[Market-farming] plug production questions

Wiediger, Alison alison.wiediger at hart.kyschools.us
Tue Feb 10 12:04:48 EST 2009

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? 
We use a commercial media, but I'd think the basics are the same.  It
needs to drain VERY well - especially in late winter/early spring, or
you will have a lot of damping off and/or fungus gnat problems.

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 first?
We fill with dry mix, then water the flats, then seed, then cover if
necessary and water again.  The only time we do bottom watering is with
seeds that need light to germinate and may get covered with overhead.
However, if the mix gets too dry - say in an open bag - it can take a
while to get it really wet.  Make sure the flats feel heavy. 

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.)
We use a heat-treated, granular chicken manure , 3-4-3 analysis I think.
It will hold at least 4 weeks, sometimes 6 before the transplants " run
out", but we are not certified organic and can't speak to whether it
would be appropriate for organic transplant production.    It does grow
gorgeous transplants!  (And field crops as well) 

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?) 
We use 96s for lettuce and greens, 48s for brassicas, 36 deeps for
cucurbits, 36 deeps for tomatoes for High Tunnel spring.  For our tomato
transplants that we sell as transplants, we start in 96s or even 200s
and pot up to 1801s.  For spring field tomatoes, we use 36s, for summer,
which will be in the flats a shorter time, we use 48s. 

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! 
You can!  Sometimes it just takes fine-tuning the system.  Everything
goes on a germination mat this time of year.  Right now we have 8 -
enough for 54 1020 flats - and it is BARELY enough for our 2 acre
operation (plus transplants we sell at farmers market).
Alison Wiediger, Au Naturel Farm, SC KY 

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

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