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August is a frenzy and a blur on an oyster farm no matter how prepared you are for it. During the weeks of this month, when I'm not prepping for the biggest harvests of the year (it's peak market season!) I'm bouncing between a couple different but equally important summer farm tasks.

Early morning commute to the farm

The first of the big August projects is doing battle against the many fouling organisms that thrive on the gear and oysters in the heat of this time of year. The mussels, tunicates (weird slimy spongy things) and algae that cling and clump not only make the gear heavy and hard to work with, but they clog up the holes in the mesh reducing water (and food) flow to the oysters. The easiest way for me to deal with this summer slime fest is to rotate gear on and off the water, allowing my growing bags to air dry for several days on land to make sure things are good and cooked before swapping them back into the water. This winds up being a good time for this project because generally the midsized oysters (next year's harvest, last year's seed) has grown a lot and is ready to be spread out a little thinner, meaning I would be breaking into this year around this time anyways.

A boat load of slimy gear heads in to dry out.

The second focus of this month is on periodically grading and dividing this year's seed oysters into more bags as they rapidly grow and require more space. They grow SO fast in this first year -- think 3mm to up to over an inch by the fall -- that it feels like you turn your back on them for a week and suddenly they're outgrowing their gear again. Since they're young and delicate and susceptible to being stunted by neglect in this juvenile time, I try really really hard to focus on them as soon as they demand it and not a moment later. Grading and sorting them according to their size/growth rates is also important, as they always just seem to do better with those that are growing and sizing up at the same pace. Plus, doing lots of grading NOW when the oysters are smaller and easier to physically manage tends to carry through unto the next two years until reach harvest size. Since I farm in a really minimal way, without the use of a big powered tumbling and grading machine like other farmers rely on, this early grading is especially important.

Where the babies were at at the beginning of the month.

It feels crazy to even think, but once these big August projects are behind me, it will be September and time to start thinking about preparing for another winter....

150k 3mm baby oysters, plus nursery boxes and tools head out to the farm for seed day!

This week is my favorite week, every year. It's not always the same exact week, but sometime around the end of May/beginning of June I start to anticipate the call from the hatchery announcing that my oyster seed for the year is ready.

Every year I add a new batch of little tiny baby oysters into the mix to ensure a continuous supply of harvestable oysters as time rolls along, and they are just too cute not to share and celebrate every year. At 3mm, these little ones require some special gear and care to make sure that they adjust to the farm environment and water temp without undue stress. They will live and grow for the first month or two inside special nursery boxes with fine mesh to make sure they stay contained and secure and safe from predators. Once big enough to be graduated into the smallest mesh size bag I have, they will get upgraded, and boy are they fun to watch grow!

I'm seeding about 50% more this year than I have the past two years, so I'm also trying to anticipate and stay ahead of the increased gear needs that these little guys will start to quickly demand from me. This means making sure that all the other oysters on the farm are efficiently stocked, and buying and building more mesh bags when I can find the shoreside time for it. If there's any one thing I've been consistent about over the past six years of doing this work, it's been drastically underestimating my gear and space needs! Hopefully this year I can prove to myself that I have finally learned how to properly project those needs forward and prepare for them.

There's been lots of other upkeep happening as well, tending to fouling on the bags that have been deployed since April with rounds of air drying, and lots and lots of culling through the bigger oysters to meet the increased demand of my new farmer's market schedule this year. The season has been a whirlwind so far, but an especially rewarding one! My systems are coming together nicely, the weather has been slow to warm up but nice for working in spite of the temperature.

2022 oyster babies, day 1 on the farm

2021 oysters babies, exactly 1 year on the farm!

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!

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