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Baby It’s Cold Outside! December Farm Update

Nature fully dictates the rhythm of an oyster’s biology.

As oyster farmers, it’s our responsibility to harness these kinetic changes to make the most perfect oyster possible. And as New Englanders, we have to work within the extreme swing of the seasonal pendulum. We harvest 52 weeks a year at Island Creek; enduring sideways rain, peeling zinc-stained sunburns, and the misery of winter when it’s so cold, we have to melt the ice off of our gloves with BLOWTORCHES. And you thought we just sat around drinking margaritas on boats all day…

As I write this, we are staring down the barrel of winter. The temperature is dropping and daylight is a rare commodity. The farm crew is forced to be innovative to stay warm while the count and bag up oysters for the holidays.

Ever wonder what happens to oysters – and oyster farmers – in the dead of winter? 

OYSTERS

Oysters change physiologically with the seasons, which is why there can be subtle changes in your oyster-eating experience throughout the year.

They spend their summer feasting themselves on the abundance of algae that flourish in the warmer water. Then in the fall, oysters begin to convert that algae into glycogen – or fat – which will keep them warm and help them survive the ensuing winter months.

At last, when winter arrives, our oysters have stored up enough fat during the summer and fall that they are now ready to HIBERNATE. Yes, you read that correctly – OYSTERS HIBERNATE.

When the water temps reach below a certain threshold, oysters will hibernate and almost completely shut down – they don’t pump water, they don’t eat, their heart barely beats, they don’t repair their shells. At this point, we actually can remove our seed from the bay and “pit” them/ store them in Skip’s basement (no joke), where they can hibernate happily out of the water until springtime. We do this to minimize crop loss which can be high in the winter due to storms, temperatures, and ice. The oysters will stay in this state until spring when the waters start to warm up and they begin the whole cycle again.

OYSTER FARMERS

Much like their oyster babies, oyster farmers have to prepare for the long winter to survive too. Here are some ways our crew stays warm during the Long Dark:

-Donning full ski masks like a bunch of boat-hijacking burglars

-Flannel and fleece-lined EVERYTHING

-Wearing at least 4 layers of clothing

-Hand warmers in pockets at all times

-lighting bonfires in oil drums at Saquish while they harvest Aunt Dotty’s

-Finishing your day with a fat cigar and a cold beer

PRO TIP:

If you stick your arms straight down and shrug your shoulders , it forces blood to your finger tips, keeping you nice n’ toasty!

Stay warm out there this holiday season! And when the wind really starts to rip across the bay, think of your oyster farmers and send them some warm thoughts.