[Market-farming] plug production questions

Rachel Evans rachel at sunshinefarmmarket.com
Tue Feb 10 11:48:56 EST 2009

Hi all,

I need some basic guidance on producing plugs for transplanting.   
We're planting out just 2 acres of market garden this year (up to 4  
acres in the past) here in north central Washington, growing all our  
own transplants.

Up until now, I've used the soil block system, which was what I was  
taught on the farms where I interned.  I'm thinking of moving to using  
plug trays and experimented with them last year with not so good  
results.  I think I'm lacking some basic understanding.

I think our major problem last year was with our potting mix.  The mix  
needed for blocks must be very different than that used in plugs (esp.  
smaller sizs eg 128s).  Our soil block mix, which we made ourselves,  
was about 3 buckets  of worm castings, 3 buckets of peat, 2 buckets of  
perlite, plus lime and organic fertilizer.  Nice and sticky so the  
blocks would hold together but I'm thinking I need much less compost  
in a plug mix--more like half peat and half vermiculite or something?   
and no compost?

I think one of the mistakes we made last year was filling the plug  
flats with moist potting mix.  Again, this may sound basic--but with  
soil blocks of course you start with the mix nice and wet.  The mix  
wouldn't get to the bottom of the plugs.  So...if I fill the plug  
trays with dry potting mix, what's the next step?  Do you irrigate  
first or seed first?  If you seed, andif you're putting on enough  
water to soak the peat, doesn't the irrigation water dislodge many of  
the seeds?  Or do you bottom water?  Bottom watering seems like a good  
plan, but with more logistical fuss...  do you keep bottom watering or  
then move to overhead sprinkling?  Do you seed first or bottom water  

As far as fertilizer, are people able to put enough granular  
fertilizer in the plug mix to support a transplant for 4 weeks, or is  
foliar feeding always necessary? (We're talking about organic  
production here.)

Finally, if you don't mind, these are the size plugs I'm using for  
various plants.  Does this all look right to you

72s--lettuce, brassicas, greens, etc, (or are people generlaly having  
success with 128s--they're so small!)
24s--tomatoes (or 3.5" pots), eggplants, peppers
128s--for starting tomatoes before potting up(--or is this weird?)

I see the advantages of plugs as being:  less time and labor compared  
with making blocks, less space used on the greenhouse bench, possibly  
easier transplanting (we've played with the hatfield from Johnny's).   
But there's no advantage to them if I can't figure out how to grow a  
high quality transplant!

Are there resources or books people can point me to so I can get my  
remedial education on this?



Rachel Evans
The Sunshine Farm
37 Highway 97A
Chelan, WA 98816

rachel at sunshinefarmmarket.com

On Jan 21, 2009, at 2:10 PM, Wyatt Jones wrote:

> Sometimes these are called propagation mats as well.  The commercial  
> mats I use plug into a controller that can run up to 6 22"x60"   
> mats.  The controller has a thermocouple that one plugs into the  
> soil that you are trying to heat so it controls the soil temp pretty  
> well and will work with other mats.  The mats are very durable,  
> pretty thick and rubber clad, but they weren't cheap.   I paid about  
> 100 each for the mats but it looks like they have gone up.  I need  
> to get some more but think I'll look around for a cheaper price as I  
> don't make an Engineers salary anymore LOL.  I think I got them from  
> the Greenhouse Megastore, the ones they have look like what I have  
> anyway .  Might not be what people are looking for because of the  
> price but here is a link if anyone wants to take a look
> http://www.greenhousemegastore.com/Propagation-Mats/products/1101/
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