn flour and make some of Sam Gribley’s acorn pancakes.

© 2016 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


32 thoughts on “Gathering Acorns

    1. Great question, Henri! Deer hunting season ends January 15th, and we release the next day. Most hunters would not harvest a fawn, but we have seen photographs where some have been taken this year, which I find disturbing. Perhaps it is due to hard times or maybe considered a specialty tender meat now in restaurants. The rut (breeding season) will be ending around that time, so the doe’s won’t be chased so much and Emma and Ronnie may have an easier time herding up with some of the locals. During the rut there is a lot of running and chasing by the adults, which can be confusing to fawns who cannot keep up with their mothers. It’s the perfect time for predators to take advantage. And, we have seen all but one of Daisy’s fawns taken by predators up to the ages of six months. Daisy was eight months when we released her, and we believe, better prepared with size and at little “attitude” to make it as a fawn in the wild.

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  1. Acorns have tannins and other substances in them that can be bad for dogs. Some acorns have more tannins than others. Native Americans used to treasure Oak trees for the acorns they could eat.
    I’d stick to buckwheat pancakes and (later on) stick to foraging with a camera (for good nature shots) rather than eat the acorns; our stomachs are way different than what the Native Americans had, but that’s just what i would do. Our dog, Gabbie, tries to sneak acorns when we have her out, and she gets sick (sometimes) when she does.

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    1. Emma and Ronnie are like little processing machines – they crack, sort, discard the cupula and shell, and eat the meat of the nut only. I read where the acorn from white oaks (which is what all of these have been) have the least tannins and the acorns from red oaks have the most. White acorns are consumed by wildlife as they fall, but the red acorns are consumed later in the season and for many months after, when some of the tannins have leached out, making them more desirable to eat. Emma and Ronnie are lucky as we have both types of oak on the property.
      I will probably order a pound of acorn flour online and see if we even like it first. We may find it’s not worth the work to make it ourselves!

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  2. I hope they won’t be flapjacks with weevils! You must have nearly had a heart attack when you saw those squiggly icks on your floor. Reminds me of the time flour weevils infested my kitchen. The counter appliances looked like they were moving. It’s a good thing you nipped this situation in the bud! And I’m glad to see all your hard work was appreciated. 😊

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    1. Ha ha! I don’t know too many people who have not had the flour weevil experience. I think I was most horrified to find Bear eating them (he’s always captured and eaten bugs – spiders are his specialty!). Already in the comments I have discovered I can freeze acorns and those unpleasant weevils will be going to the chickens for snacks!! 😀

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  3. I had been told as a child that acorns were not edible for humans. Recently I read a story about them being dried and edible for humans, but I don’t know the details of the process. Like you, I tend to think the process is more involved than I would find worthwhile. But I am curious because I like all nuts. I’m also curious to know what Emma and Ronnie will eat in the middle of winter with most things dead and gone? As usual, a very interesting post Lori.

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    1. I will have to do a post on winter edibles for deer. Mostly they feed on browse, like twigs, dead leaves, bark from trees and the dried berries from many plants. And here of course, our winters are mild and there is usually some green plant life to nibble on.
      I think I will order a small bag of already processed acorn flour online and try it out before I try to process the acorns myself. I use many nut flours in Paleo cooking and baking so it might be an interesting experiment!

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    1. Good heavens! I completely forgot about the chickens!! From now on those tasty treats will be collected for yummy snacks for the girls!! Thanks for reminding me, Joni! You’re the best! 😀

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  4. When I collected acorns for my squirrel all those years, I got the freshest ones I could and froze them immediately. It was a little inconvenient, living with a freezer full of acorns, but it certainly took care of the grub problem. That way, I could take out as many as I needed each day. The squirrel seemed perfectly content with them. I suppose the freezer mimicked the acorns freezing outdoors.

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    1. That is a great idea. I may have to make room in the freezer for the next batch. This is really the first year I can remember a bumper crop like we’ve had in a long time. Also, the warm temps have held on where I still have greens available to pick. It’s funny how we get what we need. :). Thanks for the tip on freezing the acorns!

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  5. Lori, you have surely gone the extra mile for Ronnie and Emma. You are due a reward. May you continue to find lots of acorns. It is true about the worms. I have gathered acorns to decorate homemade wreaths and I found that I needed to put the acorns in the freezer. That worked for me. Is it an absolute necessity that the deer have acorns to eat while in captivity? What do zoos feed the deer? Could they have a bit of hay or oats to eat?

