Frequently Asked Questions
Can you give me a quick over view of how the Oyster
Gardening Program works?
Oysters are the Chesapeake Bay’s best natural filters. They also provide essential
habitat for fish and other Bay creatures. Unfortunately, though, today’s oyster population
is estimated at only 2% of its original level. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Oyster
Gardening Program gives people the opportunity to help bring back this vital species by
growing oysters alongside their docks. Once grown, the adult oysters are returned to the
Chesapeake Bay Foundation for planting on sanctuary reefs.
Gardeners attend a 3-hour workshop where they build a float or several cages in
which to grow oysters. When you leave the workshop, you will have everything you need
to grow oysters, including about 2,000 spat (baby oysters). You then tend these oysters
for about nine months. Keeping oysters in floats or cages allows them maximum
exposure to oxygen and plankton, which means they will grow faster than they would in
their natural habitat on the Bay bottom. These big, nine-month-old oysters have a greater
chance of surviving once they are planted on sanctuary reefs than they would if we
simply took them right from the hatchery and planted them.
After nine months of growing your oysters, you return them to the Chesapeake
Bay Foundation for planting on sanctuary oyster reefs. Ideally, you will return them in
May or June, and your float or cages can be hauled out of the water for the summer. In
September, you stop by another workshop, pick up you new spat, and continue growing
oysters for the next year.
What type of dock and water conditions do I need to grow
You must have access to water with a salinity of at least 3 parts per thousand year
round for your oysters to thrive. Most places in the Bay meet this requirement, but there
are ‘boundaries’ beyond which you can not grow them. The ‘boundaries’ are as follows:
you can not grow oysters
-north of the Patapsco River;
-above Round Bay on the Severn River (that is, northwest of, or upstream of,
-above Brown’s Creek on the Chester River;
-above the Route 301 Bridge on the Potomac River.
Your site must also have a minimum water depth of one foot, even during
extreme conditions. This is because oysters will die if they freeze out of the water (they
will not die if they freeze in the water). If winter tides and winds combine to push the
water in your creek below the one-foot level, your oysters will die.
You can tie your float or cages to a dock, pier, bulkhead or pilings.
Oysters can be grown at a marina, community dock, vacation home, friend’s
house, etc., on the Chesapeake as long as you make sure you tend them regularly. This
includes keeping an eye on them all winter long. (See, “How much time can I expect to
spend tending my oysters?”).
How much time can I expect to spend tending my oysters, and
what other commitments are involved?
Oyster floats and cages need to be kept clean. When the weather is warm (May
through September), you can expect to clean your oysters at least once every two weeks.
Each cleaning takes about two hours. Whenever oysters are feeding (about April through
November), you should shake or tumble them every few days to dislodge any sediment
and pseudofeces. This takes only a few minutes. During the winter months, you should
keep an eye on your float to make sure ice flows and severe weather does not damage it.
And… YOU HAVE TO BRING BACK YOUR OYSTERS!!!
C.B.F. will set up dates and locations where you can bring in your old oysters and
pick up new oyster spat for the next year. We want to make sure your adult oysters are
among those living, filtering and reproducing on sanctuary oyster reefs, so please bring
them back to us.
Where will my oysters end up once I return them to the
Chesapeake Bay Foundation?
C.B.F. will plant your oysters on sanctuary reefs in the Chesapeake Bay. We have
to be very careful about moving oysters around the Bay, because moving them can spread
oyster diseases. We generally put oysters onto reefs on or near the river in which they are
grown. Oysters can be moved from fresher water to saltier water without risk of
spreading diseas; they can not be moved from saltier water to fresher water.
Can I eat the oysters I grow?
The Maryland Department of the Environment recommends against eating oysters
grown from private piers for health reasons. C.B.F. suggests all oyster gardeners follow
How can I get started in oyster gardening?
Come to one of the Oyster Gardening Workshops scheduled each year in August
and September. (In 2000, we are also holding one on November 4. See ‘Oyster
Gardening Workshops’ on previous page for dates and locations).
Why do you only offer Oyster Gardening Workshops in the
Oyster seed, called spat, is only available seasonally due to the oyster’s natural