Staff from Under Armour and students from two local schools set oyster cages at a local dock.  Photo by CBF StaffStaff from Under Armour and students from two local schools set oyster cages at a local dock.  Photo by CBF Staff

Virginia Oyster Gardening Program

A set of four oyster cages hanging from a dock. Each cage measures 18 inches long by one foot square. What is it?

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 two percent 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.

How is it done?
  1. To grow oysters, CBF staff assists each participant in the construction of the best growing system (cages, floats, etc) to fit their location. The gardener also receives spat-on-shell seed oysters.
  2. Gardeners grow their oysters in the cages for about a year until the oysters are about one to two inches long.
  3. At the end of the year, the gardener then returns the adult oysters to CBF, and our staff transplants the oysters onto sanctuary (non-harvest) reefs in nearby waters.
  4. The gardener starts over with a new batch of seed. The hope is that each gardener will continue to produce a new crop of healthy adult oysters year after year.

Want to become an oyster gardener? Attend a new gardener seminar or  sign our volunteer registration form and someone will get back to you soon.

See oyster gardening in action with this video from

Where can you do it?

Oysters can be grown from a private dock, community pier, marina, waterfront business, friend or neighbor's dock, etc. 

When can you do it?

Seminars and spat pick-ups are held in the late summer and early fall, due to the seasonal availability of hatchery-produced oyster seed. Check the current new gardener seminar and spat pick-up schedules.

For a more detailed description of what is involved in growing oysters, read our Frequently Asked Questions About the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Oyster Gardening Program.

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