Like many elements in Prince Edward Island’s history, the birth of the mussel mud harvest arose out of need. Early pioneers found they needed a reliable fertilizer that could breathe new life back into their fields which were so quickly depleted of their scarce nutrients. It was quickly discovered that the lime-rich mud from riverbeds and bays, which had deposits of oyster shells was a great addition to the fields, returning the fertility to the land. Island farmers and entrepreneurs quickly developed ways of extracting the mud and spreading it on the nutrient starved fields.

Initially, mussel mud was harvested in the summer months which made it hot, grueling work. Harvesters would set out in a canoe during high tide to a place that was known to have shell deposits. A small area that was usually about 10 feet square was dammed off to allow the mud to be dug from the bottom without the water rushing in. The mud was shovelled directly from the bottom into a canoe and transported to shore. Each small area was dug to a depth that was between five and 10 feet below the water surface. When the canoe was filled, it was brought to shore and unloaded when the tide was low enough for a wagon to be brought to the boat. When the dammed area was dug to a great enough depth, harvesters would relocate and the process would start again in a fresh location.

The work was extremely difficult; the weather was hot, the flies were unbearable and the wet mud was extremely heavy to shovel. For this reason there was not a great deal of mud harvested until new methods of mussel mud digging were developed in mid-1800s
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