We want to start off by apologizing to the countless fans we’ve let down as of late. We originally intended to update this blog on a weekly basis. Clearly we weren’t able to adhere to the schedule and believe us, we tossed and turned every night thinking about it. So, what have we been up to if not creating awesome content on westrobins.com?
Since mid-October, West Robins Oyster Co. has been furiously preparing to take-on and deploy its very first crop of oyster seed. As of today, the Company has its oysters in overwintering position at the bottom of the Peconic Bay, well below the reach of any ice that may form this impending winter. After a long winter snooze and a fruitful, fast-paced early growing season, these WROC oysters will be yours in Summer ’17, on the East End and otherwise. For nearly three weeks, West Robins’ two dedicated employees worked vehemently to ensure the safe and smooth reception of their very first seed order. We’d like to treat you to an inside look at the process.
Part 1: A Gear Recipe
Before oyster delivery comes gear fabrication. To organize and maintain oysters in standardized counts, West Robins, like most oyster farms, first assembles ‘oyster bags.’ A standard across the industry, oyster bags (pictured below) are vessels for holding specific numbers of oysters. We in the business refer to these specific numbers as stocking densities. Pack oysters too closely together and they begin to compete for nutrients in the passing water, slowing growth. Spreading oysters too thinly risks underutilizing valuable dollars spent on gear. Oyster bags have a fixed, predictable shape, meaning bag volume remains constant whether it holds two hundred or two thousand oysters. Very useful when planning the configuration of growing gear!
We purchased our bags from a vendor in Rhode Island after they had a brief layover from their origin in France, where the industry is much more advanced than in the United States. The bags ship flat; transforming them from flattened sheets of plastic into square, rigid boxes is truly an exercise in adult-ified arts and crafts. Once fully assembled, the standard oyster bag appears as a rectangle 3 inches deep, 33 inches long, and 17inches wide. While our exact bag creation methods are proprietary, we can divulge a simplified recipe for your consideration this holiday season:
Combine one part virgin oyster bag, ten parts stainless steel hog rings, two parts scuffed and blistered hands, and three parts stainless steel “diaper pins.” Begin mixing, adding TV and music of choice and coffee as needed. After about eight minutes, set aside complete bag, apply duct tape to fingers where necessary, and repeat process a couple hundred more times until completion or physical exhaustion.
Please enjoy this time-lapse of an infinitesimal segment of the process. We just ask that if you apply to work with us in the future you’re on board with the uniform of white T-shirts and jeans.
Step 2: Welcoming our Babies
Thursday, November 10th, 2016 marks the fateful day on which West Robins received its first seed order. In anticipation of receiving the order, we set up our supplies at a local working waterfront, where we made a few new friends with the promise of future oysters.
Over the course of four hours, we gently corralled the oysters into their cozy new oyster bag accommodations. At the suggestion of a semi-known band we’d both just so happened to grow up listening to, we got by with a little help from our friends -- East Hampton resident James, excited by the idea of our farm, provided his services free of charge that day and eased our timeline a bit. However, with the sun slated for a 4:35pm set, we left the oysters out of the water overnight to prep for a full day of deployment. When removed from the water, oysters of any age will use their powerful adductor muscle to clamp shut, trapping whatever water (known as ‘liquor’) happens to be inside their shells. We think of this as the inverse of a human drawing a deep breath before diving into the ocean. Difference is, in cool-enough temperatures these tough SOBs can last days out of the water, not minutes. But what do you expect; they’re hard-shelled and tough, we’re squishy and soft.
Step 3: Deployment
We will save the deployment saga for another day and another recipe. In the meantime, please enjoy these photographs from out on the water, and take comfort in the fact that our babies are safely stored on the West Robins Oyster Company underwater property.
If you ask nicely, they may even eke out some late season growth before mailing it in to wake up next April. We’ll toast to that.