From sock net to table: How to grow mussels? Why do mussels get fatter in winter months? How come some mussels are light orange and some dark? Can mussels move or do they stay put after settling on a piling?
As it turns out, you can start your own adventure in mussel farming with nothing more than a frayed rope. In late spring, mussels naturally begin spawning as water temperatures rise. To catch the mussel larvae, farmers put long collector lines in the water. This can be as simple as an old rope held afloat by buoys. The mussels float in the water until they settle down on the rope’s surface.
By fall, the mussels have grown to about half the length of your thumb, and are ready to be collected for socking. No, this has nothing to do with punching the mussels! It actually refers to the long mesh tubes that the mussels will placed inside, somewhat akin to a sock. The mussels are roughly sorted into similar sizes before being placed in the socks. This helps maintain uniform shell sizes because the smaller mussels aren’t competing against their larger brothers. Then the mussels are stuffed into the sock, the same way you would fill a sausage casing. Though the mussels are on the inside of the sock now, over the next few months, they will gradually move to the outside of the sock in their continuing quest for food and nutrients. That’s right, mussels can move through their “beards” or byssal threads, which are sticky filaments secreted to help the mussel cling to objects. By attaching a thread to an anchor, then shortening the thread, a mussel can slowly move toward an object.
How to grow mussels?
As the mussels move outwards, the sock will collapse into a thin rope in the center of the mussel column. Since the mussels are cultivated on ropes rather than on the ocean bottom, they have clean, unmuddied flavors and a firm texture that is free of grit.
After about two years in the water, the mussels are harvested. Around this time of the year, mussels are at their peak, becoming sweeter and plumper as they prepare for winter. Once the mussels have been harvested, they are gently washed, graded and debearded. You may have heard that debearding shortens the shelf life of mussels. This is generally true if you yank the mussel’s beard out, but modern processing equipment pinches off the beards rather than pulling them out forcefully, so the mussel remains healthy and untraumatized. The mussels are stored for a short period in saltwater storage tanks with air bubbled through them, which gives them a chance to recuperate from being harvested. Then these ambassadors for PEI are packed into bags and eventually make their way to a steaming pot near you.
When you purchase mussels, the shells should look moist and they should not smell strongly fishy or unpleasant. After you bring them home, they should be stored in the coldest part of your refrigerator, covered by a damp towel.