Even the acorns of our native oaks are edible, though it is necessary first to remove the
tannin they contain (See box). Oaks also tend to give an irregular yield, only giving a heavy
crop once in every two to seven years. But there are individual trees that yield more regu-
larly than others and some that have 'sweet' acorns with little or no tannin in them. It would
be quite possible to find these trees and selectively breed from them to produce oaks that
yield sweet acorns every year.
How to Make Acorn Bread
Pick the acorns and dry them. De-husk and grind them (a coffee mill or blender
will do). Put the flour in a cloth bag and pour boiling water over it to remove the tan-
nin. Mix the resultant paste half and half with flour, and use the mix instead of pure
flour in any recipe for bread, biscuits or crumble topping. It makes a rich, heavy bread,
with a delicious nutty flavour.
Over the centuries, a massive plant breeding effort has gone into annual crops, especially
grains. If that effort had gone into tree crops we would have trees which would far outyield
the annuals. As it is, yields are comparable, but the nutritional value of nuts is much greater
than that of grains, especially in protein. Already improved varieties of walnuts are avail-
able, which come into bearing much sooner and yield much more heavily than traditional
Perhaps the main limitation on nut production at the moment is that the existing varieties
of chestnut and walnut will only yield well in southern parts of Britain. These species ori-
ginally come from Mediterranean latitudes, but so do wheat and barley. It is only selective
plant breeding which has enabled these cereals to grow in Scotland and the same can be
done for nut trees.
Combining trees and field crops, whether arable or grass, on the same land is known as
agroforestry. There is experimental work going on all over Britain to develop agroforestry
practices suitable for our climate and conditions. Timber and grazing, timber and cereals,
and walnuts and cereals are all being tried, using conventional farming methods for the
field crops. Although this kind of thing is quite far from permaculture ideals, it is a step
along the way and can only be seen as a positive development.
Growing Grain Without the Plough
Tree crops, foggage farming and no-dig gardening are all examples of no-till systems.
These are ways of growing food which do without ploughing or other disturbance to the
No-till farming saves all the energy involved in ploughing and cultivating. What is more
it preserves the natural fertility of the soil. Under natural conditions soil fertility is main-
tained by a host of micro-organisms, including bacteria and fungi, which recycle nutrients
and make them available to plants. Most of the micro-organisms live in the top 5cm of the
soil, and these die when they are buried deep by the plough. Many are sensitive to ultra-vi-
olet light and die when the soil is bared by ploughing.