time: 12:30 pm

air temp: 65 F

water temp: 52 F

tide: high

conditions: gorgeous

A great snapshot of the wear and tear I'm constantly on the lookout for on the farm. I replaced these buoys just in time! You can see where the constant bobbing back and forth on the surface wears the spot where the mooring line attaches down to nothing overtime.

The past month and a half or so have been a bit of a slog and a challenge. It's been such a windy spring, which is not conducive to getting the work done that has to come after the initial push of floating the oysters back to the surface... the work of bringing out all the clean gear, dividing all of those overwintered oysters out into that clean gear at growing densities (much fewer oysters per bag), and lugging all the dirty winter gear back ashore to get pressure washed and mended. Many boatloads and days later, I am alllllmost done, but still have about 20 more bags of winter gear to swap out, which I'm hoping to get through this week.

In between the days where I've been able to get on the water to do the gear shuffle, I've been at home in the shop furiously building new bags - about 75 new ones this year, in fact, plus about 17 homemade bottom cages as well. Gear building is one of my least favorite chores, however, I was excited this year to finally be able to add that much more to my farm, as it will allow me for the first time to really stock my bags at a much lower density initially, hopefully eliminating the need for me to divide everything half way through the summer as it grows and starts to crowd. Basically, I don't to have too many oysters per bag, as this can cause them to start to compete for the food in the water around them.

Because they also grow a lot and take up much more space at the end of the summer than

This is what the farm is looking like now - not quite ready to roll for the season, but close!

they do now, I'm trying to factor that growth amount in NOW, so that I'm stocking as many oysters per bag initially as that bag will be able to accommodate in August, so that I don't need to spend a big chunk of time mid-summer frantically bringing more gear out and splitting everything into second bags. This way, I'll be able to really focus on just keeping the gear clean, shaking bags as they grow to chip new shell and help steer the oysters' growth to a nice product, and harvesting!

I've been pretty all-consumed with these projects lately, but I'm also back to twice weekly farmer's markets and as I've harvesting more, I'm excited to see signs of growth in the oysters once again! The telltales are little bits of fragile, flaky shell starting to form around the bill of the oyster, and when shucked, the oysters themselves are looking a bit plumper and like they've started to recover from their winter fast. Nothing makes me happier than bringing big, fat happy oysters in for my customers. :)

Happy oysters.

time: 9:00 am

air temp: 48 F

water temp: not sure... my little data logger gave up the ghost :(

tide: falling

conditions: calm and springy!

And just like that, it's spring! I always welcome April with glee, although at the same time spring is the most frustrating time. It's funny how a day in the 30 degree range in January feels warm, but when we get to April suddenly 45 degrees feels unacceptably cold. And the tendency for springtime to be windier than most (all that warm summer air has to get here somehow) can be a challenge to work around. Spring in the life of an oyster farmer is a tedious time of endlessly mending and building gear, watching and waiting for the right tides (the extra low full moon tides) to re-float oysters that are safely sleeping in cages on the bottom, and monitoring water temp, which needs to be somewhere at or just above 40 degrees.

Pre-dawn. Headed out to float some oysters.

Last week I managed to time a good tide/weather window and made it out to start the process. The best tides are always at dawn and dusk around the full moon.

Boat load of floats.

It generally takes me a tide or two to get enough floats out to attach to the gear that's been housing the oysters for the winter. Since I like to make sure that gear stays put through winter gales (and because the oysters don't mind being crowded together while they're mostly dormant this time of year), the bags I'm pulling up and reattaching floatation to are more overstocked than usual, and H E A V Y. This is why low low tides and a smaller, lower boat to work out of are helpful, as its just less distance to lift and secure floatation.

Only on the lowest of low tides out here is that patch of bottom exposed!

After working two back-to-back early morning tides, I managed to get everything back to the surface once again.

The next step is one that I started today, and which will likely take me a few more days and boatloads of clean gear to finish up. All those overloaded bags which are floating once again have to get thinned out into several bags. This is both to ease the load on the gear (heavier gear on the surface tends to take a beating more quickly in wind and weather than lighter gear does), and also to get ready for ever-warming water temps and the feeding and growth that the oysters will start to undergo soon. Overcrowded oysters tend to grow in weird shapes and can start to compete for access to food resulting in a not so great (or dead) end product.

Gear back afloat for the season!

Since I am still waiting on the Maine Department of Marine Resources to get to my lease proposal for public hearing and review (thanks for the massive delay, Covid), I'm once again going to be working in a much, much smaller area than I would like to be and than makes sense for the number of oysters that I am growing these days. Because of this, I'm hard at work designing and building some different kinds of gear that will be set up on the bottom, underneath the floating stuff. More on that at a later date! In the mean time, I've also added a puppy into my life and am focusing all of my extra time and energy on getting him accustomed to boats and docks and the water so that he's ready to be my right-hand doggie this summer! :)

This is Moby! He's currently 8 weeks old, and a standard poodle. He's a good boy.

time: 2:00 pm

air temp: 34 F

water temp: 42 F

tide: rising

conditions: chilly, calm

Maine oyster farm
Working my way through the last of the farm-sinking process. Generally the last to go down are the oysters that are big enough to be harvested, and which I will keep harvesting throughout the winter.

First week of December. The last of the farm has been nestled in for the winter that has suddenly made it's presence known, with much colder air temps and some winter storm-like conditions the past couple weekends.

I feel lucky to have things secured safe and sound, and to be so much more closer to having a little bit of a rest for myself too. Just about all of the gear that has come ashore (more than ever before!) has been pressure washed and trucked home, where I will take my time picking through everything to mend and replace the pieces that need it before next spring. Aside from that never-ending task, the only things remaining to do on the winter prep list are to haul out old Mignonette, my three-season work boat, and get my smaller winter craft (a 14' aluminum skiff) tuned up and moved to the South Freeport town landing, where I'll keep her for winter harvest access. This move in berthing happens because the end of the Harraseeket River, where I normally come and go from and keep boats, will soon get too icy to operate out of.

winter oyster farm emilys oysters
Winter farm. Pick up buoys marking oysters to be harvested over the coming months.

As for winter harvesting, I make things as quick and easy as I possibly can for myself. I cull out as many market-size oysters as I find while I consolidate the rest of the stock for sinking. The beauties that are slated for winter shucking then get sunk with pick up lines and buoys attached, so that I can easily zip out and haul up as many bags as I need, and head right back into the harbor. Eliminating the need to do any processing or counting or culling on the water makes those winter expeditions just a little bit more comfortable (and safe) for me.

In the meantime, while I wrap up getting things cleaned up and stored for winter, I'm hard at work marketing and preparing for the holiday rush - making and sending out tea towels and shucking kits, gift certificates and answering emails upon emails! After a long hard growing season of physical work, it's a nice change of pace for me to be able to do this different kind of work, and to spend some time exercising a different kind of creativity. Also, sleeping. I'm catching up on so much sleep now that I am not back and forth from the farm everyday with loads of gear and harvests to process, and it feel so so so GOOD.