Both Susie and Joe linked to this story saying there are no acorns this year.

As the story points out, though, that’s true for just some parts of the country.

Simmons has a theory about the wet and dry cycles. But many skeptics say oaks in other regions are producing plenty of acorns, and the acorn bust here is nothing more than the extreme of a natural boom-and-bust cycle.

We’ve got 5 mature oaks on our property, and there are about 15 across the street. And I can assure you, we’ve got plenty of acorns this year. And if the squirrel I saw waddling around my backyard last night is any indication, squirrels here are getting plenty to eat.

Though I will say that the squirrels also appear to have discovered the buttercup squashes that didn’t quite make it out of my garden. Ironically, though, my local squirrels appear to like buttercup squash, but not acorn squash.

Obviously, the fact that my yard in cold Michigan has acorns doesn’t alleviate the worry that the squirrels in DC’s suburbs don’t have acorns. But I thought it a worthwhile data point.

28 replies
  1. JohnnyTable70 says:

    I seem to be having the opposite problem this year. I live on the North Shore of Mass. and we seem to have even more acorns than in previous years. Perhaps it is because we are in Zone 6A instead of Zone 5 like the rest of Mass. but the proximity to the Atlantic has a moderating effect and our winters are slightly less severe than they are further inland.

  2. Leen says:

    In southeastern Ohio more walnuts fell than I have ever seen. Squirrels seem to leave these alone until the hull has decomposed. My older daughters each had a planters wart in the same place on the bottom of their same foot (sharing shoes 15 years ago) we used a combination of castor oil and walnut hull muck placed on the wart at night, gone in one week. Fewer acorns than other years, lots of chestnuts, and many shag bark hickory nuts ( I try to get to these before the squirrels but it is a tough race they are so delicious )

    I know there is some research on the active ingredients in Walnut hulls and the effects on certain types of cancer.

    The squirrels here in Boulder(visiting) are chowing down on the pumpkins left in the yards of mostly students. Those pumpkin seeds seem to be the squirrels delight

  3. Leen says:

    EW was in a historical museum here in Boulder on Sunday and had no idea that a sanitarium built back in Boulder in the mid 1800’s on Mapleton (four blocks from the main st of Boulder called Pearl( the building was knocked down)
    was associated with the Kelloggs sanitarium in Battle Creek Michigan. Those Kellogg boys health interest were fascinating.

  4. JimWhite says:

    Down here in Florida my yard has plenty of acorns, but the squirrels are still endangered. It seems my dogs are eating at least one squirrel a week. Chasing the squirrels keeps the dogs in very good condition…

    • Leen says:

      Your dogs must be really fast. Have only seen one dog take out a squirrel a Jack Russell Terrier. Our family dogs (all big) were never successful

      • JimWhite says:

        They’re rescue hounds, one Catahoula and one Walker. They work together and are very fast. They otherwise are very sweet to the family, the cats and the horses.

  5. BillE says:

    South East PA — No problem. If anything, too many squirrels. My neighbor has been catch and releasing them in Tyler State Park. He has taken approx 20 so far and no end in site. I can here the little feet running on my roof quite often. I have a pin oak in the front, it dumped so many acorns it took most of a trash can with dust pan and broom to get them all up.

  6. PJEvans says:

    There were acorns on at least some trees in the San Fernando Valley, including the two big old oaks down the street.

  7. Pade says:

    I am in eastern Pa near the Delaware Water Gap and have 6 wooded acres. In the last two years I have had at least 6 dead oak trees taken down. There are still a few left alive but my tree man said he has seen quite a few dead ones. I don’t seem to have a lot of acorns but have never (in 8 years) had a great number. Don’t know what that means but found it interesting as I remember the loss of the chestnuts.

  8. Rayne says:

    Wanna’ bet that acorn production mirrors the drought map?

    Plenty of acorns here in middle/upper lower peninsula of Michigan, but we’re above 70% of rainfall. Will have to ask friends in western Upper Peninsula which has had drought-like conditions for 3 years whether acorn production is lower.

