Thursday, July 30, 2009

Plant an oak before you marry

We're only just now beginning to understand how important a food source acorns were through much of human history. From Oak: The Frame of Civilization, by William Bryant Logan:

"In Germany and Switzerland, a law survived into the Middle Ages that required a young man contemplating matrimony to plant two young oak trees prior to the nuptials. By the time the couple's children were ready to marry, there would be two more fruit-bearing trees to help sustain them. But since the time from the planting to an oak's first fruiting is between fifteen and thirty years, the cultivation of oaks as a fruit tree has never been practicable."

What a cool law! It's cool that many of our traditions, like planting a tree to commemorate a marriage or the birth of the child, have their roots in both basic human need (planting trees as a future food source) and ancient law.

Here's where I would take issue with Mr. Logan: I don't believe that you have to wait 15 years to begin producing acorns. If 1/1,000,000,000th of the effort that went into breeding crops like corn and soybeans, or even tree crops like apples and almonds, had been spent on selecting and selectively breeding early and annual producing oak trees I believe we could have oaks that would reliably produce acorns at 5 years of age.

I also believe that with better planting and establishment methods we can dramatically compress the time from planting to the first significant acorn crop.

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