I never would have suspected that the bottom of our dogwood tree would the site of a turtle nest. It is actually a high traffic area for the kids so I’m not sure when a female would have found the time to dig a nest and lay her eggs. Nevertheless, life somehow found a way.
My son was the first to notice a small hatching, crawl out of the soft dirt. Behind it, the earth seemed to start to crack and cave, as others behind it began to stir. There were remnants of leathery egg shells and tracks out of the hole. I was amazed at how mobile these little guys were right out of the gate. My suspicion is that they are Eastern Box Turtles however I will need to investigate closer. The kids got a huge kick out of it, and they were mostly amazed that the eggs were here the whole time. The nest must have been deep enough for the soil to blunt the impact, because this was a heavily trodded area. It was an inspiring thing to see.
After almost 2 years of growing, my son and I were excited to harvest our first bag of Chesapeake Bay (Eastern/Virginian) oysters. It has been several months since our last check on the float, we found the whole thing was actually submerged due to the weight of the now much heftier oysters. This was really not an issue, as the oysters were protected in a cage. When we initially placed these guys in their cage, they were called “spat” not much larger than big sunflower seeds. After 2 years of filtering the brackish waters of the bay, several of these guys were actually larger than 4 inches! This was our first growth cycle, and it has certainly been an interesting and fun experience.
While we sat around the grill preparing a feast, we reflected on what we have learned:
Raising oysters is very easy. If you have a sturdy oyster float, and access to the water, you can raise oysters. They really don’t require much. They simply need to be upsized into bigger bags and cages and they grow. This is usually done every several months. If you also want to keep them separated and growing beautifully, shake and jostle them around in the bags so that they don’t grow to one another. This will also cut down on barnacle growth. Hosing them down every once in a while, will also keep algae off and keep them in better shape for harvesting and bringing to the table.
The spat is not expensive: $35 can buy you a bag of 1000 oyster spat.
1 oyster can filter 50 gallons of water in one day. This is why they are essential animals in the battle of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.
The “R” rule doesn’t necessarily pertain to these types of oysters (triploid, sterile) . Seafood enthusiasts have always followed the “R” rule when it came to eating wild caught (diploid) oysters: “Eat wild caught oysters only during the months with the letter “R” in it.” There are two reasons for this rule.
Food safety: eating raw shellfish, always carries the risk of food borne illness from bacteria such as vibriosis (caused by the bacteria vibrio vulnificus). The risk of contracting this illness is higher during the summer months when the water is warmer. The reality is that this illness can be contracted from eating raw shellfish during ANY time of the year. It is more prevalent during the warmer weather however due to more favorable conditions for the bacteria to proliferate. Properly cooking your oysters can virtually eliminate the risk of catching this infection. The CDC estimates that approximately 80,000 people get vibrio infections each year and 100 people die from it each year in the United States. I always eat my oysters cooked.
Taste: Wild oysters are diploid organisms, meaning they carry a set of chromosomes from each parent. Farm raised oysters for the most part have been selected and altered to be triploid, meaning they actually carry an extra set of chromosomes. These oysters are sterile and do not reproduce. During the warm summer months is when wild oysters are active in the reproduction cycle. During this time, the oysters under go physiologic changes which alters their taste. They are more watery, bitter and just not tasty. Many of the restaurants that serve oysters year round, serve farm raised, triploid oysters. Triploid oysters grow faster because they do not go through the reproductive cycle. All o their energy is put towards getting larger. They grow to bigger sizes and they maintain their taste throughout the year.
Oysters are highly nutritious!
Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) nutrition facts per 3.5 oz serving. (Approx 3 oysters)
Protein: 9 grams.
Carbs: 4 grams.
Fat: 3 grams.
Zinc: 555% of the Daily Value (DV)
Vitamin B12: 538% of the DV.
Copper: 493% of the DV.
Selenium: 56% of the DV.
7. Be safe when shucking oysters. Wear proper gloves when handling the cages and the oysters as their shells can be razor sharp.
November 13, 2021: It looked like peak fall time in Virginia. The hardwoods were showering leaves and the nights were certainly approaching freezing temperatures. My son and my brother were convinced this was one of the last weekends for a good campout. We decided to go back to my father’s land on the Chesapeake Bay. It was also time for us to upsize the oyster bag on our small oyster farm project that we started back in June 2021, so we decided to make a fall campout trip out of it.
We arrived late in the day around 5:30pm and it was already dark, we set up our tent and made a large fire to keep us warm. The winds were fierce and the gusts fueled the fire to roaring heights. It would dip to 34 degrees F that night but our spirits were high and we were dressed properly. My son was eager to sleep in the tent, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
In the morning, we trekked out on to the dock to check our oyster farm. We started with 1000 tiny oysters (spat) in mesh bags, and it has been approximately 1 year since we started raising them. Every 6 months, the oysters would need to have their bags upsized so they can grow properly. We were amazed to see how quickly they have grown. Most of them appeared to be larger than the 2.5 inches which is typical table size for serving.
The eventual goal is to hopefully repopulate the oyster population surrounding our waters. Oysters serve as filter feeders for the Chesapeake Bay and their ability to filter the water and promote growth for plants, fish and crabs, have made it one of the most important players in the restoration and maintenance of the bay. For now, it’s time for a feast, and time to up our oyster farm game! Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and get your boosters!