    I note, though, that high bush cranberries are very few this fall in upper lower peninsula; they were very plentiful last year.

  9. klynn says:

    Last year, our pin oak had tons of acorns. This year, very little. The latter part of our summer was quite dry.

  10. Synoia says:

    When I lived in NC, I notices that Oaks acorn production was tied to a dry or wet spring.

    -Very dry spring, many acorns.
    -Very wet spring, few acorns.

    Makes sense as Oaks are wind pollinated.

    • klynn says:

      That makes sense. Last year we had a dry Spring. This year, a way too wet Spring and extremely dry Summer.

  11. scribe says:

    I’ve seen plenty of mast (that’s wild nut crops of acorns, beechnuts, walnuts, hickory nuts, etc.) this year in my haunts.

    For those with the wonderful black walnuts on their property, now’s a good time to be gathering them up as the outer hulls are pretty well gone. I have a couple haunts where I wait until after one of those November gully-washer rainstorms, then go to the place where they all get washed downhill and left in drifts. It’s an easy job to find them, then. They’re a bit of a processing job, but at $10 or more the pound for the meats well worth the effort. The more domesticated “english” walnuts are just as good, and easier to get at. For those interested, remember this: pioneers used the outer hulls of walnuts to produce a fabric dye that goes from a pale yellow through the browns to black, depending upon the concentration and duration used. They will dye anything – fingers and skin included, so wear rubber gloves inside those gardening gloves. Unless you want people asking you about your gangrene.

    On to the processing. For the job, beyond the rubber gloves and garden gloves, you’ll need a couple old large pizza boxes, a good-sized burlap bag you don’t really care about, an apron (again, one you don’t really care about), some plastic shopping bags, a car, an unpaved driveway (they’ll stain concrete), a kitchen oven, and a nutcracker. All these should be easily found around your house, with the exception of the nutcracker. You will need a serious industrial strength one for black walnuts.

    Go to the walnut tree and, wearing the gloves, fill the plastic shopping bags with as many walnuts as you think you can handle, then some more. Don’t worry about peeling off the outer hulls, yet. Just scoop ‘em up. Don’t worry about starving the squirrels – there are many you won’t find and they will.

    Take the nuts home and throw a bunch in the burlap bag. Figure one shopping bag at a time. Fold the top of the bag under as you lay it flat on the driveway. Start driving the car back and forth over the bag, making sure you do a good job of it. This will separate (or at least loosen) the outer hull from the nut. After a couple minutes and about 10 passes over the whole bag, dump everything into the shopping bags for the time being. Repeat until you have completed all the nuts.

    NB from another site:

    Take care when hulling or shelling walnuts. The practice of driving over nuts with an automobile can be a dangerous one. Nuts and broken shells may be thrown into the air by the tires, possibly causing bodily injury or property damage.

    Use the burlap bag, OK?

    Put on the apron and pull up a chair. Separate the pizza box tops from the bottoms, making sure they maintain some boxlike integrity. Start parsing through the nuts and hulls, removing the nuts from the hulls. Put the nuts into the pizza boxes and the hulls into something convenient and not stainable – probably the shopping bags. When you fill the pizza box top/bottom with nuts, set that one aside and keep going with another until you are done. Take all the hulls and dump them on the compost pile. The smell (not unpleasant) will keep the squirrels occupied for a week or so, looking for the nuts that are surely in there.

    By now, evening will be coming on. Empty out the oven. Turn it on at the lowest setting. Put the open-topped pizza boxes full of nuts into the oven. You can occupy all the racks, if you want. Prop the door open and let it run until you go to bed (or all night, even). The idea here is to dry the nuts’ shells somewhat. When the crud that will cling to the shells is kinda powdery and flakes or crumbles off without staining your hand, the nuts are ready. There will be a pleasant smell given off – sort of wintergreenish. Alternatively you can let them dry in the garage or basement, but this will take a lot longer and you will have to watch to keep them from (a) getting moldy (turn and aerate regularly) and (b) drawing squirrels seeking vengeance for having been deceived by that pile of hulls.

