For the most part, I like three of the four seasons in my part of the planet. Winter is awesome with regenerating rainfall and cold weather which makes me happy. Spring is great with wildflower blooms so I can practice plant identification and retain my botany skills. Summer is miserable for me since it is too bleeping hot, thus it's the one season I like NOT at all. And fall brings with it the gathering of harvests and more importantly it is when thousands of acorns drop from the oaks.
I am always inspired and feel a certain reverence when I walk beneath a 300-year old valley oak tree (Quercus lobata), and I remember that it began from a two inch long acorn, century's ago. What did the landscape look like back then? Those are oaken memories that can never be answered exactly. And if you could not tell already, oaks are my favorite trees. Here is a valley oak near where I live. We are lucky there are some ancient specimens that I can take the kids to see. This one has a trunk that is approaching fifteen feet in circumference. It's a grand tree and makes acorns I call "lunkers" because they are so big and heavy.
Acorns consist of high energy packed in a tough but smooth shell, pointy on one end and rounded on the other. It feels great to hold a few acorns in your hand and roll them around against each other. Acorns are gorgeous in their simplicity and can withstanding the fall from as high as 50 or 60 feet without breaking. And all the animals want them: squirrels, birds, deer, pigs and even humans.
OK, so here is the important part: The fun my kids had collecting acorns today was priceless and FREE. The basic recipe for hatching an oak tree as is follows:
1. Assemble children in vehicle and drive to nearby oak groves in your area. You may have to do some homework first to know where to go before dragging kids on wild goose chase for acorns.
2. Arm children with baggies and walk them under said oak trees and show them the acorns. They will instinctively want to gather these. Point out rotten ones or ones with holes as bad. Do not collect these ones.
3. Bring acorns home. Count with children for fun and practice. Using tougher freezer type zip lock baggy, empty acorns and some wood shavings together with a light dousing of water. ONLY LIGHTLY moisten the shavings. A small bag of rodent bedding from local pet store works fine (OK. This project is almost free). DO NOT SOAK. To much water will rot the acorns and shavings. Do not totally close seal on bag. Air exchange must be able to occur. As I plan to plant several hundred oaks this winter these are the gallon size bags. Whatever the size baggy or number of acorns, it should look kind of like this:
4. Place baggy in bottom of refrigerator. The cold stratification speeds up germination. Check bag every few weeks with kids so they can see the emergence of a long white root. When roots are about one to two inches long, transplant into small pot to plant later or directly into ground (better choice of two) with your children.
5. To prepare ground: Dig one foot wide by two feet deep hole to loosen soils. Back fill hole without packing dirt. Make a shallow basin or bowl piling extra dirt around edges. Carefully place acorn with root down, into soil about 1/2 inch. Gently push acorn into soils packing lightly so acorn is firmly in the earth. Acorn should just be visible. If varmints are a problem protect using wire caging below and/or above ground. Option: plant two or three acorns in your hole. If all grow well then cull two of three. **Choose location for planting carefully since these trees will be here decades if not centuries after we are gone.**
6. By early spring you should have a shoot and leaves growing from your acorn. Have kids monitor growth, maybe measure weekly and do leaf counts. Watering of tree will depend upon your specific area. When planted as acorns many oak do not require water, so use common sense judgment. I always water at initial planting and every two to three weeks depending upon rainfall.
I have in some years donated the acorns I germinated to local restoration groups to be planted in preserves. I bet schools would also be happy for sapling tree donations. Additionally, a great resource on oaks in my state is Oaks of California, Pavlik et. all. It provides a description with pictures of all the species in our state, life history, Native American use of oaks and much more. I am certain there are many state specific books to help identify species and biology in other regions of the county.
I hope this inspires someone. Good luck and go hatch an oak tree this fall.