Organic Vegetable Production Students Learn Seeding and Transplanting
Posted: June 3, 2011
Sara Runkel, Seed Farm director, explains the Earthway Seeder to Intro to Organic Vegetable Production students.
Part of Penn State Extension’s Start Farming program, Introduction to Organic Vegetable Production is a practical, hands-on course for anyone considering making the leap to producing organic vegetables for profit. Saturday’s full-day session started with a crop planning exercise at the Lehigh County Ag Center. Students learned the ins-and-outs of planning a crop rotation to effectively avoid and manage soil-borne diseases, build soil fertility, and achieve their production goals. The afternoon portion involved demonstrations and hands-on experimentation with a dizzying array of seeding and transplanting equipment at The Seed Farm, a new farmer training program and agricultural business incubator in Lehigh County.
Sara Runkel, The Seed Farm’s executive director, started with a succinct and candid overview or each of the seeders: 1) The Earthway, 2) The European Seeder, 3) Johnny’s 6-Row Seeder, the Seed Stick, and the Glasier Pull Seeder. Students also examined brassicas started in plug flats vs. soil blocks. Plug flats add convenience and speed to seeding and moving trays of seedlings around, but the seedlings in the soil blocks were considerable larger than the plug flat seedlings and do not get root bound. The soil blocks facilitate air pruning of the roots.
Rotating between 4 stations in the field, students gained experience planting raw and pelleted carrot seed, beet seed, and summer squash seed.
At the Glasier pull seeder station, students struggled to get the seeder to work, even in the relatively fine seedbed. Driven by gear wheels that should have been turned by being pulled across the soil, the wheels just didn’t turn. Likely the Glasier just needs a good oiling and then the one-row Glasier Seeder would make seeding in the center of a bed much less of a gymnastic feat.
The Earthway was a much less frustrating experience for many students. The lightweight frame makes emptying seed and changing varieties an easy affair. On the other hand, some students found the lightweight plastic frame bounced quite a bit and was difficult to guide in a straight line down the field. In beet and carrot plots planted a few weeks back, students saw that the Earthway tends to seed a bit heavier than some of the other seeders .
Devida McKevitt, Seed Farm apprentice, Master Gardener, and longtime urban grower lead the group trying out the European Seeder. Devida is sold on the heavier metal frame. Although it is harder to dump the seeder out and switch varieties, it is much easier to guide the seeder in a straight line. Devida and others at The Seed Farm have solved the seed switching issue with a 2 gallon bucket that hangs from the handle of the seeder. Every time they want to change seed, they simply pour the seed into the bucket and then from the bucket back to the packet.
The Seed Stick was another exercise in patience. Designed to eliminate the squatting and bending over usually involved in seeding large-seeded crops by hand, the Seed Stick often gets clogged with soil. Checking to see whether the stick is clogged after each seed, makes the implement more laborious than just seeding by hand, according to Sara Runkel, who recommends seeding large seeded squash and melons my hand, rather than dealing with a seeder.
The day wrapped up with transplanting Brussels Sprouts and tomatoes into both soil and black plastic mulch with Johnny’s hand hoes, a hori-hori transplanting knife, a Hatfield transplanter, and then with the tractor-mounted Nolts water wheel transplanter. The Hatfield offered a nice break from bending over, but the seat on the transplanter is probably as comfortable as it can get for transplanting. That said, Sara reminded attendees that the ~$3000 price tag on a tractor-mounted transplanter is probably not justified for a beginning grower. Seed Farm apprentice, Blake Unis, said he thinks money is much better spent on greenhouse space than a tractor or tractor-mounted equipment, when you’re first getting going.
At the end of the day, everyone had seen and tried some equipment that might be right for them, and learn what was definitely not right for them, before buying anything.