Eighteen years ago today Shel and I were married in our flower-filled garden in Carmel-by the Sea, and when we were, neither of us ever imagined becoming oyster farmers. That’s 18 years, in case you were ensnared by the lure of oysters and failed to notice that 18 years of love, patience, and medical miracles is the real point of it all.
Still, though, this really is about oysters. That’s 500 baby oysters you’re looking at there, each one no bigger than your thumbnail, if you have short nails.
And also 250 baby mussels. I like oysters a lot, but I’ll be counting on my friends to help eat 500 of them. But 250 mussels, I’m pretty sure that I can polish those off all by myself. Of course, they won’t be ready to eat for a couple of years, but I can wait.
Oyster micro-farming begins with rebar. But no, really, in our case it begins with the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, an estimable organization that works to promote the health of our waters and the restoration of native species. They have a shellfish gardening program here, and now that we have a beach on which to garden, we signed up for the annual sale of little creatures and the gear needed to raise them. Starting with rebar.
Shel and our friend Kyler had to work hard to pound the rebar into our gravelly beach. A beach so gravelly that it makes noise when the waves are sucked out over it. A beach so gravelly that even a young, strong guy like Kyler had to pound the crap out of the rebar to get it to stay in place.
Shel, no longer a major pounder, got the opportunity to look supervisorial and sort of Biblical, while Kyler did the heavy lifting.
Meanwhile, our neighbors put out to sea, perhaps to avoid the racket of all that pounding.
Mussels first. Into the tumbler they went. You have to put them in something that will protect them from predators and too much crashing about, and this tumbler is it. There are supposed to be 250 mussels on that one string, not that I counted them.
The tumbler gets tightly closed with zip ties. It all seemed a bit makeshift, and I have to admit that I started to worry about my dinner a couple of years down the line.
But here it is at last, the zip tied tumbler, held fast by rebar and a concrete block for good measure, right about the zero tide mark. You can’t set them out where it’s too deep, because you have to check on them, and turn the oysters once a month, and eventually, with luck, harvest them.
The oysters go into a plastic mesh bag, 250 little babies per bag.
Shel still remembers his sailor’s knots, and ties the line, that will be zip tied to the oyster bags, onto the rebar. Later the crook of this rebar will get painted Day Glow orange, because some beach erosion researchers who are frequently near shore in a small boat suggested that we make it easy for them to avoid crashing into our little installation, thus ending our burgeoning career as oyster farmers.
Shel sets the oyster bags on the beach just as the tide turns and begins coming in to nourish them. It’s a nervous moment for us. Will all the ties and knots hold? Will the rebar stay put? I can’t wait to find out.
But with the tides, as with marriage, sometimes you have to wait a long time to know whether things will last. The morning after we became oyster farmers we watched the tide go down, drop by drop, hoping to catch sight of our little farm, still intact. First the mussel tumbler emerged, askew, having lost one of its ties overnight, a little scary but easily remedied. Then, slowly, the oyster bags revealed themselves to be still there, holding tight.
Just like Shel and me. Sucked under and spat out again by the many tides of those 18 years, holding on for dear life, looking forward to living and growing together, right here on the edge of our little shellfish garden by the sea.