That sinking feeling

Kevin’s been spending time in rehab.

Not that kind of rehab. Oyster tray rehab.

From the time our oysters are a little under two inches long until we sell them, they live in three-by-four foot trays. Each tray is made out of pvc-coated one-inch wire mesh.

There are several variables in the trays, and you don’t really figure out the pros and cons of the choices you make until you use them. Do you want a lip on the top edge? It’ll help keep the oysters from piling in the corners and spilling out of the tray, but it also makes dumping the tray much more cumbersome. Do you want a wire mesh tray liner? It’s heavier and more expensive than the vinyl alternative, but oysters are less likely to work their way underneath. We know people who’ve been growing oysters for decades, and still fine-tune their trays every time they order a new batch.

The biggest tray challenge – for us, at least – isn’t the body. It’s the legs. Because it’s the legs, you see, that stand between your oysters and the sea floor. And, no matter what you do, the oysters and the sea floor creep closer and closer to each other. The tray is heavy, and tends to sink. But the ground moves, too, as silt collects underneath the trays. It’s a diabolical problem, because keeping water flowing under the trays is important. Oysters eat what’s in the water, and the more water flows around them, the better their meals.

Because we’re such a small operation, we have only about 350 trays. And more than half of them were originally equipped with a type of leg we grew not to like – a length of PVC pipe in each corner, with a hole drilled through so we could zip-tie them in.

Not only do the PVC legs tend to sink quickly, they can sometimes make it difficult to pick up the tray. If it has sunk at all, the ground holds tenaciously to the leg, and the zip tie sometimes breaks, leaving the leg behind. It’s a sub-optimal system.

The rest of our trays have legs made out of the same kind of wire mesh the tray itself is made of – three of them, running parallel to the short side of the tray. To picture it, imagine a piece of wire mesh that’s 30 inches by eight. It gets folded into three sides of a 30-inch rectangle that’s three inches by two, and then attached to the bottom of the tray.

Got that? What it means is that the tray contacts the ground in three strips of 30×2 inch mesh. Those trays seem to sink less.

Which is why Kevin’s in rehab. He’s going to take 150 trays, and give them new legs.

He had the legs made by the local company that supplies a lot of the farmers and fishermen around here – Ketcham Traps. They have mesh and rope and bags in every conceivable size and material, and a shop to fabricate pretty much any thing you want.

Because we don’t care about color, we told Myron, who runs day-to-day operations at Ketcham, that we’d take whatever he had on hand. So our sober black trays will have bright green legs with bright blue end pieces. The trays get attached to the legs with hog rings.

Many of you probably know what hog rings are but, since I didn’t until Kevin showed me, I’ll explain them. They are little pieces of wire, shaped in an elongated C about an inch long. They’re designed to connect things or to close things, and you put the wire around the thing you’re going to connect or close, and then cinch it around whatever that is, using special tool called a crimper, designed for the purpose.

Kevin has been tackling about 20 trays a day. Each tray has three legs. Each leg is attached with twelve hog rings. You do the math.

If you’re not inclined to do the math – and, let’s face it, some of us aren’t – I’ll do it for you. That’s 720 hog rings a day. Fortunately, he’s not doing them by hand. I never thought I’d live in a household that owned a pneumatic hog ringer, but life is full of surprises.

Unfortunately, Stop 2 of Kevin’s rehab has to be hog-ringed by hand. He’s attaching a strip of heavy nylon mesh to the bottom of each leg, in the hopes that the mesh will retard the sinking process. For that, he uses smaller hog rings that don’t fit in the pneumatic hog ringer, so he has to use the hand crimper. By the time he’s done, he’ll look like Popeye, with a right forearm the size of a leg of lamb. He’ll also have a bubonic case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Our driveway is littered with trays in various stages of rehabilitation, stacked around the truck with two pallets of legs in the bed. Kevin’s about a third of the way through a job that’s several weeks’ worth of full-time employment. It’s boring, it’s repetitive, and it’s exhausting.

“When people think of farming, they think of harvesting tomatoes,” Kevin said, as he flexed his fingers open. “This is farming.”

8 people are having a conversation about “That sinking feeling

  1. Hey I used a pneumatic hog ringer, before in a mattress factory I worked at. When this project is done and over though you won’t have to deal with those pvc legs, they’re really a stick in the mud.

  2. I didn’t even know there was a pneumatic hog ringer! Mike and I have been cultivating our carpal tunnel syndrome with the non-pneumo pliers as we hog ring every net, on every pheasant pen, every year. That is top of the new tool list now. And our sympathies go out to Kevin too.

  3. Every post you share makes me smile at the difference between your life now and when you lived in Manhattan.

  4. this sounds like tree tapping and sugarbush management for maple syrup. focus and repetition goes like this: Walk to tree. Pull drop line from summer holder thingie. Clamp device onto drop line w vice grips. Sometimes fuss w grip adjustment dial. Dip into bag of plastic taps. Don’t drop the tap in the snow. Fish it out of the snow. Line up the tap with drop line end and clamp. Squeeze, adjust and squeeze again or get lucky first try. Release vice grip. Look up and try and make sense of which one to do next. footprints in snow helps, but every once in a while, miss a tap on the other side of the very same tree you’ve just tapped and have to go back to it 4 minutes later or the next day/week. Average 50 taps per hour set into the drop line with over 1,300 to set. THEN go back in to drill holes into the maples and mallet tap the taps into the holes. then check the pressure on the sap pump daily and walk the lines listening for squirrel leaks and removing downed trees and branches from lines. and i don’t even boil the sap… i’m also a pantry farmer (dry beans, sorghum, popcorn, winter squash, herbs, chilis) and farming these things and tomatoes takes a ton of repetition at the top end of a hoe and when harvesting, threshing and processing. i guess what i’m trying to say is that with the production/growing of any type of food, there is a lot of faffing about with the non-food bits that make it all possible. and i agree with kevin, the general public is mostly exposed to the images of tomato in hand as it’s being plucked from vine, not the wrenches, grease, and rocks. i’m on the lookout for a donated device on which i can load some podcasts for this season out in my fields.

  5. Rick, I can’t help but resent your thinking of a joke I should have thought of.

    Jen — You totally need one of these! You feed a line of hog rings into it (like a nail gun), and go to town. The catch: you need to tow a compressor around with you. But a long hose could help. Carpal tunnel sucks.

    Pat, me too. True confession, though: I really miss Manhattan.

    Marie, that is hilarious. And it hits home. This is what food production is. I’m beginning to think everyone should do it, at least for a while.

  6. Wow! Who knew! And Marie; what a job to create maple syrup. Again, who knew! We are just simple small scale fruit growers. Of course, that means spending the winter pruning fruit trees!

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