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We are smack in the middle of the busy season. Last week was the first of it with the long drainers but this week, we’re putting seed out daily which means our crew is in overdrive.
Catie and I have been grading seed every day and every time we do, we are left with a batch of quarter-inch seed (the sub-quarters, or subs, are put back into the upwellers to grow for another day or two). The quarters, as we call them, are ready to be put out in the water in mesh bags where they’ll stay until the oysters are about the size of a half dollar (about 6-8 weeks). This week has been hectic because not only are we grading every day but we have to rely on the tides to get our bags into the water at the right time.
Every time we grade, Skip comes over, sees the tote full of quarters and says something along the lines of: “Holy cow! What are we going to do with it all?” To which Catie and I reply: “Get it out of here!” Our primary goal is to keep the seed density on the upwellers from getting out of control so the youngest seed has room to grow. That means constantly moving the bigger seed out into the water. It’s like a living puzzle where the pieces find new homes every day. And it’s just the kind of scramble my organized mind loves to tackle.
Yesterday, we had a ton of seed to get into the water so we deployed (put out into the water) about 300 bags in the back river at low tide, right around noon. The set up for putting seed in the river takes a team of people: someone to put the seed in the bag (about 1200 seeds per bag; we scoop them into bags with a measuring cup) and pipe the bag closed, someone to toss the bags into the water, and a team in the water to arrange the bags on the system lines (a set of parallel lines hooked up to buoys — we attach the bags to the lines with metal clasped rings).
Our team yesterday included myself, Maggie, and our newest member Andy Popplo (because he’s Andy 3, we call him Pops) on the boat getting bags ready. In the water, Will was the middle man (once the bags are tossed in, the tide carries them down to the rest of the team — Will was keeping them organized) and Quinn and Catie were the bag attachers. Skip was out there organizing lines. Dave Grossman came out with us for a bit and got a quick tutorial on bag tossing.
So since we’re dealing with a finite amount of time and have a certain number of very small seeds to deploy, how do we prep for our trips to the water? Part of it is knowing exactly how many bags will go out. That all depends on how much seed we have. The bags are kept up at the shop (we spent all spring power washing and organizing them). Once we know how many seeds will go out, someone runs up to shop, grabs a certain number of bags, brings them down the water in the farm truck, and puts them on the boat.
As for how many seeds are going out, since Skip’s been doing this for awhile, he can get a pretty good sense just by looking at how many quarters we have. The quarters go into totes, or black plastic boxes that hold about 60-70 liters of quarter-inch oysters. While Skip can eyeball a tote pretty accurately, he still makes sure by counting the oysters: we count out how many seeds fill up 100 ml and then multiply that by how many liters of oysters there are total (I call it oyster math). Counting full grown oysters is one thing, but baby oysters are a whole ‘nother challenge. They’re tiny and tend to stick together when they’re wet so it takes the precision of a pharmacist (you could also use the word “dealer”) to get the number just right.
As you can see, we’re trying hard not to distract Skip while he counts (but Maggie and I manage to make each other laugh no matter what we’re doing… which is probably a distraction to everyone). After his count we deployed a little bit more seed before coming in for the day. We celebrated our huge day with a late lunch at Tsang’s.
Even after sending millions of seeds out into the water, we still have plenty more to deploy and lots more grading to do. We’ll be deploying more tomorrow and hopefully some on Friday as well. Skip’s goal is to get 1,000 bags into the water by the 4th. If the weather cooperates, he may just reach his goal.
In the meantime, we got rained off the dock this afternoon. Grading in the rain is fine. But holding a metal grader while your arms are submerged in water during a lightning storm is probably a bad idea… so we quit around 4 today which means we’ll get an early start tomorrow.
For another peek at our big drainer tides last week (and for a nice little love story about Twitter), check out this blog post by the folks at How2Heroes. They’ll be posting more on their visit soon so stay tuned.