This week, after some much appreciated rain, sees lots of activity in the fields once again. The plastic is being laid for the tomatoes (lots of tomatoes) and ground is being prepared for pepper transplanting which takes place next week as well. Lots of transplanting next week; around 35,765 transplants give or take a few. We should easily be able to do 10 thousand a day and still perform ground prep and plastic laying at the same time.
Seed production crops transplant pretty easily, especially tomatoes. The transplanter makes a hole and pours in a cup or so of water with a transplant solution mixed into it. Two people riding on the back of the transplanter grab a transplant and push it down into the hole. As the plant is pushed into the hole the fertilized water sucks down around the plant, pulling the surrounding soil around the root ball. A couple of days to get over the shock of being plucked from the tray they grew up in to being crammed into a hole in the field, and they'll be off and running, eager to make seed before the season gets over.
Some crops transplant a whole lot better than others. Tomatoes are easy; you pretty much can't kill them. They like to be buried deeply so you can't plant them too deep. Even if you inadvertently break off some growth they will regrow although not as well as if they hadn't been damaged in the first place. Melons on the other hand really don't like to have their roots disturbed, at all. We have to be really careful with melons as they break easily and will die if broken. Squash and pumpkins are somewhere in between. While you can't handle them roughly like tomatoes, you can plant them quickly; quicker than melons anyways.
"Dropping" plants is the act of pulling the correct plants from the trays and placing them near the hole they belong in so the farm crew can transplant them. Dropping is kind of a particular job as the right plant must go in the right hole. You have to focus on what you're doing while keeping an eye on what's going on around you. One slip and the wrong plant is pulled; sometimes a easy fix but other times not. In trials and breeding you usually know how many plants you have per variety so you can keep count as you move along. Speed, paired with accuracy, is essential. You want to drop plants fast enough so that people aren't standing around waiting, but you also want not to get too far ahead as the holes will dry out. This can be a challenging job, especially when you have six or seven hundred varieties.
In seed production you only have to make sure the plants are all the same kind; plant until you either run out of plants or run out of space in the field and you're done with that variety, then on to the next one.
When transplanting we usually have one person dropping plants, two people planting them, one tractor driver and one person putting stakes in and getting flats for the puller. Then there's another person hauling plants from the greenhouse to the field; that's usually me. The transplanter holds 100 gallons transplant solution which will transplant around 1500 plants so they must return to the pond fairly frequently to fill up with water. This gives the field crew a few minutes to walk through the field and check on the plants they just planted. Every once in a while they'll be a plant lying on the plastic that got missed by the planters. That's the one I usually find and have a comment like "What, you didn't like this one"?
All in all transplanting is a fast paced activity that demands a certain amount of finesse. It's also done once the weather has warmed up so, unless it's raining, is a pretty pleasant job here at the farm. By the way, rainy days are the best days for transplanting, as the plants enjoy it and there isn't much else to do here when it's wet.
Until next week, I'll be in the field.