A longtime CFC member has moved to western New York but contacted us with this question when she and her friends couldn't find the answer anywhere else. She indicated that they were seeing massive quantities of acorns falling from the oak trees. The ground was covered with them. What was happening?
When a large acorn crop occurs as on this occasion, it is called a mast year. Mast is the overall name for acorns, beech nuts, and other such nuts that form on trees and which were once used as fodder for livestock. (I remember a mast year in Barrington when my two thoroughbred horses gorged on the acorns from white oaks in their pasture.)
Sometimes when the weather and other conditions are just right (including a previous season when few nuts/acorns were produced), the oaks produce massive quantities of nuts, each usually containing one seed. This is one strategy nature has for ensuring the continuation of the species. In a normal year the rodents, birds, and other critters that love acorns will frequently ingest most of the crop. In mast years there is such a proliferation of acorns that the animals can eat their fill and still leave loads of seeds to germinate into young oaks. A mast year will sap the energy of the trees so that next year they will produce a very modest crop – if any.
If you have fruit trees – apple or cherry – you will note that one year they will have a big crop and the next year there will be a smaller crop as the tree replenishes its strength instead of putting its energy into fruit. Of course, weather plays a part so that it is not 100% predictable.
If you want to know more, just Google “mast year,” and you will find many articles on the subject.