Category Archives: Environment

Growing Your Own Oysters: At a Glance


Oyster gardening is the practice of growing oysters using a cage, either floating or suspended, to raise oysters at your pier.

Oyster gardening is the practice of growing oysters using a cage, either floating or suspended, to raise oysters at your pier.

Five Easy Pieces

This quick look at getting started is adapted from the excellent Virginia Oyster Gardening 2013 guide, which you can download here

1. Pick your site

Your needs are simple: no silt, no strong currents, no high and dry exposure at low tide.

2. Choose a cage

It needs to keep predators out, can be handled (weight) when oysters are grown, and allows a free flow of water through it. There is a list of equipment providers below, and if you are handy, follow the steps in this DIY video:

3.  Be regulated:  Get a permit

The  Abbreviated Joint Permit Application For Noncommercial Ripariaan Shellfish Aquaculture Structures – “Oyster Gardening”  form can be downloaded here.

4. Buy Spat

A little help from a small dock winch can make anyone smile

A little help from a small dock winch can make anyone smile

Oyster seed hatcheries and vendors change from year to year, but the list here can be a start. The Tidewater Oyster Gardeners’ Association keeps an updated list, as does the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Oyster Spat

Oyster Spat

5. Set It Up, Keep It Clean, (wait 12-18 months), Enjoy or Donate

Secure your cage(s) to a piling or pier, pull them up and wash them every week or two in the summer (less in the winter), and tie them tight when storms are expected. It’s a good idea to put your name and address on your float, or if necessary pull the float out of the water and store where it is cool and dry – good for a couple of days to ride out a storm.

Oysters grow approximately 2” in length during each growing season. Oysters can be transplanted onto reef sites after just one growing season, or kept to the size desired to eat. —Oysters live for up to 10 years.

Feeling Insecure?

Find your own, personal mentor. The Master Oyster Gardeners program can be your lifeline. Download a list of “MOGs” and approach them on figurative knees. What a service. MasterOysterGardeners_2014

Oyster Gardening Resources, Company, Products, Contact Information

This list is updated to 2014 and is courtesy of the Tidewater Oyster Growers Association. Many thanks to this organization for a great website, full of helpful information

Atlantic Aquaculture Supply, Inc.
Pete Sebring
Aquaculture supplies
86 Tupelo St.
Bristol, RI 02809
FAX 401-253-3334

Capt. Jack’s Seafood Co.
Jack White
Oyster floats, oyster seed and accessories
PO Box 35
New Point, VA 23125

Capt. Tom’s Oyster Floats (2 locations, same products)
Tom Noffsinger
Taylor Floats (2 sizes), Oyster Seed/ 1000 and 500 count, oyster gardening supplies, oyster
gardening “how to” manual
Deltaville,VA  Chesapeake, VA

Chesapeake Bay Foundation Rob Brumbaugh
Oyster donations and education
Tommy Leggett
142 W. York St., Suite 318,
Norfolk, VA 23510

Chesapeake Bay Oyster Company, LLC
Doug McMinn
Oyster equipment, bags,cages,floats, seed oysters
PO Box 96
Wake, VA 23176

Circle C Oyster Ranchers Association, Inc.
Rich Pelz
Covered Taylor Floats, Floating Oyster Reefs, Maryland Oyster Seed (with equipment purchase), Commercial Products and Training for Commercial Producers
49676 Freeman’s Road, Dameron, MD 20628

Eastfield Farms
Peter Perina
Oyster flip float kit $42 [for 1000 oysters], oyster bags and cages, cable ties and hooks , shell bag, and netting by the roll or piece. As a distributor we can offer discount prices for large orders. 25 yrs experience.
PO Box
Mathews, VA 23109

J.C. Walker Brothers Tom and Wade Walker
Seed oysters and clams
Box H
Willis Wharf, VA 23486

Ward Oyster Company
John Vigliotta
Seed oysters

Ocean Products Terry Murphy
Wire mesh, pig rings, ties, synthetic rope, bungee chord
PO Box A1A
Diggs, VA 23045

Rappahannock Oyster Farm
Charlie Ransone
Oyster floats and liners
PO Box 53
Wake, VA 23176

Keith Rodgers
Oyster seed (triploid)
271 Bay Watch Ln.
Reedville,Va. 22539

Tidewater Oyster Gardeners Association
Brian Wood, President
PO Box 2463
Gloucester, VA 23061

Virginia Department of Health, Division of Shellfish Sanitation
Miller Smith
PO Box 241
White Stone, VA 22578

Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Karen Hudson Advisory services
PO Box 1346
Gloucester Point, VA 23062

Virginia Marine Resources Commission
Jim Wesson, Chip Neikirk Permits
2600 Washington Ave – 3rd Floor
Newport News, VA 23607

Jett’s Hardware
18425 Northumberland Hwy.
Cages and cage building supplies
Reedville Va. 22539

Oyster Floats by Chesapeake River Restorations
Self Cleaning Oyster Lodge oyster floats for oyster gardening.


