Oyster shells a pearl when it comes to landscaping

You no longer have to walk on eggshells to wander over an oyster bed.

Mark Soboil recycles local oyster shells and crushes them for driveways, parking lots and landscaping.

Soboil said while oyster shells are often used this way in the upper northeast, it is fairly new in the Pacific northwest.

It’s pretty new to him too. He just launched Shellscapes after hit COVID-19.

Soboil moved to Bainbridge Island with his family three years ago. He grew up in South Africa but received his bachelor’s degree in marine biology from the University of Washington. For graduate school, he attended the University of Rhode Island, where he met his wife. They moved to New Zealand, had two boys and stayed for 10 years before moving to BI as much of his family now lives in PNW. His wife Julie’s family is back east in the Cape Cod area.

“They love using shells for park paths and driveways,” Soboil said.

Clam shells are often used there, but oyster shells are more likely to break off. He said oysters grow in layers so when crushed they flake and are soft. “It’s nice to go on,” he said.

When crushed, they also have a natural binder that resembles a powder. By comparison, gravel needs a chemical binder so that it doesn’t wash away. And of course, this chemical could end up in the groundwater.

In his career as a marine biologist, Soboil had to travel, for example to start fisheries management programs in developing countries. He had to spend a lot of time outside of his family.

“When COVID hit, everything changed. At the beginning of summer, all of my contracts were suspended. We had nowhere to go. ”

He decided to renovate his house and was looking for a shell for the yard. He couldn’t find a local supplier.

The farmers harvested the oyster, peeled the shell, and bottled the meat. There would be clams on oyster farms. They would eventually put the clams in sacks that they put back in the ocean where oysters would grow back.

But technology has changed this industry. Most now grow oysters on land.

“People want a nice oyster (in a bowl) on their plate,” he said.

He said cities sometimes buy excess oyster shells to feed oyster beds in Puget Sound.

Soboil was able to find some oyster shells, and after chopping them up, he worked with his gardener Lou Rowe to put clams on a path leading to his garden, in an area where he grills and has a pizza oven, and in a cul-de-sac on his property.

“Aesthetically, it’s beautiful,” she said. “It looks beautiful here – a great contrast to the evergreen. Especially when it’s that gray, it really pops. ”

Rowe said it drains well and also keeps out powdery mildew. Soboil said it drives away snails and also prevents weeds and moss from growing.

“I wish I could afford it,” Rowe said, adding that it was the only downside to the product. She said it was expensive upfront, but it’s worth it in the long run. You don’t have to make it that thick, maybe 2 inches on a track, for example. It’s easier to rake than stones so it’s nice to work with, she said.

“Bainbridge Island is a great place to showcase this product,” said Rowe. As for the east coast, she said, “Wait until you know what we’re doing here.”

Eventually, Soboil was able to find an oyster shell supplier for his business. “They were really interested in recycling the peel in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way,” he said.

They began a partnership in which he would buy their seashells, then process them, and sell the finished product to landscapers, landscape architects, and homeowners.

Although many people make a living from BI, not so many can see the water. “This connects them to the ocean,” he said.

Soboil said he was glad he started the business because he doesn’t know when the trip will reopen. “Lots of jobs … I don’t think they’ll just turn on again,” he said. “It could be a blessing in disguise.”

“COVID forced me to see what else I could do. I was a little panicked. ”

Soboil said that his two boys are getting older and that with this job he doesn’t have to be gone for long.

He said it was ironic for him to get into this business. His mother was a landscaper in Cape Town years ago. He grew up working for her during the summer vacation.

“I’ll circle around and come back,” he said.

Oyster shells can also only be used in general landscaping.

Oyster shells can also be used for driveways.

Oyster shells can also be used for driveways.

Oyster shells used in an outdoor cooking area.  Photos with kind permission

Oyster shells can also be used for driveways.

Oyster shells can also only be used in general landscaping.

Oyster shells can also be used for driveways.

Oyster shells can also be used for driveways.

Oyster shells can also be used for driveways.

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