    Once they are dry, you have to get to work on shelling them. I use a modified 12 inch slip-joint channel-lock pliers I bought a few years back via mailorder from someone in Ontario (whose site I cannot find). Basically, they took 12 inch industrial-strength pliers and ground the jaws down to a point to facilitate splitting open the extraordinarily hard shells of black walnuts. You will need something like this, because the shells are tough enough to destroy regular nutcrackers inside of a dozen or so nuts. A hammer and anvil is useful, but you will wind up with shell in the nutmeats and you don’t want that. Your dentist might, but you won’t. I did both ways before I found those pliers; they made a nightmare chore into something a lot more tolerable. Here’s a useful site.

    Once you get them shelled, be sure to keep them refrigerated in airtight containers. Their high oil content means they will go rancid quickly otherwise.

    You’ll appreciate the effort’s reward.

    • Waccamaw says:

      Gimme our southern pecans for ease of processing any day……but your how-to description on black walnuts was a joy to read.

      • scribe says:

        There is nothing which quite approximates the wondrous flavor of black walnuts in baked goods. Some compare it to truffles, but being a self-denying philistine and usually too poor to even think about looking at truffles, I can’t say because I don’t know. That how-to represents a decade or so of distilled experience in getting at them. Save for the gas burnt driving to my spots, I’ve never paid a dime for the nuts I’ve gathered, nor for the fruits preserved in my stocks of wild raspberry and wild blackberry jams. Every bite of these – and the knowledge they represent – come as a welcome surcease to economic pain in these days.

        I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  12. freepatriot says:

    we got tons of acorns here in cali, but no squirrels

    feral cats and raccoons rule the wild niches of our urban wildlife preserve

  13. JohnLopresti says:

    Here in what is called oak foothills plant communities, the oaks mostly are called coastal live oaks, there are two similar varieties, both with slender acorns aplenty this year. These days there is a seasonal leaf cleanup along the driveway beneath a broadleaf hardwood section where the oak savannah morphs into mixed evergreen; the oaks that have survived for light competition in this section are tall and happen to be shedding so many acorns this autumn that when I hear the rattle of a falling nut cascade I glance to see where, as it often is like a rain of acorns. I worry about the new phytophthora strain that is documented to be invading this part of the state, but the soils on this place are extraordinarily good for growing things, and we have seen no sign of that. Often plants that succumb to one pathogen have others as well, which in aggregate effect a debilitation of the individuals. My guess for some silvicultural maladies in the region includes phytotoxic effects of smog. The place I live is fortunate because it is somewhat removed from roadway traffic. Since it is at greater elevation, there is the opportunity to look down at the road right of way, and the town to which it leads; and, clearly, there is a healthier appearance to the tree canopy in the macro view as one scans farther from where the cars travel. There are probably better websites than this integrated pest management (IPM). site for IL, but it might be a place to begin from a midwest perspective.

    Aside from the coastal liveoak community there is a sprinkling of deciduous oaks, mostly in coppices on knolls and lots of them in their own plant subcommunities climbing up many swales which lead to the alluvia in the elongated valley visible stretching away from the hill near here.

    Since the space is ample where I live, the place includes a more traditional forest on ridgelines, in one section of which is the most typical folkloric kind of oak known as tanoak. It is a slender tree that competes with conifers successfully for light when both are similar ages, but the conifers win eventually, forming a top story which ultimately usually grabs all the sunlight and wins the race to climax forest, leaving tanoak stands to dwindle. Based on solid forestry practice and science, and given the gift of excellent soil and ample distance from pollution, on a ridge with plenty of groundwater, some pockets here of tanoaks have survived intact, with the rare help of the chainsaw thoughtfully wielded. The tanoaks, a descendent of some original tribal people told me a few years ago, formed the site of a kind of adoration when people on the move would find such a grove, as tanoaks provided an array of useful life supporting byproducts to the stoneage people who lived among the trees. I imagine people gathering and voicing appreciation to the tanoaks for being so bountiful and enabling people to live nearby yearlong. I have yet to try an oakmeal food item, though reportedly the aboriginals devised a way to leach the bitter flavor from the acorns so they could make flour or gruel. I guess I will stay with oatmeal. The oats do well here, too, in the valley. I have participated in oat pasture development, but that is a topic for some other time.