Oyster Lore and Benefits

OysterInHandLegend has it that Captain John Smith, upon first seeing the Chesapeake Bay, described it as being so rich in marine life that all a crew member had to do was to put a skillet overboard to catch the evening’s dinner. Among the marine riches of the Bay was the American or Atlantic oyster. As recently as 100 years ago oyster reefs were so massive that they posed a hazard to ships. In fact, a Swiss writer by the name of Michel wrote in 1701:

The abundance of oysters is incredible. There are whole banks of them so that the ships must avoid them. A sloop, which was to land us at Kingscreek, struck an oyster bed, where it had to wait about two hours for the tide. They surpass those in England by far in size, indeed they are four times as large. I often cut them in two before I could put them in my mouth.

 Today, the Chesapeake is thought to support only one percent of its historic oyster population and oyster harvests are less than four percent of the harvest highs recorded as recently as the 1950s.

Hard Working Bivalves

  • A single mature oyster can filter up to 55 gallons of water per day
  • Oysters remove silt and sediment from the water and serve as a wonderful habitat for other marine species
  • When the oyster population was thriving (83 billion oysters), they could actually filter the entire Chesapeake Bay in just 3.3 days. It now takes over 700 days to do the same thing…
  • A healthy oyster population also helps other species thrive, some of which include blue crabs and rockfish, among others
  • Healthy oyster populations when combined with other plantings can make for excellent shoreline stabilizers, which helps to combat erosion

To Eat or Not to Eat

Six fried oysters weigh in at 175 calories

Six fried oysters weigh in at 175 calories

On a diet?  Six fried oysters = 175 calories. It’s hard to hold back: from 1990 to 1995 Americans ate about fifty million pounds of oysters; two BILLION pounds worldwide.

Oysters contain a whole raft of vitamins, including C, D, B1, B1, B2 and B3. In terms of valuable minerals, if you eat just four medium-size oysters every day, you’ll get the recommended daily allowances of calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc.

What’s Not to Love?

Archeologists have discovered that human consumption of oysters dates at least to  Neanderthal times. The ancient Romans prized oysters for being aphrodisiacs. The 18th-century lover Casanova, in particular, is said to have eaten fifty oysters for breakfast every morning to make him virile. Could be true: zinc is found in oysters ~ zinc deficiency is linked to impotency. Or it could have been those rare amino acids that kept him frisky. Skeptics may leave their comments below…

What About the “R” Words?

January, February, March, April, … uh oh…  September, October, November, December…

The American Indian is said to have started this warning. The meat of the oyster becomes thicker when the water temperatures cool down in the fall of the year. When oysters spawn in the warmer months they tend to become thin and not as tasty. But, thanks to aquaculture, oysters can be, and are, enjoyed twelve months of the year. Local aquaculture methods produce healthy, clean oysters by growing them up off of the bottom.

Rappahannock River Gold

“But on their own, with the most evanescent of wines, they can be delicacy itself—a lesson in the pleasure of minimalism.” Rowan Jacobsen on Rappannock River oysters in A Geography of Oysters: The Connoisseur’s Guide to Oyster Eating in North America

If you are passionate about oysters you know the name Rowan Jacobsen and his seven books on oysters. His website,, is for the connoisseur and lists the Rappahannock as a famous oyster river for centuries—the sine qua non in oyster circles. He continues

Once upon a time, the Chesapeake Bay was the Napa VOystersBayMapalley of oysters. Oysters flourished so thickly along its fractured coasts and warm waters that they presented a shipping hazard, and they grew plump and sweet—famously sweet. For two centuries the local oystermen ransacked it with the control and forethought people have always used with “inexhaustible” resources—which is to say, none. Today, there are virtually no more wild oysters to harvest. All the best Chesapeake oysters come from aquaculture operations in Virginia.


If you are interested in how the “Rapps” stack up, or desire to become a true ostreaphile, check out Chow’s graphic on the best of the best:  A Dozen Oysters You Should Know

Chesapeake Bay Dead Zones

Hypoxia (Dead Zone)

Less oxygen dissolved in the water is often referred to as a “dead zone” because most marine life either dies, or, if they are mobile such as fish, leave the area. Habitats that would normally be teeming with life become, essentially, biological deserts.  The Chesapeake Bay suffers from summer bouts of hypoxia caused when excess nitrogen and phosphorus, chiefly from fertilizer runoff and sewage plants, feed “blooms” of microscopic algae too numerous to be eaten by other creatures. The algae die and decompose in a process that hogs oxygen.

