time: 3:30 pm

air temp: 74 F

water temp: 57 F

tide: rising

conditions: beautiful, warm and calm

Scenes from the most beautiful October.

Well, it sure is hard to prepare for winter when it still feels like summer out there. Man oh man have we had the most gorgeous fall so far - warm, calm and sunny with none of the usual windy bluster of a typical Maine fall (....yet... don't think that I don't expect that weather to come knocking any minute now). This uncharacteristic lingering summer has kept me moving a little more slowly than usual with my winter prep tasks, though, and it's just about getting to be the time when I need to start the long process of getting ready for the cold and snow and ice.

The last couple weeks have seen my attention devoted again to doing another (final) round of seed grading. I try to grade my seed every 4 weeks or so in it's first year after I introduce it to the farm. The purpose of grading oysters of any size is simply done just to group oysters of like sizes (and thus like growth rates) together. Since they'll continue to grow at a similar rate, I save my self a lot of work grading bigger, heavier oysters down the road if I can be really meticulous about it while they're still small. At this point I've now

The biggest seed from the 2021 crop, which was sorted out from the rest during the first round of grading in July. Coming along nicely!

completed four rounds of seed grading, and accordingly have four groups of oysters bags stocked with the biggest oysters from each of those grading rounds, marked with color-coded zip-ties so I know what's what in terms of size. And it's quite the range! As it stands, my biggest seed comes in close to 2" this year, and the runtiest of the lot are as small as .5".

So, now that the seed is all graded out for the year, it's on to prepping for winter in earnest, despite the fact that it feels like it might never come. Firstly, I've started the process of culling, counting and setting aside some of the many hundreds of oysters that I hope to be harvesting throughout the winter. I like to get as many of the incoming market size oysters as I can prepped now to make my life as easy as possible during the cold, tough winter harvest days ahead. Pre-counted and culled means quick grab-and-go harvesting operations, instead of hours spent sorting on the water in January. All the rest of the oysters, seed and product that's still too small to sell will get consolidated into half as many floating bags as I have out now (more oysters per bag is okay during the hibernation season when the animals aren't feeding, plus has the added benefit of making the gear heavier and helping it stay put through winter weather.) Then those heavy bags will go down to sleep on the ocean bottom when I find the right calm, low tide day for it. After that, it's endless gear and waterfront clean up time! 😅

Moby keeps the birds in check for me.

time: 2 pm

air temp: 94 F

water temp: 71 F

tide: rising

conditions: steeeeamy and calm and so hot.

Man, this has been a steamy summer here in Maine. I don't think I quite remember a recent summer of this much hot hot heat. Maybe because of or maybe in spite of the heat, though,

Happy, fast-growing oysters plus my pet urchin, which is a wild babe that showed up in my gear this sping. It's also growing super fast :)

it's been a banner year of oyster growing. It's also been a banner year for all the other creatures that thrive or reproduce in warmer ocean waters. As you might remember from farm logs from years past, August tends to be the month of dealing with all these other creatures, which are referred to as "fouling organisms" by us aquaculturists, due to their propensity to grow all over our crops and gear, thus fouling things up a lot.

The wild baby mussels that settle all over my gear and oysters cause the most problems for me. As they grow, they attach themselves to their surroundings with their strong little bissell threads, and if left untended, they establish themselves quickly and turn my gear and oysters into one solid, heavy clump that will eventually lead to misshapen and dead oysters, and very very heavy gear. Since I don't farm using machinery or equipment to tumble and grade my oysters, my best control methods for dealing with mussels (and the many other slimy creatures and algae), is to rotate the gear on and off the water in big batches, giving each bag a few days to fully dry out in the sunshine before bringing it back out to the farm to restock with oysters and float once more. While doing this massive rotation, I also am dividing the oysters into more gear to keep them from overcrowding as they explode with growth too, and giving them all a gentle tumble and rinse in their bags as they go back in. It's a big and labor intensive push, especially since I'm tending more oysters than ever before this year, but it's well worth it to deal with the nuisance creatures while they are small than it is to wait any amount of time.

Gear that comes in to dry out sits on the dock for a few days (preferrably sunny, dry days) to bake the mussels into submission.