    I am fortunate to live on a former homestead. Some of the other comments about walnuts will provide a reflection of the effort to gather and preserve those. In this place, there is a trick about timing between or even before rains, depending on part of the country and whether the English rootstock is grafted to a more prolific, larger variety scion for the top, harvested part of the tree; the Italian cultivar scion yields large walnuts with a thick husk that the sun desiccates leaving the nude nut for gathering but wear stainproof gloves if you plan to touch the husks. Chestnut gathering is a similarly artful endeavor. The Shelties fit in their niche of the ecosystem, but the trees seem to supply squirrels adequately, and the dogs tend to be reluctant to attempt to trap squirrels who leap up the conifers for respite. I participated in a project to restore a field the gas and electric company had mauled installing a pipeline on one corner of the land, spending quite a few years planting and pruning several varieties of conifers on ~20ac.

    As for Hans vS, evidently he has seen the consultancy handwriting on the US Commission* on Civil Rights wall, and has opted to work instead quickly for core Republican values suing FEC to prove there are droves of little voter wraiths which blossom at midnight in the dark forest of democracy; he wants FEC to find them.
    *RHasen in August 2008 reported the USCCR assignment from Bush to vonS a fulltime temporary post; then again, Hasen gets fairly terse when characterizing vonS’ career moves. The latter link branches to both the thinktank gibberish which is vonS’ wont, and to the FEC court case complaint the Republicans filed three weeks ago in US District Court in DC.

  14. CasualObserver says:

    I believe some oaks will vary from year to year in production (similar to pecans, which produce every other year), and the insect pests will also vary greatly from year to year(acorn borers and such), effecting fruit production. Acorn was a staple food in many US regions prehistorically.

    It will live forever is a great book about native american acorn processing, associated information.

  15. JohnLopresti says:

    Looking at the WaPo article, one commentator observed rainfall during pollination and fruit set season in the NDVA region last spring was triple average precipitation. That seems a likely reasoning. The cherry orchard here bore no 2007 fruit although returned to normal in 2008. There are a few apple trees of various varieties; the one which is typically earliest similarly had no fruit in 2007. In commercial viticulture in the region, the late precipitation in 2007 also affected some varieties, vinifera being especially sensitive to disturbances in weather during pollination, though if the effect simply is reduced fruit set, the lightened load often will permit the plant to yield fruit with more intense flavor than usual.

    If squirrels are well provsioned by the ecosystem with profuse tree canopy and food, and if the squirrels successfully avoid hawks, fox, bobcats or the rare eagle, I am happy to see them going about their lustrous chores, and to listen to their temperamental boreal chatter. The dogs on rare occasion have viewed squirrels as catchable sport, but those canines will chase game like jackrabbit which they have no chance of catching. Next year when there is time to modernize the garden will be another test, discerning what garden varieties of human fare lepus c. will snub.

  16. MsAnnaNOLA says:

    Tripping over piles of acorns from the lovely live oak across the street. They get stuck in my hiking boots too. NOLA doesn’t have a lack of acorn problem.

  17. scribe says:

    I found the address for the company that made my “nutcracker” – the modified 12 inch channel lock pliers.

    It’s “Cobjon Nutculture Services” of Ottawa, Canada, with an old toll free number of 877-567-8472. The tool is called “Cobjon’s Canada Black Walnut Cutter”. They had a web address,, but it appears it’s a defunct site. I could not find any reference or link more recent than 2004 or 2005.

    I don’t know if the company still exists, but the tool surely works.

Comments are closed.