Starting seeds for the season

I used to think seeding a greenhouse was simple. After all, how much work could it take to plant seeds? 

Turns out, it takes a lot of people and a lot of work.

This week we finished seeding our tobacco greenhouses. We have three with water beds filled with Styrofoam float trays of soil and seeds. Each tray holds 338 seeds, each in its own cell of potting soil.

At first glance, it looks like the process of seeding trays should be simple and fast since we use a machine.  Trays are loaded in one end and roll under a tank filled with potting soil. Excess soil is then scraped off the top.  It reminded me of when I taught our sons how to level off a measuring cup of flour.

Next the tray rolls down a conveyer and under a wheel that punches holes into each cell. The tray moves under the seeder, and one seed is dropped into each cell. The tray comes out and should be ready to be placed in the waterbed, where it will stay until the plants are large enough for transplanting to the field. 

I stopped by while the trays were being seeded and there were seven people working. One person was keeping the tank of potting soil full while one was using a paint brush to keep soil from building up on the wheel. One was moving trays to the other end of the greenhouse where another person was placing each in the waterbed. 

One more was checking each tray to make sure the seeds were dropped correctly. Sometimes the machine missed a cell or dropped two or more seeds into one cell. When that happened, someone had to fix it. Two more folks had that task and when I stopped by last week, I joined the crew fixing seed placement in trays.

Moving seeds that are the size of a pinpoint is harder than it looks. Using a toothpick, my job was to move the extra seeds into empty cells. I buried more than one, then had to dig around in the cell until I could find it and remove the extra. This is important because the cells don’t have enough room for two plants, so if we left extra seed, the odds are that none would grow large enough to survive. The trays are floating in a large bed of water, so you can’t just walk through them and thin out extra plants. 

It’s also important to have a seed in every cell because we are growing the plants we will transplant to the field.  One missing plant may not make a big difference, but many missing plants could mean we won’t have enough to plant the acreage we need. 

We grow all our own plants, so these seeds are the foundation of our crop. Attention to detail now will mean enough healthy plants to transplant in the field eight to nine weeks from now.

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