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.”