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How To Know If Your Farm Needs a Paper Pot Transplanter

By Suzannah Schneider, Communications Manager and Certification Coordinator

Peas waiting to be planted with the paper pot transplanter at Patchwork Farm in Copper Hill, VA

You may be wondering: what’s the deal with the paper pot transplanter? Is it actually worth the investment? Will it really save my back? And wait a second: if I’m a Certified Naturally Grown farm, can I even use this tool for my crops?!

Certified Naturally Grown will continue to allow the use of paper pot transplanters on CNG operations.

In early 2018, the USDA National Organic Program banned this tool for certified organic operations due to a synthetic binder in the pots. In response to a petition from Small Farm Works, the National Organics Standards Board is reviewing the substances used in paper pots. Meantime, NOP has walked back its original ruling, and is temporarily extending the use of paper pot transplanters in organic system until further notice.
Anna Wilson of Brown Bottle Farm in Mulino, OR is grateful that CNG continues to stand by this tool:

Being able to use the paper pot transplanter and maintain our certification shows us that CNG understands and appreciates farmers. They also see how it can increase yields, cultivate in a variety of locations, and be at the forefront of progressive natural farming practices. I don’t know what we would have done if we were unable to use this tool. It has meant a lot to our small farm.
Don’t just take Anna’s word on the paper pot transplanter. Read on to learn other farmers’ perceived pros (and cons) on this Japanese tool.

Pros of the paper pot transplanter:

“Farming standing up is a real joy!”
Ray Tyler of Rose Creek Farms in Selmer, TN enthusiastically told us how the ergonomics of this tool can make a real difference. The more farming that can be done upright, the better.
The paper pot transplanter buys time
John Hofer of Wise Earth Farm in Kelowna, BC says his team used to spend 12-20 hours a week transplanting by hand; now they only transplant 6 hours a week on average. “Before the PPT, transplanting used to rule our days,” he says. “Now, we don’t dread the task.”

“Our attitudes are sky high! It’s befuddling to watch a row get put together in under ten minutes. If you haven’t hand transplanted a 100’ row of lettuce heads I demand that you do it before you use this tool, because otherwise you’ll never fully have the appreciation for how much time and discomfort it saves!” – Anna Wilson, Brown Bottle Farm, OR
Ryan Falk of Brown Bottle Farm in Mulino, OR gives the PPT a whirl
“It’s like adding a team member that doesn’t get tired!”
Ray told us that the tool paid for itself within the first month of its use. This means he was able to operate his five-acre farm with fewer staff members than usual. 
Lovely for lettuce 
Todd Bentley of Sweeter Days Farm in Ashland City, TN looks forward to saving at least 60 hours of labor this season on lettuce alone using the paper pot transplanter for 20+ successions.

“I think that sustainability takes a lot of forms and we have to allow certain things for small growers to use to increase profit margins.”

  • Todd Bentley, Sweeter Days Farm, TN
    Get an earlier start to your season
    The paper pot transplanter allows you to transplant crops you would normally direct-seed, meaning you can get a jump start on your season. Ray told us this helped Rose Creek Farms command more attention at market, and charge premium prices.
    Unfurling transplants at Patchwork Farm in Copper Hill, VA

Cons of the paper pot transplanter:

More work for crops you usually grow with biofilm or landscape fabric
Ray’s wife Ashley manages the wash and pack team at Rose Creek Farms, and she’s quick to add that the PPT makes her work more complicated. Ray explained that using the PPT for lettuce meant that they couldn’t use weed-suppressing biofilm or landscape fabric. In their humid Zone 7/8 climate with heavy clay soil, there’s backsplash from rain on lower leaves that can lead to disease – and significantly more time spent washing. 

“The paper pot transplanter is just a tool in the toolbox; our farm isn’t built around this tool. The tool fits into our puzzle.”

  • Ray Tyler, Rose Creek Farms, TN
    There is a learning curve
    “The implementation and use of the PPT was not without challenges,” Anna says. “We found that it is important to follow the guides given from reliable resources like The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables by Ben Hartman and The Urban Farmer by Curtis Stone. When actually using it in the field it may take some time to adjust depth of plow, and the width of the sweeps.”
    You still have to cultivate
    This is especially true if you’re used to growing with landscape fabric or similar materials, Ray told us.
    “BED PREP!”
    Anna in Oregon emphasized that bed prep was a crucial step when getting ready to use the paper pot transplanter. Like a direct seeder, it prefers a smooth and flat surface.
    The PPT doesn’t work for every crop
    Wise Earth farmer John tried to transplant almost every crop with the tool in 2018. He found that it works very well for head lettuce, fennel, onions, salad turnips, and kohlrabi. It won’t work for crops that need to be 8″+ apart, or vegetables that yield multiple harvests.
    Try before you buy
    Ray in Tennessee urges farmers to try the tool before they commit to purchasing it. “Even if you have to pay your neighbor to go to their farm and work with it for a day, it’s worth the investment,” he adds.

If you like what you read, we invite you to spread the word!

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Are you considering a paper pot transplanter for your farm? @CNGfarming farmers can help you make your decision:

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