I am so humble
When my alarm clock rings I grumble.
Then I stumble outside to hear the diesel rumble.
I am so in tune
When the bay warms up marine-flora bloom
Then I assume the oysters need to be tumbled soon.
Oyster farming can keep you humble. One will grow weary in the dog days of summer, and dreary in the freezing cold of winter, crazy in the rush of springtime, and lazy after the reaping in the fall. Each season has a unique elegance; it is melodic to wake up before sunrise, and cruise out to the farm at 8 knots wearing 6 layers of clothing splicing rope with frozen fingers. As I watch my breath and wait for the caffeine to kick in I enjoy the solitude of Narragansett Bay in the winter time. Our only companions are curious harbor seals popping their heads up to say “good morning”, and the occasional whale steadily swimming to a destination undisclosed.
Our farm is designed to produce a year round crop of Quonsets, Beaver Tails, and Umami’s and in the winter time, if we are caught up on our maintenance, harvesting is as easy as the weather permits. This leaves us plenty of time, if not motivation, for projects and planning for the next year.
This winter we are building plastic mesh cages to accommodate smaller seed for a second planting in mid-summer. That time of year the water is full of plankton, algae, and other high quality food sources for the juvenile oysters to graze on. Our goal is to grow the small stuff rapidly, be able to transfer them to larger cages, and thin them out before next winter.
When it comes to farming it is important to diversify your seed source. It is a different kind of crop insurance so in case something happens to one strain of seed it will not devastate your entire farm. We have had incredible success with Fishers Island seed in years past, most likely due to Steve Malinowski’s 30 + years of experience spawning and growing oysters. He is an oyster guru! We also use seed from the coastal ponds of RI, and are planning on getting a shipment from the Chesapeake Bay watershed. All of these sources combined will ensure that we increase the capacity of our oyster farm each passing year.
The quality of market oysters is still our primary goal, and this year’s crop is looking like our best to date. Due to the steady efforts of the FV Thomas Royal and its crew, our oysters have the desirable deep cup, solid hinge, and still that rustic color that identifies them as RI’s #1 oyster. I have personally tested thousands of these oysters, and insist they are top shelf on an international level!
Thinking about and planning for the spring/summer season is bittersweet; on one hand there is so much work to do it can be overwhelming, but on the other hand we have daylight and warm weather so working is a lot easier. Being outside really makes you appreciate the four seasons for each of their virtues and tune into the natural environment that plays a huge role in the culture of oysters.
~ Mason Silkes 2016