If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you know that we’ve been growing our own oysters in a floating cage off of our dock on Virginia’s Northern Neck. We started off with 300 quarter-size oysters, placed in a mesh bag, within the cage, last July.
The oysters grew to be large enough to float freely in the cage, and eventually large enough to eat. We cooked the first batch just before Labor Day Weekend this year, opting to bake the first batch (the shells open on their own in the heat). We’ve since learned how to shuck, though!
We lost a few oysters to predation- mostly crabs- and with the number that have been consumed, we likely have about 200 left in the cage. Hopefully we’ll be getting some more ‘oyster babies’ soon and starting the process over again.
In a previous post I mentioned that I had started an oyster garden in early July. The oysters were purchased from a party that grows oysters from seed (from the hatchery) until the animals reach roughly the size of a quarter. I got a bag of 300 of these quarter-size oysters, and put them in a sealed mesh bag that I placed inside of an oyster float. In the two months since I started the garden, the oysters have grown about an inch. Some oysters are larger than others. Because a few were still not big enough to be placed directly into the float, all of the oysters were kept in the mesh bag, where they will continue to grow for a few more weeks.
When the float was brought up for cleaning most recently, there were three blue crabs that had to be removed. Blue crabs prey on the oysters and in fact, 14 from my batch had been pried open and left for dead, presumably by crabs (oysters pictured below).
The oysters will go dormant and stop growing in the winter months, as the water temperatures fall. The oysters need to grow at least another inch- until they reach 3 inches- to be edible, likely around late next summer or early fall. For now, they are doing their part to filer water in the creek and improve water quality.
Early last month I started growing oysters off of the dock at the house on Antipoison Creek. The oysters came out as seed from Oyster Seed Holdings, LLC, a hatchery on Gwynn’s Island, Virginia, and were raised by a third party, Oyster Mama’s Bay-Bies, until they reached the size of a quarter. I have 300 oysters growing in a bag inside of an oyster float off of the dock. The oysters will stay in the bag until they grow big enough to float in the cage by themselves.
Oyster gardening is pretty low maintenance. The cage and bag need to come out of the water every week or two to be cleaned. The cage needs to be checked just as often to make sure no predators, like blue crabs, are inside, eating the oysters.
The oysters will go dormant over the late fall and winter as the water temperatures drop. This batch will be ready for eating hopefully by early next fall, when they grow to be at least 3 inches long. (I have triploid oysters, which usually reach maturity in 18 to 24 months.) Until then, the oysters are doing their part to clean the Chesapeake Bay- each one filters up to 50 gallons of water a day!