Small Farm Works LLC
John and Karen Hendrickson
N1749 Yerges Road
Reeseville, WI 53579
(608) 620-5804

smallfarmworks@tds.net

Who we are
We own and operate a small, certified organic vegetable farm in Wisconsin. We learned about the paper pot system while visiting Japan and decided we wanted to make it available to others. We are committed to small-scale, sustainable farming practices and believe that appropriate technology has an important role to play in helping make small farms profitable and enjoyable.


 
 
Small Farm Works
Tools and Resources for Small Farms...Featuring Paper Pot Transplanting Systems

Frequently Asked Questions

Is this system allowable on a certified organic farm?

Our farm is certified organic by Midwest Organic Services Association (MOSA).  When we approached MOSA about using the paper pots they were stumped at first because this product is not really covered by the current USDA rule.  They asked for complete documentation about the ingredients used in the paper pots and ended up deciding that they were acceptable given that there are paper mulches that can be used.  Any grower seeking to use the paper pot system should first check with their certifier.  We are happy to share the documentation on the paper pots and also encourage other certifiers to contact MOSA for a complete explanation of their ruling.


How much does shipping cost?

Shipping costs depend on your location and the size of your order.  We ship via UPS Ground and rates depend on the number, size and weight of all the packages. The cost to ship an order that includes 100 of the bottom trays (10 cases of 10 trays) is much different than shipping an order with only 10 trays (1 case of 10).  We are happy to generate a shipping quote.  The easiest way for use to do this is for you to submit an "order" via our on-line order form.  Submitting a hypothetical order to get a shipping quote does not lock you into a purchase nor add you to any kind of mailing list.

How does the paper do in the greenhouse environment?
The system is designed for commercial vegetable and flower growing so has been engineered to stand up to conditions in a greenhouseYou can grow slow-growing things like onions in the paper pots for as long as needed before transplanting.

Can the paper pots be on a heat table?
I use the paper pot flats on heating mats for some crops and it has worked very well.  Remember that the paper pots are used in conjunction with a plastic bottom flat so there is never any contact between the paper and a heat mat.

How long until the paper starts to disintegrate?
I was worried about the paper’s durability when I first encountered the system and considered adopting the technology.  Again, however, this system has been well engineered for commercial vegetable and flower production.  The paper is made with resins that enable the pots to survive the greenhouse, transplanting, and beyond.  The paper is usually gone after one season.

How long does it take to seed one flat?

That depends on whether you’re doing it by hand or with the optional seeders.  Putting seeds into the cells by hand takes no longer per cell than any other type of hand seeding into conventional flats.  The seeders that seed a whole flat at a time speed things up amazingly.  I estimate that I seed a 264 cell paper pot flat in as little as 30 seconds (for round seeds) to a minute or a bit more for angular seeds.


When seeding things like alliums or spinach, several seeds per flat can sometimes get stuck in the seeder plate holes (that are sized to singulate seed so are just large enough to receive one seed).  If some seeds get stuck, the seeder can be tapped with a finger or pencil and most will then fall out.  A few stubborn seeds may need to be poked through with a sharp pencil.  This varies by specific variety as some varieties have slightly larger or small seed that others.


There is also the time to open the paper pots and secure it on the metal frame.  The set-up does not really take much time at all…about 15 to 20 seconds.  You just slide the opening rods into the sleeves on either side of the compressed paper pots and pull them open and secure them on the opening frame.  One nice bit of time savings with this system is that there is never the time involved in washing plastic cell flats.


How do the paper pots hold water?

Water is held in the cells by the potting material because the paper pot cells are open on the bottom.  It is best to use a peat and compost based potting mix. Given the small cell size, I was initially concerned that I would have to water these flats very frequently to avoid them drying out.  My experience has been that I do not need to water these any differently in the beginning as compared to conventional flats but as I get closer to transplanting, and the plants are sizable, the flats do need to be monitored and watered more often given the small cell size.


What is the spacing from the outside of one wheel to the outside of the other wheel? 

The outside of the wheels are 6.5 inches apart.  The furrower is centered.  It is possible to plant rows as tight as 2 or 3 inches if you are careful.  I have done this with peas which I like to plant in a "double row" for climbing a trellis.


How long does it take to plant 100 row feet?

I transplant paper chain pot flats in 30 seconds to a minute.  The distance a flat measures in the field (after the paper pot chain is laid end to end) depends on the in-row spacing.  The 2” spaced pots are 46’ long.  The 4” spaced pots are 88.6’ long.  The 6” spaced pots are 131’ long.


What’s the set up time to get one flat ready to go?  How is the transition when you run out of plants mid field?  Do you just pop another flat in and go?  Is it hard to line up with where you left off?

Set up is easy and quick.  Set a flat on the platform, lift up the front edge of the flats to flip down the ramp (so that the transplants can ride up over the edge of the plastic flat), separate the first row of cells and pull them down into the furrower, and push a narrow stake (I use a large old screwdriver) through the first cell to hold it in place.