I will be finishing up this massive gear rotation this week, which has taken me about a month to complete this year. Once done, I'll be focusing on sieving this year's baby (seed) oysters to sort out the biggest ones from the rest. Again, since I farm without the aid of mechanical grading, it's helpful for me to be really proactive in my grading while the oysters are small and it's easy to do by hand. When they're sorted and grouped with oysters of a similar size and growth rate, it tends to carry though the next year or two until the oysters are market size, meaning I have an easier time culling and harvesting down the road with less grading grunt work in between. I'll seive and sort the seed two or three times in the fall, grouping the class usually into three size/growth groups.

Aside from that task, which will likely take a week or two, I am really feeling like I am in the home stretch of the hardest parts of the growing season. We've got another month and a half or so of actively growing oysters before they stop putting on new shell growth quite so rapidly and start feeding to store energy and fuel themselves through the coming winter. I'll be focused on keeping the gear as clean as I can, harvesting, and making plans to get organized for the winter transition. And catching a little bit more rest now that the hardest part of the slog is done!

A recent, epic morning on the water.

time: 3:00 pm

air temp: 78 F

water temp: 65 F

tide: rising

conditions: muggy, calm

It's been an interesting few weeks on the farm lately - some new-to-me challenges, and some regular old mid-summer craziness to manage. My seed arrived as anticipated just about a month ago, and in that time its gone from itty-bitty 3mm to almost triple the size.

Left fingers - 3mm babies, June 16. Right fingers, the 8-9mm babies, July 12.

Yesterday I finally got around to grading all those little babies, to sort out the smaller ones from the bigger and send them back out into the water in more appropriately sized gear. For whatever reason, the smaller oysters especially seem to do better and grow faster when they are grouped together with other slower growers. And, the more size grading I do now, the easier it is for me to keep track of and manage the crop as it grows. The smaller oysters went back into a couple nursery boxes to do some catching up, and the bigger ones went into 4mm mesh bags. It won't be long before I have to come back around and divide them into twice as many bags!

Sponge treatment: 6 min dip in concentrated salt-water solution, followed by a 1 hour minimum air dry.

The newer challenge that I've been working out has been the discovery of my first really problematic pest on the farm. It was only a matter of time before I had to deal with something along these lines. Cliona celata is a shell-boring sponge species that can be found up and down the east coast and is often a problem for oyster farmers like myself. While it's not exactly a predator of the oysters themselves, this sponge can become a big issue if let be because of how it makes it's home. Through a chemical reaction, it bores it's way into the shell material of oysters and clams and creates these maze-like galleries within the layers of the shell, where it then lives and grows. This boring and tunneling action causes the oyster's shell to become very thin and brittle, and because the sponge almost always seems to target in the hinge area of the shell, the affected oysters are more challenging (and sometimes impossible) to shuck without it turning into a crumbly mess of shell bits and orange sponge tissue.


You can bet that I did as much research as I could on possible treatments as soon as I discovered an oyster with indications of cliona present, as well as lots of sampling on the farm to try and get a sense of which oysters and how many were affected. The good news here was that it just seemed to be my oldest year class that had signs of it (only about half of the total farm), and maybe only 6-7% of those oysters with obvious sponge presence. Because this is the time of year that cliona reproduces, though, I wanted to act quickly in treating things in the event that this infection was only just getting started. The treatment solution I landed on came from a well-documented study from Canada that was most importantly one that I could pretty easily conduct on my boat. Simply put, I submerged the oysters in their gear into a concentrated salt brine solution for six minutes, and then laid them out around the boat for at least an hour to dry. Nice hot sunny weather helped to speed the drying along, and after about two and half long days of this, I managed to get everything dipped and dried.

All back in the water after the end of a long dip day.

Circling back a week or so later, I was pleased to see that oysters with obvious sponge presence now have obvious signs of very very dead sponge. This was hard to tell, but I learned to notice that what little bits of sponge I could see through it's bore holes had gone from the usual bright orange color to black. I bashed up a few badly affected oysters to really be positive, and sure enough, dead sponge. My oysters seem to have survived the treatment well, by and large. There were a few casualties here and there where they must have accidentally gulped some of the brine solution, but those losses seem worth it to know that I've stopped this problem from progressing.

As stressful and dooming as it felt to make this discovery this month, at the end of the day, I'm glad it happened. It was a good test run for me on doing a widespread pest treatment on the farm, and it will make any future issues feel much less daunting to deal with.