The location of your oyster garden is important: since oysters grow best when they are located in areas with maximum water flow around them, place your garden where tidal flow is good. Securing the garden underneath your dock will shade it, and help reduce algal growth. Throughout the winter, keep an eye on your garden to make sure it is secure. Ice flows can cut the lines to oyster gardens, while increased wind and wave energy can cause the lines to chafe. You may want to use heavy line, double up the lines, or run lines through a section of old garden hose to prevent chafing and breakage.
Every dock site is different, because of tides, currents, salinity, water depth and dock facilities. Experience will be your best guide for determining exactly how to set up a garden at your site. A few suggestions for Taylor floats and oyster cages follow.
Tie the Taylor float to your dock the way you would tie up a small skiff or dinghy. That is, make sure there is enough slack in the lines so it can rise up and down with the tide, but not so much slack that the float bangs against pilings. Banging can cause oysters to close up and stop feeding, and may damage your float. It is helpful to use two lines to tie the float between two pilings to prevent this from occurring.
Your float and oysters will not be hurt if the water freezes around them in the wintertime. Oysters will die if they freeze in air, but not if they freeze in water. For this reason it is essential that your float is not exposed to air by extremely low tides or storms. Consider moving your float to a deeper area on your dock for the winter or even to a neighbor's dock if necessary. If strong ice flows threaten your float, you can slice the cable ties and let the basket of oysters remain on the bottom until spring when it can be lifted and re-secured to the float frame.
Oyster cages are usually hung horizontally to give the oysters plenty of room and to maximize their growth rates. They should be tied off so the oysters sit about one foot below the surface of the water at low tide. Remember that your cages are one foot deep, and the oysters sit at the bottom of them. The top of the cage may be exposed during low tides. The objective is to keep cages as high up in the water column as possible (where the supply of plankton and oxygen is plentiful), without risking exposure to freezing air temperatures.
In wintertime, we strongly recommended that you lower your cages to just above the bay bottom to ensure that they are never exposed to freezing air temperatures during extreme low tides or storms. Oysters exposed to freezing air temperatures will die, but they are fine in water, even if they are completely encased in ice. For this reason it is essential that oysters remain underwater whenever there is a chance of freezing air temperatures.You may want to consider moving your cages to a deeper area of your dock or even to a neighbor's dock for the winter if there is any chance of the water depth at your dock falling below the one-foot level. During the warmer months, you can raise your cages up closer to the water surface. Oysters will benefit from drying out a bit when exposed to air during the occasional extremely-low tides once all risk of freezing has passed (see Care and Maintenance of Oyster Garden). Just make sure they are not exposed to hot, direct sunlight for longer than three or four hours.
Cages can be secured to the dock in any number of ways. Each cage can be suspended between two pilings or hung by tying a line around a plank on your dock. Some gardeners drill small holes through four dock planks and thread one cage line through each hole. Knots can be tied in the top ends of the lines so they can't fall back down through the holes. Your securing system will depend on your dock site. The important point here is to make sure the cages do not bang against pilings - banging can cause oysters to close up and stop feeding.
This page was last modified October 17, 2012
The Oyster Gardening Program is a cooperative effort of the Oyster Alliance
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