Mulch Ado About Something

When I saw that big black beautiful mobile water tank (on loan from the Kiwanis Club), I said to my wife, “this project has a real chance!”

“Yes,” she said. Then asked, “will it make any difference?  I mean it’s so overwhelming. Climate change, an Administration that that’s hostile to the future of our planet, all the tress up and down California decimated over the last five years, sure it feels good, but really drought, fires and invasive beetles…Let’s be honest here.”

“Okay, you’re right. We should have got you some coffee.”

“Well, let’s go plant some trees.”

A few years ago, my widowed neighbor Flo gave me an oak tree in a one-quart pot. It was about ten inches tall with six – eight leaves. “It’s a Live Oak, doesn’t lose all its leave in the winter,” she said, then added, “It’s a live oak, keep it that way!”

Over time, I transplanted it to larger containers. Now my neighbor is gone and the oak tree is planted in the front lawn. I have been casually collecting acorns for a while.

The difference between a fantasy and a vision has something to do with reality. It also has something to do with the benefits of the vision going beyond any one individual.

Last September a pair of local naturalists/master educators set about seriously collecting live oak acorns. The seeds were bagged and tagged according to the location (micro-climate) where they were found.

Many oak groves in the Simi Hills uplands have thinned out. The landscape is changing. And anxious trees are flowering early. The drought has killed older oaks and discouraged seedlings from germinating. An invasive beetle (from Vietnam), the Shot Hole Borer, is devastating many species of trees in Southern California. In Northern California, the Bark Beetle is killing pines and cedars. The Shot Hole Borer only attacks mature trees. The hope is that a solution is found to combat the tree killer while the new trees get established.

The collected acorns were refrigerated to simulate winter. Then they spent time in moist containers with an oak mulch made from thirty years of oak litter. The mulch was from a small group of trees at John Luker’s property. It was rich and earthly organic with a hint of nostalgia.

Then John organized a couple of potting (propagation) parties. The acorns were water tested. Floaters were tossed aside. The ones that sank were potted in peat cups with the rich mulch and vermiculite. Some of the seeds had little white tap roots starting to show. The parties were fun. Everybody was friendly and a few were funny. We talked about the stress the trees were under and all the benefits they provide.

“Animal habitat, these groves are so important.”
“What about wine?”
“Yeah, where’s the wine?”
“Without oak, oak barrels, whisky and wine would lose that rustic quality.”
“Heck, many cities and towns would lose their names.”

Does it feel like we are making a difference? Will there be enough rain? Wendi Gladstone will use this experience to inspire the various groups she addresses. John Luker will consider this a positive step towards realizing a grand vision of protecting the hills between the San Fernando Valley and Simi Valley.

We, the Sky Valley Volunteers, will continue to get our hands dirty.

Johnny Acorn will keep tilting at windmills.

We will water the little plants by hand and hose when the sky fails to provide the rain.

part II in a series of III

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