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Oysters in Your Backyard

“I now have a bat house, a duck house, and essentially an oyster house.” -My dad, after we finished putting the oysters in off our dock.

After about 20 years of living on the Eastern Shore, my dad has grown a fondness for the wildlife in the area. In October I wrote an article titled, “Bats in Your Backyard,” in which I interviewed my dad on how and why he built a bat house in our backyard. Now, he is proud to share his experience with growing oysters in his backyard.

“On a very micro level I feel like I’m doing my part to help clean the Bay. If everyone did it, it would be impactful,” my dad told me when I asked him why he wanted to raise oysters. He also told me that after growing the first generation of oysters he really noticed a difference in the water quality around our dock. He said that he noticeably started catching more fish and crabs while the oysters were growing. 

About five years ago, my dad was at the farmers market in Easton and met Jon from Johnny’s Oyster Seed. Jon had a display of Chesapeake Bay water without an oyster in it and then a jar with an oyster of almost clear water that said “Just two years later.” This was a great way to show just how well oysters filter water. This intrigued my dad. After talking to Jon, who was selling spat and oyster gardening cages/drums – my dad was convinced and bought his first every spat! After two years of leaving the spat in the water, my dad took the immature two inch oysters and placed them on his rock rip-rap on the shoreline so they had structure to adhere to. Now, these oysters will serve as the structure for the next generation of oysters.

“Be patient,” my dad said after laughing at my question about his biggest advice for other waterfront homeowners who might be interested in raising oysters. He laughed because physically it is not difficult to “grow” oysters. Once you put the spat in the water all you can do is wait for two years until they’ve grown about two inches long and are ready to put along your shoreline. This past weekend I helped my dad prepare his second generation of oysters.

My dad had been asking me for months to try to help him figure out where to buy oyster spat so that he could grow his second generation of oysters. I texted a fellow Chesapeake Conservation Corps member who I knew has been doing work with oysters and asked where she thought I could purchase some oyster spat – she led me to University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Horn Oyster Hatchery. My dad and I made the drive all  the way out to Cambridge to visit the hatchery. After driving through huge fields, small neighborhoods, and by local seafood restaurants, we finally made our way down the long driveway to the estate. You could tell immediately upon arrival that this was a very “green” space.  The parking lot was covered by solar panels that made electricity for the multiple electric cars parked under the panels. We walked in to find what looked like a giant science experiment. There were large tanks that were all part of the Horn Point Laboratory oyster hatchery – the largest oyster hatchery on the east coast.

My dad standing outside Horn Point Oyster Hatchery.

We purchased roughly a 1,000 diploid wild spat-on-a-shell for $10.50 and went on our way. The spat are currently 2-3 weeks old and look like a little brown spot about a quarter inch big.

My dad proudly holding his new spat.

Next step, putting the oyster shells into our oyster drum.

An oyster drum is a round metal cage the spins with the tide. By keeping them floating in the water, the spat will have maximum exposure to oxygen and plankton and the cage helps protect the oysters from predators. My dad had the drum from raising oysters a couple years ago through Johnny Oyster Seed. You can purchase oyster cages or drums online through oyster farming sites.

Our next step was placing the oyster drum in the water off of our dock and securing it.

And now all we do is wait!

If you’re interesting in growing your own oysters, check out University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Oyster Hatchery

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Lucy Heller Communications and Maryland Outreach Coordinator, Maryland & DC Office

Lucy is the Communications and Maryland Outreach Coordinator in the Annapolis office. She assists with daily communications work and coordinates Maryland outreach events.

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