Over half of the U.S. estuaries now experience natural or human-induced hypoxic conditions at some time each year and evidence suggests that the frequency and duration of hypoxic events have increased over the last few decades.

How the dead zone forms. Courtesy of The Times Picayune, 2007

How the dead zone forms. Courtesy of The Times Picayune, 2007

Scientists expect the Chesapeake Bay to see an above-average dead zone this summer, due to the excess nitrogen that flowed into the Bay from the Potomac and Susquehanna rivers this spring.  More here…   and   here…

Harmful Algae Blooms

"Red tide" is the term to describe an algae bloom

“Red tide” is a term applied to algae bloom

Harmful algae blooms (HAB) are associated with and symptomatic of dead zone conditions. If you have observed a patch of water that is colored red or mahogany you should contact Virginia’s toll-free HAB hotline at (888) 238-6154 in order to help track and quantify the problem.

HABs can be toxic to aquatic life such as fish, oysters and crabs, and they block sunlight from reaching bay grasses growing at the bottom of the creeks and inlets. “Red Tides” can also cause skin irritation or other sickness to people who come into contact with them. Your pets are not immune: it might be a good idea to keep your dogs on the dock.

How to Shuck an Oyster

Learn from a champion. Deborah Pratt, of nearby Urbanna, is a four-time world oyster shucking champion. She shares her technique in detail in this video and talks about presentation of the finest oysters anywhere.


Deborah Pratt introduces herself at the Urbanna waterfront.


Deborah and her sister Clementine talk about their history, their families, and Walton Seafood of Urbanna. This was prepared by the Southern Foodways Alliance as part of the oral history project.

Letter from DCEPA on Oyster Gardening

Dear Dymer Creek Residents:

The Dymer Creek Environmental Preservation Association is encouraging all creek residents to apply for oyster gardening permits.  The permit is free and authorizes you to use the waters near your property to grow oysters for your own use, but it does not allow you to sell these oysters commercially. Growing oysters will improve the water quality of the creek because oysters filter particles out of the water…one adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day! This filtering process clarifies the creek water which promotes underwater vegetation growth essential for a healthy habitat for finfish, shellfish, and other aquatic animals.

Oyster gardening can be easily done by planting baby oysters (“spat” or “seed”) on floating platforms, in bags, or in cages near your shoreline or attached to your dock.  Equipment and “starter” oysters are all locally available. If you intend to eat your oysters, it is recommended to buy sterile (triploid) spat because these oysters grow faster and are better quality. If you intend to grow oysters specifically to cleanse the creek, it is advised to use fertile (diploid) spat because you can place the adult oysters on your bank or near your pier, and they will continue to spawn and populate the area with young fertile oysters. Please be advised that some areas of our creek have been designated as “contaminated” so any oysters you intend to consume from your oyster garden should be cooked before eating.

Another benefit of being an oyster gardening permit holder is that you are registered with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), which shows that you care about the quality of the water adjacent to your property. Recording the locations of oyster gardens makes it possible for the VMRC to get a better estimate of how many oysters are in State waters and their impact on water quality. This will be important to the VMRC when they are asked to consider permits for activities on our creek.  Oyster gardening permits all around our creek may help us defeat other projects like the proposed boat ramp on Simmons Cove.

The most helpful website on oyster gardening is:  On this site, you will find the Virginia Oyster Gardening Guide, which gives a comprehensive explanation of the benefits of oyster gardening with detailed instructions about the mechanics and costs of starting your own oyster garden. You will also find the Oyster Gardening Permit (General Permit #3 or “The Abbreviated Joint Permit Application for Noncommercial Riparian Shellfish Aquaculture Structures”) which you can complete and mail to the VMRC at no cost. Questions about this application can be directed to the VMRC Engineering/Surveying Department at 757-247-2225.

If you own 205 linear feet or more of shoreline, you may qualify for a riparian oyster ground lease. Information related to applying for this type of lease may be obtained from the VMRC Engineering/Surveying Department at 757-247-2225. Once established, this lease allows you to own the oyster planting ground adjacent to your property. This planting ground becomes part of your deed and can be passed on at the sale or inheritance of your property.  The application fee is $25, and the processing and surveying fees may add up to over $700.

Please let the DCEPA know if you have submitted an application for an oyster gardening permit. This information will help us in our efforts to improve the water quality of Dymer Creek.

Wendy Smith

If you have questions, please contact
Dave Herndon            or          Wendy Smith
804-761-0409                           703-209-8068