The Frazier Discovery trail is a 1.3 mile circuit hike on Loft Mountain in Shenandoah National Park, notable for several great overlooks. With an elevation gain of 462 ft, it is labeled as one of the easier trails in the park, we found it perfect for our small hikers (4 and 2 years old). Located at milepost 79.5, it is closest to enter from the Southern end of the park at Rockfish Gap (approx 20 miles). There are several overlooks on your way to the trail head, so take your time getting there.
We parked at the Loft Mountain Wayside Camp store and information center and crossed the road (skyline drive) to begin our hike. Hiking on a Tuesday, we were fortunate enough to have the mountain to ourselves. It appeared that the leaves were changing colors slightly later than normal. I find that peak fall color in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountain region is last week of October and early November.
The trail is well marked, and frequently traveled. There are plenty of rocks so hiking boots are definitely recommended. Unlike several other trails through Shenandoah National Park, there was no stream or river bed on this hike….But the views were killer. Have fun out there, and be safe.
A cloudy and muggy, Saturday kept us mostly indoors. The kids were both with stuffy, and runny noses. A mild cold was here to stay for the next few days.
I told my son that during these times, the perfect remedy was something we could easily concoct in our backyard…pine needle tea.
eastern white pine needles (about half a handful)
A very simple brew that can be made on virtually any canoe trip, pine needle tea has so much to offer. It is loaded with vitamin c and A as well as anti-oxidative properties. While it can be made with several different types of pine trees, I think the classic pine needle tea is usually with eastern white pine. This tree can be easily identified from yellow pine by the fact that the needle clusters grow in clumps of five. A good way to remember this is that the letter “W” for white, has 5 points in it. (A pretty useful mneumonic). *whenever you are consuming plants or trees outside, please make sure you know exactly how to identify the species you are dealing with. There are several types of conifers, such as yew that is not suitable for consumption. Also, pine needle tree should not be consumed that anyone bearing children.
Once you have identified the proper needles, you can wash them to get off any dirt or bugs. You can cut the needles into smaller pieces or leave them whole. I generally do not boil the needles. I heat the water to the point before boiling as to slow the steeping process and not to release too much bitter tannins. The younger pine needles (lighter in color) are generally a little sweeter, although with less ascorbic acid (vitamin C). The darker, older needles contain more vitamin C but are more bitter. I generally let the tea steep for about 15 minutes. You can mix in a little honey or milk if you wish. In no time at all, you’ve got a warm, healing drink from your backyard that should help you get over your cold.
While we are no longer worried about vitamin C deficiency and scurvy in this part of the world, this trusty and simple pine needle tea recipe will hopefully serve you well.
Have fun everyone!
*Be careful once again when identifying trees and plants of all kind!
In 1608, John Smith described the Chesapeake Bay as a bountiful body of water in his journals: “a country that may have the prerogative over the most pleasant places known, for large and pleasant navigable rivers, heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitation“. The water seemed full to the brim with white salmon (rockfish aka stripped bass), bluecrabs, porpoises, and of course the oyster. He described the large beds of “oysters that lay as thick as stones”. The oyster population was so abundant that the oyster reefs neared surfaces and became navigable hazards.
In 2021, the state of the bay is certainly different. The oyster population has been decimated due to over-fishing, polution and diseases. It is estimated that in the year 2011, the oyster population in the upper Chesapeake Bay was 0.3% of the population levels of the early 1800s.
Of late, many conservation efforts have pushed towards oyster repopulation as one of the main ways to fight pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. As filter feeders, oysters are capable of filtering over 1 gallon of water an hour. As they purify the water, this allow sunlight to penetrate the water and to grow bay grasses, this in turns provide habitats for the blue crabs and fish. As such, the oyster plays a critical role in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.
I have always been interested in growing oysters and raising them. With the help of a friend of mine, we were able to get a small farm going. He has been doing this for several years and has several floats, with hundreds of oysters at different stages of life. It takes approximately 1.5 years to raise an oyster that is large enough for eating (approximately 2.5 inches). You can buy oysters as “spat”, this is the term used to call oysters larvae that are mature enough to latch onto another surface. You could typically buy 1000 of them for around 70 dollars.
There really is not much to tending to oysters. They just need water and room to grow. Every 6 months, they will need to be moved into a larger meshed bag, until eventually they are large enough to sit in an oyster cage. In the meantime, you can just hose them off occasionally and clean the cages of barnacles. My eventual goal will be to see if we re-establish a wild population once again, without cages. This is one small step though towards that direction. Long live the Chesapeake bay.
We recently settled into our new home in a part of town that we are really quite unfamiliar with. The new location certainly brings us closer to nature. Similar to our old neighborhood, there are plenty of trees and wildlife all around us. The bluebirds were the first to welcome us to the neighborhood, it appears that there may be two that nest in the wooded area behind us. There is much to explore, and the small forest has kept the kids occupied as they discover new birds, flora, lizards and mammals. A small herd of deer frequently pass through the back along the stream that meanders after a heavy rain storm. We’ve had one sighting of a red fox in our backyard, but he has yet to show himself since. As the last of the dogwood petals begin to fall, we know that the start of summer is just around the corner. We’ve been blessed with another consecutive year of a fair weathered Spring. There are many trees to plant, a workshop to set up and wood canvas canoe to restore. Hope everyone is safe and healthy.
It’s hard to believe it’s been over one year since we initially went into lockdown to blunt the COVID-19 pandemic. This winter felt especially long, and with the temperatures warming up and flowers in bloom, the ushering of Spring was extra sweet this year. With the vaccine roll-out gaining momentum in the country, hope is in the air. Be safe out there everyone.