Making the case for larger transplants.


A few months back i came across Paul Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farm in California, he is doing fantastic things with true no-till,small scale, vegetable farming. There are several you tube videos of talks he has given and one thing he mentioned really got me thinking.
Paul talked about growing large transplants, he produces most of his transplants in six packs which is very different to most farmers but the reasons he gave made absolute sense. I have been thinking this through and I decided to adapt those reasons slightly and use them this season.

A plants eye view of the heated benches 40 feet long 4 feet wide and absolutely packed with plants.

A plants eye view of the heated benches 40 feet long 4 feet wide and absolutely packed with plants.

 

An overhaul of my nursery setup was definitely needed and so i looked around for suitable trays and i settled on deep 66 cell trays, i am not quite ready to switch to 6 packs and the primary reason is my use of landscape fabric with burned holes for weed prevention, the holes are too small to make transplanting from 6 cell trays anything other than a headache.

I am still using some 144 cell trays for some beets and spinach but this is only because my heated bench space is a little limited at present.

So as i see it, here are the pros and cons.

The transplants will spend more time in a controlled environment, this speeds up their growth and allows for earlier production.

Once these large, strong transplants go out to the field they are better equipped to resist pest attacks. Slugs are the biggest pest problem I face for most of my crops and small transplants can be wiped out in a single night.

 

 

Young salanova plants in the 66 cell trays.

Young salanova plants in the 66 cell trays.

When you plant small transplants into a bed the bed is barely occupied for weeks, this leads to drying out of the soil and faster weed growth, the bigger transplants fill the bed faster and smother weeds more effectively. A factor in this is that once weeds will not hurt the crop or set seeds then they can be allowed to grow provided that the crop will be harvested before this becomes an issue, it appears that the bigger transplants will help to reduce weed problems in this way.

When you plant small transplants into a bed the bed is barely occupied for weeks, this leads to drying out of the soil and faster weed growth, the bigger transplants fill the bed faster and smother weeds more effectively. A factor in this is that once weeds will not hurt the crop or set seeds then they can be allowed to grow provided that the crop will be harvested before this becomes an issue, it appears that the bigger transplants will help to reduce weed problems in this way.

When a crop is removed from a bed is starves the soil biology that were relying on it for energy, by using large transplants and turning over crops within hours we keep our soils fed and working for us.

The inter-cropping possibilities of large transplants are very exciting as it effectively gives you some crops with a date to maturity of as little as 3-4 weeks, i haven’t looked into this too much yet although i am doing a lot of inter-cropping with my tomatoes. This is the kind of thing that keeps farming fresh though.

Last on my list of pros is a very exciting one. The longer a plant spends in the cell tray the less time it spends in the field! If you are doing 4 rotations on a given bed and you switch to using large transplants you could save 2-3 weeks on every rotation, that is a total of 8-12 weeks, that is more than enough for another crop…..or two!

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Now there are some cons we must mention. At its most basic, larger transplants require more materials such as trays compost and water, moving and transplanting these these materials requires more energy and you need a significantly bigger nursery area, likely 2-3 times bigger.
All of this makes transplant production more expensive, however I see it as being a great step forward for my farm and things are going well so far.

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I would love to hear and feedback or ideas you have regarding this concept, please leave your comments below.

Thanks, Stephen.

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