time: 2 pm
air temp: 94 F
water temp: 71 F
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,
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.
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!