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August has come and gone in a flash, as usual. With it has come (but not yet quite gone) the usual battle of dealing with gear fouling, which is always the worst this time of year.

Fouling on one of my bottom cages. Not pictured: all the oysters inside also covered with this particular species of invasive tunicate.

"Fouling" is a term in aquaculture that refers to all the OTHER things that like to hitch a ride and grow on either the oysters or the gear we use in the growing process. Fouling includes everything from an array of different algae to other shellfish like baby mussels, etc. It makes for a very heavy and sloppy month, with lots of air-drying and scraping and brushing and rotating gear around.

The later part of August also includes a lot of work with this year's oyster seed, which has exponentially increased in volume from the 3mm size at which it arrived on the farm. The biggest of the bunch (of which there are a lot this year!) are already over an inch. This rapid growth requires a lot of time and attention from me, because the oysters are also very influenced at this time by how well I take care of them - left to grow like crazy and become overcrowded in their gear will leave me with a bunch of misshapen, long skinny oysters which I've found to be something that they will carry through with them to maturity. So, in order to grow the nice round end product that I'm looking for, I'm always trying my

Seed looking huge and happy and ready for dividing again 😅

hardest to get the babies graded and spread out into more gear as frequently as I can. This year I'm growing more seed then ever, so keeping up with the little ones has been no small task!

And of course, all the other oysters on the farm, especially those that were seed last year, and growing like crazy and getting fouled up too, which means there's been a long rotation of gear swapping around the farm happening - oysters going into the batch of clean gear, then the gear they

came out of sitting out of water in the sun for a few days to kill off the fouling, then repeat. It's not the most efficient process, but it works for me for now. It's fun to be circling back to the

Next year's lovely round oysters.

one year old oysters this time of year after not really seeing much of them since the spring. This year I made an effort to stock them very very lightly in their floating bags, hoping to accomplish two things - less work for me this time of year, (no need to divide and spread all those oysters out mid season), and nice, round, well-shaped oysters that have had all the room in the world to grow nice and evenly. From what I'm seeing as I go around and swap them into clean gear, it seems that I have accomplished that particular goal, which is exciting. Always experimenting with and tweaking my operations to improve quality and efficiency takes some time and energy, but it also always seems to pay off! Next task will be starting to think about getting ready for winter (can you believe it).

Seeding time has come once again to my little farm! On Tuesday I picked up 175,000 little

itty bitty baby oyster seed arrives on the farm!

baby oysters from Muscongus Bay Aquaculture, the local hatchery that supplies many of the oyster farmers here in Maine and beyond. My bunch this year measure in around 3mm, my usual order. The smaller the seed, the cheaper the cost, so a few years ago I built some special nursery boxes that are lined with fine screen so that I could accommodate having little tiny babies on my farm without losing them all - the mesh bags that I primarily use as my gear don't go down to a small enough size to keep these wee ones contained. But my nifty boxes work great, fit right inside one of my floating bags to keep them secure on the farm, and in no time (10-14 days) the seed will have just about doubled in size and will be big enough to be transferred into the smallest size mesh bag that I have (4mm holes). As an oyster farmer, you spent a lot of time thinking about mesh sizes and oyster sizes and being careful to make sure you don't accidentally lose your crop through the holes!

My special mesh-lined nursery boxes keep the babies safe and sound for their first couple weeks on the farm.

I'll check on these guys over the next few days to make sure they acclimate to my farm site okay, and then I'll be chomping at the bit to grade out the biggest of them in about two weeks or so to start moving them out the nursery boxes. I learned an important lesson last year, which was that I can't leave them too long! They grow so fast at this stage it's easy to accidentally get to the point where they start to max out on space and compete with each other for food. Days matter to these guys, so they are top priority over the next few weeks. While they size up, I'm busy bringing the next round of gear that they will move into back out to the farm, and making the space that they will need as they are ready to move on up into floating bags. I'm continuing to improve my operational practices and efficiencies when it comes to taking care of the little guys, and it feels good to be out of "think about it" mode and into "doing it" mode!

Oyster boat gets a glow up.

Once the seed was safely set out on the farm this week, I took the opportunity to do a really quick haul out and maintenance session on my trusty oyster boat. She's been in the water and working nonstop for over a year now, so this was a little bit overdue and very very needed. A day of washing, barnacle scraping, a couple coats of fresh bottom paint and an engine tune up and she went right back into the water ready to finish out the season strong! This boat has been so reliable, and I am grateful everyday for that. I am outgrowing her a little bit more every season, but have also been able to find creative ways to adapt and make her work for myself along the way. Boats are not cheap, and hard to come by, so for now, she's what I've got to work with. When you harvest and work year round like I do, it's hard to find the time to do all the maintenance and work on her that I would like to, but man does it make a difference!

Snakey long lines of floating oyster gear

June is here and I am ready for it like I never have been before! It took me about a month's work after getting the oysters off the bottom and back to the surface to bring all the gear back out to the lease, load by load, to spread the crop out into. This is the first year I've both had all the gear needed to complete this task (in past years I would have to pause along the way to furiously buy and build what I didn't already own), but I also finished it so much more quickly than usual that things have just been sitting pretty out there, waiting for the heat of summer to really kick oyster growth into high gear. It feels good to see some improvement in my practices, and know that I am continuing to become a more efficient and organized operator.

Ooooh la la ruffly new shell growth means these babies are feeding and growing once again!

This spring has felt a little slower and colder than recent ones have, which is fine with me. Slowly and steadily, though, the water has been warming and the oysters are starting to really show off some beautiful ruffly new shell growth around the edges!

Since I was able to get the farm so speedily spread back out into it's summer growing set up, and since I haven't yet received my seed for the year (any day now!) the little bit of "down time" I've found myself with has allowed me to focus a little time and energy into maintaining and updating some of my farm infrastructure. This year this has mostly been boring stuff, like investing in new, bigger corner buoys and lots of reflective tape to help make my farm more visible to boaters out there on the bay. There's more recreational traffic in my neck of the woods than I've ever seen before in recent years, and my farm's proximity to it all has me more anxious than ever about careless boaters causing damage to my gear.

I've also added a couple new lines to my floating array to accommodate a little bit of anticipated growth this year, as well as built and deployed a bunch of new bottom cages, which I will talk more about in a future post! This is a fun growing method that I'm excited to incorporate into my regular practices.

Bottom cage full of happy oysters

Next up will be the arrival of this year's seed! Always my favorite day of the year, and the point at which we kick it up into high gear.

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