Here at our farm we transplant well over 100,000 transplants each year. A significant portion of those are transplanted and set by hand. In order to do that efficiently, there are several systems we have set in place.
Good soil preparation is key. If the soil is cloddy, or has too much trash, or is hard, sticking the transplants in is going to be tough. We try to till the same day to create a loose, friable soil. This also helps the transplants out compete the weeds as they are both starting the same day. .
Clearly marked beds helps the transplanting process go smoothly and cultivation afterward work well. There are several ways to achieve this. For our greenhouse transplanting, we have created marker rakes that create lines in the soil.
With our basket weeder, we can turn the row sweeps upside down and use them to mark the rows.
Currently, since much of our transplanting is done on raised beds made with our bedder which has a rolling basket behind it, we fasten tubing around it that creates the lines for transplanting.
To mark in-row spacing, we use ½” x1” 6’ long sticks that have the different spacing marked on them in different colored paint. That allows us to easily scoot along the field as we lay transplants out.
Properly grown transplants that come out of their trays easily is another essential. Start with a good compost base mix, use the right size cell, and harden them off properly. We prefer the Speeding or Winstrip branded trays, although there are many other options. Right before transplants head to the field, we loosen them by using one of our poppers. See video below for a quick explanation.
Efficient planting techniques is the last key to good transplanting. Our transplanting team is usually comprised of 3 or more people. Two to lay out the transplants (one on each side of the bed) and one person to do the actual transplanting. We find that the transplanter works fastest by being in the bed, and straddling a row of transplants. As you can see in the video below, we have a specific method we use to transplant. One hand grasps the transplant and lifts, the other hand pokes the hole with the index (and middle finger if they are big rootballs) and the thumb follows up by sweeping soil back around the plant. We try to irrigate right after transplanting or time our transplanting before a rain storm to set the plants in well.
Having a good system for transplanting has made it much more enjoyable. We find with 3 well-trained people we can plant 3000 plants per hour. What are your favorite transplanting tips and techniques?