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oyster farm
View of the farm at sunset as I completed the second day of farm sinkinging. The gear remaining in this picture is either empty and waiting to hitch a ride back to the yard or full of oysters that will go to market over the next couple months.

It's that bittersweet, transitional time of year here on Casco Bay. Winter is in the air, the water temperature is dropping steadily, and I am working hard to get the farm ready for the snow and ice and winter storms that will inevitably find us at some point.

After I finish all the culling and consolidating of fall discussed in last month's log, all the many bags of oysters that are full of seed or still too small to go to market can be sunk to the bottom of the bay for safe keeping for the winter. This a relatively simple task if the wind and tides and weather align for me... much harder if not! But I lucked out this year and was able to

It takes about three completely full-to-the-rails boat loads to get all the floatation and extra gear ashore after sinking days!

accomplish all the sinking in two mild, low tide afternoons. It has been a little unseasonably warm lately, and some oyster farmers would probably tell you it was too early to be thinking about sinking, but I have found that with my site being as shallow as it is and having areas of bottom that are nice and firm (which prevents the bags from getting buried in silt), that I can get away with it so long as I don't stock the bags too full of overwintering oysters. This means they can continue to feed comfortably on the bottom until they fully go dormant, and won't compete for food or smother each other. The shallow nature of my site also means that I'm not shocking them to any great degree with a big change in water temperature or food availability, as you would have when overwintering in deeper water. Plus, in typical Maine fashion, next week's weather has snow and freezing nights in the forecast so we'll be on that winter train soon enough! Additionally, during the planning process of picking times for sinking, while studying the tide charts I realized that it was either this tide window

extra gear stacked in the yard waiting for it's day with the pressure washer

at the end of October, or I'd be waiting all the way into December which means a lot less daylight, more time for gear to get overgrown with fouling again, and a increased potential for storms to do damage, on top of the possibility that the weather will just not be workable when that later tide window rolls around. It can be really hard to make these timing decisions with so many factors and possibilities swirling around, but at this point I've done this particular project enough times, had successes and failures and been able to figure out the whys of both, that I feel good and don't worry (too much!) about how things will fare through the next cold months.

And now I'm on to clean up! Big summer buoys will get swapped out with smaller winter ones, extra gear and floats will get pressure washed and stacked on their rack in the yard for safe keeping. Hundreds of feet of long lines will get washed and coiled and hung until the spring when it will all make it's way back out again.

As September wraps up things are busy as ever! There's lots of moving parts on the farm

Mountains of oysters have been cycled into clean, bigger mesh gear or bottom cages this month.

this time of year. Many of the projects and chores I talked about last month are ongoing, and as the days get a little shorter and the nights cooler, the water temperature has started its slow march down from the comfy summertime temps to cooler realms, which means it's time to start thinking about and planning for winter too.

As the water cools off the oysters will start to show signs of slowed shell growth, as they focus on feeding to bulk up their energy reserves for the coming chill and hibernation of deep winter instead of growth or redroduction. This means the return of those big, beautiful, plump and sweet colder water oysters that we all love so much. It also means that I've started the process of doing a big fall cull to sort out everything that is big enough to harvested over the winter. I like to do this now, to be able to put all those marketable oysters together so that my winter harvests can be nice and easy.

More bottom cages full of oysters headed out for deployment.

I've also been spending a good amount of time lately building some new bottom cages to build out the portion of my lease slated for this kind of gear. Bottom cages are a newer addition to my farming practices and one that I'm pretty excited about. Not only is this gear type great for winter, as it's a bit more protected from the wind storms and passing ice that we see, but it also have found them to provide a nice sort of "finishing off" for some of the oysters that I grow. Proximity to the bottom, access to different food sources and slightly colder average water temps seem to help with the development of a nice hard and hefty shell, which is often a nicer shell to shuck. Since the exact size and type of cage that works best for my boat and operation doesn't really exist as a product (often the case when you're a small-scale operator like me with a smaller boat and limited heavy lifting equipment), I've been building my own cages as I have the money to buy the supplies with. This has not been a fast way achieve this part of my lease build out, but at least I'm getting the end product that I want!

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).

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