 

When you come to the end of the first flat, keep the transplanter in place, and set in a new flat and repeat the above procedure and on you go.  It is helpful to have several narrow stakes on hand so that you don’t have to go back to the head of the row to retrieve the first stake.  It is also possible to stop after pulling the transplanter several feet, retrieve the stake and then proceed so that you have the stake with you when you get to the end of the first flat.  I transplant with my two young sons and they bring me flats or stakes as I need them.

There is an optional rack that fits above the transplanter platform and allows you to carry 2 additional flats.

If I am planting into beds, I can keep things aligned and straight based on my wheel tracks.  If I am not planting into beds, I will run a string for my first row to ensure that my first row will be straight.  I base subsequent rows off the first row.


What does the furrower look like? 

 

Forrower detached from the transplanter (upside down)                      Forrower detail (underside of transplanter)

 

How is it that there are 264 cells in all the standard paper chain pot flats, regardless of the distance between plants (2", 4" and 6" spaced pots)?

The additional paper that makes for longer in-row spacing is wrapped around each cell.  As the paper chain is planted the extra paper unwinds as the plants go through the transplanter.  This can be hard to understand and visualize until you see the transplanter in action.

It sounds like the whole set up works best on loose ground that flows well.  What problems have you seen on heavy ground? Does the soil need to be dry to use this? Do the plants need to be at a certain moisture level to plant?

All farming equipment works best in loose soil that flows well!  I have a moderately heavy silt loam soil.  A bed tilled as I would for direct seeding small seeded crops enables the transplanter to perform at its best.  If there are excessive clumps and debris the transplanter might not bury the transplants consistently.  If this is the case, I may have to go back down my rows and cover up here and there.  I consider this a small price to pay for how easy and quick the transplanting is accomplished.  The soil does need to be as dry as would be needed to use a seeder or cultivating tool to prevent soil from clumping and sticking to the furrower.  I water each flat before transplanting just like I do with all transplants.


How do you control depth?

In essence, depth control is all taken care of: no adjustments necessary.  The wheels on the transplanter can be moved up or down to adjust depth.  In practice, the wheels are most often kept fully contracted so that the furrowing portion of the machine runs along the surface of the bed.   There are also additional, optional furrowers of varying depths that can be purchased and interchanged with a few bolts.  These deeper furrowers are most often used when transplanting the deeper paper pot flats (CP304, CP305, CP354).


How do you mark your bed when you use this? In the videos, it looks like the person pulling is walking in the bed top and backwards.  We would need the planted rows to be relatively straight for future cultivations.

I sometimes just run the transplanter down beds and use the edge of the bed (wheel tracks) as a visual guide.  Other times, I run a string down the bed to ensure that I am running straight.  There are certainly many ways to mark beds for transplanting, such as attaching clamps on the rear of a rotovator.  Obviously, the two-row unit sets two rows perfectly apart and parallel.


As for walking on the beds, the transplanter handle is hollow and a rod can be inserted to permit two people on either side of the bed to pull the transplanter while walking in the wheel tracks on either side of the bed.

In addition to walking backwards while pulling the transplanter, one can turn and walk forward and pull the transplanter behind you with one hand (such as one would when pulling a child's wagon).


The video on your website and on YouTube shows the transplanter being pulled in a furrow.  Why is this and can the transplanter be used on a flat bed?

The video was taken in Japan where they plant scallions in trenches in order to achieve a long blanched stem (such as some U.S. growers do with leeks).  The transplanter can be used on any type of tilled bed in addition to a trench.


Are there any parts that you can imagine wearing out and needing to be replaced?

I have not observed any undue wear and tear and deterioration on my transplanter, in use since 2006.  I have had one customer order a new furrow-maker after about 7 years of use.


Can I mount paper pot transplanters behind a tractor on a tool bar or beneath an Allis Chalmers G?

While this is technically feasible (with some creative engineering and welding skills), I question whether it would be satisfactory.  First, I would worry about performance and durability.  Also, the paper chains are either 46', 89', or 131' feet long so, if pulled by a tractor, you would have to stop for "reloading" quite often.  Unless fields were quite level and soil conditions ideal for the system, I think a lot of time would be spent going back over the rows.  I think there are ways to create a tractor mounted version but the current system is not well-suited to this application in my opinion. That said, I have one customer who mounted a 2-row unit to a lay-down workstation (to a machine called a "Drangen" made in Europe). This piece of equipment goes quite slow and he mounted it in such as way that he has access to the very rear of the transplanter while lying down on the Drangen. This allows him to manipulate the part of the transplanter that is creating the furrow and burying the plants.

Since the whole system seems dependent on the paper pots – what do you know about the company that makes them?  Are they produced directly by the company who makes the transplanter?  Can we count on the paper pots being available long term and prices staying steady?

The parent company in Japan is a very large business and this system has been around for quite some time.  I have no reason to anticipate that the system will be abandoned given the number of growers using them in Japan.  The company first got started with paper pot technology for sugar beets, being the largest processor of sugar beets in Asia.

 

As for pricing, as with anything, there are never absolute assurances of stable pricing.  That said, prices have remained steady for all the years that I have been importing them.  Please note that shipping rates and the dollar-yen exchange rate can influence prices from year to year.

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