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Farm view in the weeks before things have been fully consolidated or sunk for the winter.

It's been a busy month of movement toward winter in the world of this little farm. Last month I was moving toward the big fall cull -- pulling out all the market size oysters I can find and simultaneously consolidating all the rest of the stock into clean gear in preparation for sinking. Those tasks are just about done now, and the majority of the farm is tucked away safe and sound below the waves. I've got one more half of a line of 1 year old oysters to consolidate and into clean gear and sink, and then I'll probably also sink most of the market size oysters in a fashion that will allow me to more easily retrieve them through the winter as I harvest for winter markets. Some will remain floating through the holidays for easy of harvesting, but I usually start to get worried about ice sometime in January, and having everything underwater is just safer.

What's left on the surface after the first sinking day! Not much left to go...

I rely on low tides and being able to get out of the boat and position everything right where I want it on sinking days, and as such it can sometimes be tricky to get a low tide day where the wind and weather also cooperate in the fall. This year proved very challenging, and I wound up out there on an incredibly windy afternoon due to seemingly no other options. Fortunately for me, the wind abated right around the time of low tide, and I was able to hustle my way through the task and get it all done in relative ease.

Because a big part of this season includes the transition of all the oysters into clean gear, with each boatload that comes in there also grows a huge pile in the yard of all the slimy tired growing season gear. So in between days on the water I'm also spending days pressure washing and cleaning up the gear that comes in. It's a good time for me to take note of the wear and tear it's seen throughout the season, and to get a sense for what repairs are needed and if I need to change up how I'm rigging things (at this point, six years in, I think I've finally landed on rigging that holds up to wind and weather pretty well!) Then, all that gear will get stacked and stored and secured for the winter to await next spring, and I will go home and sleeeeeeeeeeeeeep!!

Dusk on farm sinking day, just after completing the task. Full moon rising over trusty farm boat.

WHEW. Well, August blew by followed by September, which feels like it never even happened. And now here we into October already, which means we are full swing into getting the farm ready for winter.

Headed out on a gorgeous fall morning.

The water has quickly started to cool down now that our days are shorter and nights colder, which means the growth rate of the oysters has quite noticeably slowed down for the season. This is generally my cue to start winter prep tasks, which vary from year to year but mostly consist of culling out as many market size oysters as I can find, consolidating the rest of my stock, and eventually moving everything down to the bottom for safe keeping from winter ice and weather. As part of this year's winter preparations I built a whole bunch of new bottom cages to test run. I've been experimenting and tweaking designs for cages that sit on the bottom to incorporate into my grow out scheme throughout the year, and am excited to test drive them

Snazzy new bottom cages went out this week to house some of the oysters through the winter.

this season. They are small enough that I can set and retrieve them pretty easily without needing a crane or hauler on my boat, and also without causing undue harm to my body, always my goal.

The other thing I'm thinking about and preparing for this time of year is fall weather. There inevitably will be a few nasty windy, rainy storm events before I get things safely down to the bottom, so double checking gear, moorings, lines and attachment points and replacing anything that looks weak or worn is top of mind too. Let me tell you, the day that everything makes it safe and sound below the waves is always the biggest feeling of relief!

There's a lot of work still to go to finish out this growing season, but the end is in sight, and boy does that feel nice after a long hard summer of work.

weeeeeee Moby's flying in cozy season like a pro.

August is a frenzy and a blur on an oyster farm no matter how prepared you are for it. During the weeks of this month, when I'm not prepping for the biggest harvests of the year (it's peak market season!) I'm bouncing between a couple different but equally important summer farm tasks.

Early morning commute to the farm

The first of the big August projects is doing battle against the many fouling organisms that thrive on the gear and oysters in the heat of this time of year. The mussels, tunicates (weird slimy spongy things) and algae that cling and clump not only make the gear heavy and hard to work with, but they clog up the holes in the mesh reducing water (and food) flow to the oysters. The easiest way for me to deal with this summer slime fest is to rotate gear on and off the water, allowing my growing bags to air dry for several days on land to make sure things are good and cooked before swapping them back into the water. This winds up being a good time for this project because generally the midsized oysters (next year's harvest, last year's seed) has grown a lot and is ready to be spread out a little thinner, meaning I would be breaking into this year around this time anyways.

A boat load of slimy gear heads in to dry out.

The second focus of this month is on periodically grading and dividing this year's seed oysters into more bags as they rapidly grow and require more space. They grow SO fast in this first year -- think 3mm to up to over an inch by the fall -- that it feels like you turn your back on them for a week and suddenly they're outgrowing their gear again. Since they're young and delicate and susceptible to being stunted by neglect in this juvenile time, I try really really hard to focus on them as soon as they demand it and not a moment later. Grading and sorting them according to their size/growth rates is also important, as they always just seem to do better with those that are growing and sizing up at the same pace. Plus, doing lots of grading NOW when the oysters are smaller and easier to physically manage tends to carry through unto the next two years until reach harvest size. Since I farm in a really minimal way, without the use of a big powered tumbling and grading machine like other farmers rely on, this early grading is especially important.

Where the babies were at at the beginning of the month.

It feels crazy to even think, but once these big August projects are behind me, it will be September and time to start thinking about preparing for another winter....

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