Virginians could soon reap the government’s acorn collection program
The dedication that Ortmeyer, a retired Arlington native, has to the nuts has earned him notoriety within the Virginia Department of Forestry, which runs an annual drive Walnut collection program.
Its acorn loads, as well as nuts from other native tree species collected by volunteers across the state, will be planted at the department’s headquarters. Augusta Nursery Center To grow into seedlings.
The seedlings are then typically sold to landowners for reforestation purposes, providing numerous environmental benefits such as reducing atmospheric carbon, improving water quality and lowering temperatures in heat-stressed areas.
The program also wouldn’t be possible without volunteers like Ortmeyer, said Joshua McLaughlin, assistant director of Augusta Nursery Center. He estimates that a third — or nearly a million — of the seeds planted at the nursery last year came from the public. Donations also go toward starting seedlings Then it was sold.
“Without this audience, I don’t know what we would do,” McLaughlin said.
If a nursery doesn’t get enough donations for a particular seed, the state sometimes has to turn to suppliers, which McLaughlin said can be costly for an operation that’s not allowed to receive cash donations.
A simple acorn lying on the ground “is of real value, and all it takes is someone to go and pick it up,” Ortmeyer said.
As the collecting season approaches, Ortmeyer said collecting seeds is a “simple and easy process” that anyone can do. However, he said increasingly unpredictable fall walnut seasons, coupled with the limited number of locations throughout Virginia to deliver walnuts and a lack of public awareness, limit the program’s potential.
The department plans to announce when it will begin accepting acorn donations in early September, McLaughlin said. Although the collecting season officially began on September 7 last year, he said increasingly unpredictable changes in weather and temperature meant it was difficult to pinpoint an exact date when nuts would start falling from the trees.
While acorns historically start falling in early October, parts of Virginia have seen dry weather this year, prompting McLaughlin to say he wouldn’t be surprised if they start falling next week.
Furthermore, he said he is not currently seeing as many acorns on white oak trees as he normally does this time of year. He attributes this anomaly to late frosts and dry weather in Virginia this year.
“You had a lot of trees that aborted acorns in early summer, which means they pretty much went through and dropped 60 or 70% of the acorns on the ground early before they developed,” McLaughlin said. “This is because the tree could not reach the growth stage because it did not have enough water.”
Potomac’s senior director of community conservation, Alexis Dickerson and McLaughlin, pointed to climate change as a major factor in the increasing unpredictability of the season. The timing and quality of seed fall depends on the stresses the tree endured the previous season, such as drought or excessive flooding, Dickerson said.
“All of this is going to contribute to the stress the tree is under,” Dickerson said. “This can cause the nut to drop prematurely because the tree just has to conserve its energy and use it in the best way possible.”
Oak expert advice
For people looking to start collecting acorns, Dickerson recommends first making sure you have breathable bags to store seeds, such as brown paper bags or burlap bags. Individuals should also prioritize collecting ripe acorns, which are tan or brown in color, rather than green.
Techniques for collecting fallen acorns can range from simply picking acorns by hand to sweeping them up with a broom and shovel, Ortmeyer said.
Those looking to try more advanced methods of collecting nuts can opt for Ortmeier’s leaf blower, broom and shovel technique, which he said is useful for easily separating sticks and leaves from the nuts.
“Use a leaf blower to blow all these seeds off the sidewalk and street and put them in a nice pile,” Ortmeyer said. “Scoop them up with a shovel and broom.”
The nuts should then be placed in separate bags and labeled by species, source location and date. Ortmeyer recommended placing a leaf from the tree from which the nuts were collected in the bag to allow the department to more easily identify the species.
Collected walnuts and nuts should be stored in a cool place for no more than 10 days before donating.
Details of the seeds the Forest Service is seeking and more information about the program will also be included in the press release McLaughlin will send out soon announcing the start of the season.
The Augusta Nursery typically begins planting walnuts after Oct. 15, when soil temperature and amount of daylight begin to decline, two factors McLaughlin said help the walnuts remain dormant underground longer. Seeds collected before this are usually kept in cold storage containers for up to two to three weeks until ready to plant.
If Virginia started the collection season sooner to align with earlier oak drops, McLaughlin said the seeds would eventually spend six to seven weeks in cold storage before being planted.
The walnuts “will want to rot,” McLaughlin said. “They’ll want to start collapsing, and they’ll want to start growing.”
However, Dickerson said some volunteers in her group are looking for ways to combat the unpredictability of this oak with a new “fall watch campaign.”
Governorate Tomorrow’s trees The initiative — which aims to expand acorn collecting opportunities for people in the Potomac region — is using the campaign to urge community members to document when the seeds fall.
“We can’t fully predict when different seed types will drop things,” Dickerson said. “The best way for us to do that is just to let the public properly tell us what’s going on in your neighborhood.”
The initiative also allows residents to take photos and send them to the reserve, which then creates a map of where and when the nuts fall.
Need for seed plants
Virginians who participate in the acorn collection program can either drop off their seeds directly at one of 44 Department of Forestry offices across the state or bring them to volunteer-led collection stations run by groups like the Potomac Conservancy’s Trees of Tomorrow program. Augusta Nursery also accepts donations directly.
However, Ortmeyer said not all Virginians have access to drop-off stations and therefore cannot participate in the program even if they wanted to.
Trees of Tomorrow is helping fill some of those gaps in the Potomac region, but Dickerson said she’s still unclear on how many delivery stations the preserve has set up this season. She said the organization was facing logistical challenges after the chief forest officer they worked with recently retired.
One man collected more than 8,000 pounds of acorns for Virginia
While Ortmeyer thinks it would be a good idea to encourage community members and groups to coordinate their own nut drop-off stations, McLaughlin said he would prefer people donate their nuts through the preserve or at Department of Finance offices.
“It reassures us that things will come back to us,” McLaughlin said.
Virginia residents can locate the nearest Department of Finance office through the department’s website by filling in their information there “Find my forester” page.
For example, McLaughlin said if someone donates acorns to an administrative office in Bristol, a state employee will then transport the seeds to the Salem Regional Office and keep them in cold storage until McLaughlin can return them to the nursery.
While the Forest Service is still working on ways to spread public awareness of the collecting season — an effort that McLaughlin said would likely include groups of master naturalists — he emphasized that Virginia nurseries are not alone in their quest to collect enough seeds.
“That’s the struggle that every tree nursery in the United States faces right now, is making sure we have enough seeds to continue planting the seeds we need to plant,” McLaughlin said. “Hopefully we can finish that sometime in the near future, but that’s the main variable that nurseries have is seeds.”
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