Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your [oyster] garden grow?
Oysters are the Chesapeake Bay’s natural filter. Along with trapping food and nutrients in their gills, they also catch suspended sediments and chemicals that are in the water. Just one acre of oysters can filter over 140 million gallons of water per hour and remove 3,000 lbs of nitrogen from the bay every year — WOW.
Unfortunately, oyster populations have seen a drastic decline from their historic numbers due to over-harvesting, disease, and habitat loss. During the late 19th century there were enough oysters to filter the entire Bay in just three or four days; however, today it takes almost a year to filter.
In recent years, special measures have been taken to begin restoring the region’s oyster population. Harvesting is now managed by commissions in Virginia and Maryland to ensure sustainability, numerous oyster sanctuaries have been established, and the public is becoming more engaged.
Everyone must do their part in order to restore oysters to the Chesapeake Bay, and one of the best ways for individuals to get involved is by growing oysters from home.
How Do I Start?
If you have access to a pier or dock, you already meet the first criteria for becoming an oyster gardener!
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Oyster Gardening Program is a wonderful resource to guide you through your journey. It is required that all new oyster gardeners attend a short seminar that will teach them how to maintain their oyster garden for the coming year. At the end of the seminar, you will have the option to take home thousands of tiny baby oysters, as well as cages to grow them in.
After a year of growing and caring for your bunch, you will return the mature, adult oysters to CBF during an Oyster Round Up in May/June. The returned oysters are then taken to nearby oyster sanctuaries to help rebuild reefs, and you can start all over again!
For more information, check out CBF’s Oyster Gardening FAQ Page.
Tidewater Oyster Gardeners Association – http://www.oystergardener.org/