    I’m so sorry to be missing some of your posts. I have been really busy with my sis, sick pets and, I am often tired. I have yet to reply to most comments on my last post. Somehow I have got to get some “zing” and “zest” for life back.

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    1. Thank you, Yvonne… and goodness, I think you have to be Wonder Woman the last couple of years with all that is on your plate! Yes, I have tried to find the foods I know Emma and Ronnie would be eating in the wild. No, acorns are not necessary, but deer love them and would be feasting on them in the wild over the winter. White acorns will be eaten up right now, but the red oak tree acorns will be plentiful all through the winter and spring. Just like with fruit trees, deer know exactly where every oak tree is located! Acorns are a staple during the winter months as they are loaded with fats that help pack on weight to prepare them for the winter cold. I’m sure zoos could not afford the time or manpower to fetch acorns or any native fruit or vegetable for animals. And, the root crops Emma and Ronnie get are organic. I won’t feed them anything I would not eat myself. Though, I’m not sure I’d eat the alfalfa we have for them this winter! Ha ha! I will be weaning them off of most of that soon, because I don’t want them to have something not in season. They’ll get alfalfa and AntlerMax this winter, along with any greens I can find around here. If we have a mild winter there will be plenty of grasses and plant life for them. They are already nibbling on twigs from the branches I have cut for them in the deer pen.

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      1. Just call you Ms. Acorn. Have you any oaks planted in your yard? Yet? It does take a number of years before they bear acorns but maybe FD could dig up about a 3-4 foot sampling to plant. The oaks are such pretty trees.

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  6. Oh I bet you were agast when you saw the larvae the next day! Let’s not think how many got into the carpet.
    Your dedication is so admirable!
    Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving!

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    1. Yes, and as you might know, I am counting down the days until we can free them! Then they will be on their own to forage for eats. Of course I’m sure I’ll walk with them some to take note of what they’re eating, just like I did with Daisy. These two had a much better upbringing thanks to her. 🙂

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    1. Audrey, I believe in reporting the good, bad and ugly. Ha ha! I believe the worst photo I posted was of a bucket of white, juicy grubs I discovered in the chicken manure pile when I was fertilizing the spring garden. Most of my readers were grossed out… but I tell you, the chickens gobbled them right up!! 😀

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  7. Hi Lori, I laughed when I read about the squirrels raiding your acorn hoard. Clearly survival is about making the most of any opportunity which comes a squirrel’s way. I don’t think acorn weevils made their way to Australia when English oaks were brought here. I have never seen grubs emerge from any acorns I have collected. Is Bear missing his weevil treats?
    Yes, I can imagine missing the foraging activity to some extent. Whilst you are crawling around, you will be listening to the sounds of birds and other wildlife and making observations about the changing surroundings.

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    1. Ha ha! Margaret, Bear is just like those squirrels – an opportunist! He’s this sophisticated-looking dog and yet he eats insects and anything that moves! I am glad you have not noticed acorn weevils. Of course until this year, I did not know they existed either! Always learning, aren’t we? I imagine you to hear those same nature sounds while on your garden ventures and walks, just as I do when I spend time in the woods. In the beginning (when we first moved here) I did not always know what the sound or call was. Now I can identify many birds, mammals and even insects by sound. It’s always a bit of an adventure!

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  8. Listen to them CHOMP!CHOMP!CRUNCH!CHOMP! lol they need to learn some table manners! Goodness seeing these two doing so well makes my heart so happy! Hope you are faring well 🙂

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    1. Hello Dom! I often think how your artistic creativity would blossom being here, so near Emma and Ronnie. Nothing like “hands-on” experiences. But it’s good that you are working at Wild Heart Ranch, where you are able to get more exposure, and education about caring for wild critters. Maybe next spring you will be able to sketch fawns there. You have such a gift with your artistic talent with nature. I hope all good things come to you in the next year. 🙂

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  9. Our bumper neighborhood crop of acorns are dwindling – the squirrels look totally exhausted from all their gathering and hiding. (That first acorn pix is lovely – growing up I always thought elves wore acorn hats)
    Gathering is such a good excuse to get outdoors

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    1. I hope FD and I can go back out to that property to gather acorns soon, as our supply is dwindling. I worry a little that between the deer and squirrels (and other mammals that might feast on them) other gatherers will have gotten the good ones. But we need to try. The nut meats are such good protein and fat for the deer for winter. And you’ve got it right about being outdoors – that’s the best part of gathering and foraging for me. And it’s a task FD and I enjoy doing together very much.

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