time: 9:20 am air temp: 59 F water temp: 45 F tide: high, falling conditions: springy

Picking through bottom cages on a calm still morning.

Short and sweet update on the farm, because May is about the point in the year when time starts to feel to me like it moves along in double time. My market schedule gets busy, the water warms up and the oysters (and all the other slimy fouling creatures) start to grow in earnest. I'm in pretty good shape preparation-wise for all of this, though. I have a bit more gear swapping, cleaning and mending to do from the winter mess, but things are starting to feel organized and ready to grow out there.

I spent a few low tides recently locating and emptying out some bottom cages that were chock-a-block full of beautiful oysters ready to go to market, which is one of my favorite activities. These cages will some day soon be refilled and moved a bit to the southwest, to their new home on my expanded lease, which will be really nice. Up until now they have been situated on the bottom underneath my floating lines - fine on normal low tides, but causing some hang up problems on the lower full and new moon tides.

Looking tidy!

Next up: finishing up gear clean up. Prepping nursery boxes for the arrival of this year's little ones (sometime in the next month or so, probably). And getting ready for lots of harvesting and lots of tending to growing oysters!

time: 12:20 pm air temp: 64 F water temp: 41 F tide: high, falling conditions: calm, sunny, WARM!

oyster farming oyster gear
One of many, many loads of gear ready to head back out to the farm.

Well, the spring grind is here! About a month ago on a couple of calm, low tide days I finished the first (and arguably the hardest) task of the season, which is to raise the many heavy bags of sleeping, overwintered oysters back up to the surface once again. Once floating, the next task is to swap gear out (dirty slimy gear that's been out all winter has to come in for cleaning and mending). And since I tend to overstock oysters in bags to give them more weight and security on the bottom for the winter months, the oysters also need to get spread back out into more pieces of gear, giving them more room to grow into when they resume feeding (which should be any day now!)

So since the initial oyster raising activities, life has been a blur of going through the many many floating bags that I own, mending things that are worn, and then loading up the truck and then the boat to bring them back out to the farm. The dirty winter gear that gets replaced in the process then comes back in for washing and mending before it heads back out. Musical chairs, but for oyster gear, and man does it feel endless!

Pretty obvious which oyster bags have been out all winter and which were just deployed.

There's also lots of organizing and planning that goes into this project. I spend a lot of time trying to anticipate how much space my crop will need to grow into both in terms of space in each individual bag, but also space on the floating longlines. This is particularly important with my smallest (seed oysters) which were added to the farm last year and which will grow to take up exponentially more space over the course of this summer.

This year class of oysters was graded three times last season, meaning there are four different size groups carefully separated out and bagged up together within the lot. I use color-coded zip ties on the gear to differentiate each group, and am careful to carry that code on through into the new clean gear that they will inhabit THIS season so as not to loose track of those four different size grades. This will make my harvesting successions easier when they eventually come to size the next year or two, allowing me to know right where all the biggest oysters are so I can get to them first.

It's hard to tell from the photos, but it's pretty awesome to be moving into my larger lease as I work my way through the spring spread out!

In the last log I explained a little about rearranging moorings to expand my footprint outward onto my new lease space. Now that a little more than half of the gear is back out on the water, I can't believe how crammed in I was before this expansion! Not only am I thrilled to have room to grow into, I'm just so excited to be able to spread my existing gear out more. With more space in between bags, not only will the gear get less beat up from banging around into other gear, but the oysters will hopefully have more access to food and be less in competition with one another. Not to mention, more room for me to maneuver and work in between lines of gear.

Once all the gear makes it's way back out and the oysters are set for growing season to commence, there will be a little lull in activity on the water as I sort of wait for growth to really ramp up. In that time I'll be prepping to receive this this year's oyster seed, assessing what additional gear I may need for the season, building that gear, getting ready for busy summer markets, and doing all sorts of other odds and ends.

Moby is my helper every step of the way :)

time: 5:30 pm air temp: 26 F water temp: 40 F tide: rising conditions: calm, sun setting

Low tide, rearranging moorings and checking on oysters.

I am slowly beginning to shake off my winter sleepiness and start the process of gearing back up for the upcoming growing season. This evening, (the second of two low tides I've worked in the past month) I finished extracting all the moorings from the small LPA sites I've been working on for the last six years and got the first few reset with new tackle and lines in place per my new lease. To be able to spread the gear out this year, finally... I can't fully express how good I know it's going to feel!

Much of the mooring gear that I removed and replaced this month is equipment that's been installed on the site year round for six + years now. It was definitely time to replace things that had started to wear and fray, but I'm also feeling pleased at how well my systems have held up over all. It's nice to feel confident in their integrity as I get ready to reset for the year.

What six years of wear and tear on mooring hardware looks like!

It's been an exceptionally cold and icy winter in Maine this year, perhaps the heaviest sea ice I've seen in the river and bay since I began growing oysters. All that ice building up and then moving around as the tides come and go can do a lot of damage to gear that isn't strong enough to withstand it. I anxiously worried about the farm this year, and checked on it obsessively on my weekly harvest runs, but am relieved and thankful to report that all remained put, oysters and moorings. And speaking of oysters, a quick peek at the littlest guys this evening confirmed that they were (so far) alive and well, another victory after a cold icy winter!

So, now that I have some moorings ready to take gear, I'm moving on to splicing and putting together the new sets of spreader bars and floating long lines that will get rigged between moorings to accept the gear once it's floating again. And then lots and lots of sorting and mending and prepping of gear to head back out on the water again when the time comes for it. Spring is already overwhelming and stressful as it is, so I wanted to make sure to get this extra project done ahead of time. Always (trying) to look after myself a little bit!

Old mooring gear, ready for retirement.