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How to Reduce Transplant Shock on Your Farm

Monday-Motivation-Photo_4-24-2017

Avoiding transplant shock: An open show transplanter in use as the crew sets out cabbage in the field.

Avoiding transplant shock when transplanting starters from the greenhouse to the field is a key sustainable farming method.

The time of year has once again arrived when we will be taking plants out of the greenhouse and transplanting them into the field. This can be one of the most stressful experiences plants undergo as they are taken from the warm and sheltered environment of the greenhouse and placed into a field where they are at the mercy of the elements. Plants will almost always incur some amount of damage to their roots as well as their leaves during this process. All of these various stresses are grouped under the general name of “transplant shock.” If plants undergo too much transplant shock, it can leave them open to disease, pest pressure, and lower yield potential. But what can we do to help our plants through this period of increased stress?

Transplant shock is really the sum of all the stresses plants experience during the move from flat to field. In order to look at how we can help the plant through this time, we’ll divide these stresses into three different categories: environmental changes, physical damage, and nutritional deficiencies.

Most farmers help their plants acclimatize to these moisture and temperature changes by putting them through a period of  “hardening  off,”  especially in the spring. This is done by taking the crop out of the greenhouse and placing it in a new location where the plant is exposed to air movement and greater temperature changes, but is still sheltered from weather extremes. This can be accomplished by locating the plants in an area where they are open to moderate breezes and lower daytime temperatures, but can be covered to shelter them from strong winds or nighttime frosts. This limited exposure signals them to strengthen their main growing stalks to cope with wind and change the  chemistry of their leaves in order to withstand the lower temperatures.

To help transplants acclimatize to changes in soil temperature and biology and avoid transplant shock, there are several things we can do. The use of black plastic mulch in the field will warm the soil and is especially useful when it comes to cucurbits and solanaceous crops as it assists with weed control. Putting molasses into the transplant water can help too, as this will stimulate soil biology which in turn will raise the soil temperature.

The second and third categories of transplant stress, physical damage and nutrient deficiencies, are closely linked. Physical damage is unavoidable to a certain degree when transplanting. Care should be taken to avoid breaking any leaves or causing bruising as these injuries can become vectors for disease. The roots, however, not the upper part of the plant, often sustain the most damage during transplantation. Roots uptake nutrients mainly through their delicate root hairs and their growing tips, both of which are very susceptible to damage. This can lead to the plant experiencing a nutrient deficiency shortly after transplant due to its decreased uptake ability. This nutrient deficiency occurs at the same time the plant is trying to regenerate its root system and adjust to its new environment. This type of root damage can also happen easily with bare root transplants because in the process of removing the soil from the roots, more of the fragile root hairs can be damaged than when the transplants are in plug form.

A broccoli plant in the greenhouse. This plant shows no signs of nutrient deficiency

A broccoli plant in the greenhouse. This
plant shows no signs of nutrient deficiency

Reducing Transplant ShockAiding Plants To Avoid Transplant Shock

Helping the plant through the transplant stress is essential and can be accomplished a number of different ways. One way is to stimulate the plant to grow with natural growth hormones. Another is to provide the plant with a supply of easily absorbable macro- and micronutrients. Kelp is an excellent source of natural growth hormones and micronutrients. During transplantation a liquid kelp extract works best as it can easily  be added to water. It is also important to address macronutrients including phosphorus, calcium, potassium and nitrogen. All of these nutrients are involved in the formation of new tissue, and giving your plant an available supply of these nutrients will help it repair damage at a faster pace.

It is important to make sure that your plant is not already deficient in these nutrients before they go into the field.   It is surprising how many plants have some phosphorus deficiency, noticeable by a purpling of the leaves, or a nitrogen deficiency, noticeable by yellowing or chlorotic growth, before going into the field. Plants deficient at transplant are at a further disadvantage since they are already struggling to make up for these nutrients as well as trying to repair damage. Make sure that you are using high quality potting mix for  your seedlings to avoid this problem. Even with a good potting mix plants can become stressed, and it may be necessary to top dress the flats with a compost mix or fertilizer or you can inject liquid fertilizers into the for their needs. Special attention should be paid to plants that are past their ideal transplant date. Look for the noticeable signs of deficiency, and keep your plants well supplied with nutrition.

One of the best ways to decrease transplant shock is to supply extra nutrients and biostimulants at the time of transplant.  There are several ways to accomplish this. One is to drench the plants while they are still in their flats. This can be done by mixing a large dose of nutrients into the final watering, or by mixing up a batch of “transplant soup” in a bin and submerging the flats in the solution until the soil is saturated. It is okay to have some of the “soup” get on the foliage of the plant as this will simply act as a foliar feeding. When dealing with bare-root transplants soaking the roots of the plants in a weak solution can be done instead. Another way to deliver this “soup” is to mix it into the transplant water. This works well, but depending on the transplanter, it can leave a lot  of  the solution in between the plants where it is not as effective. However it will help to stimulate soil biology, especially if molasses is used in the solution. Using the two systems of drenching flats and adding products to the transplant water works well, as it both provides the nutrition your plants need and stimulates soil life.

Transplanting is a very stressful time for the plants.  They are put into conditions very different than what they are used to and are exposed to a wide range of stresses they have not encountered previously. The plants can also suffer damage during transplantation, especially to the root system, and this can lead to a period of nutrient deficiency as the plant tries to repair itself and as its ability to find nutrients has been decreased. All of these setbacks can weaken the plant and open it to disease and pest pressures, as well as decrease overall yield potential. By using conscientious cultural practices, stimulating root growth and soil life and giving the plant easily available forms of nutrients, we can help our plants pull through transplant shock faster. This in turn can lead to an increase in our plants’ ability to fend off disease and pests and result in improved yields.

Allen Philo has worked as the field  operations manager on a large organic vegetable farm, and is  currently the specialty  crop  consultant  for Midwestern Bio-Ag. He can be reached at allenp@midwesternbioag.com.

This article appeared in the April 2012 issue of Acres U.S.A.

by Allen Philo

Book Review: Miraculous Abundance: One Quarter Acre, Two French Farmers, and Enough Food to Feed the World

miraculous-abundanceby Perrine & Charles Hervé-Gruyer, book review by Chris Walters

Operation Market Garden, an unsuccessful attempt to cut off Germany with an airborne invasion of the Netherlands in late September of 1944, might have shortened World War II by six months. The market garden operation currently underway in the tiny French village of Le Bec-Hellouin, by contrast, is rated as brilliant by outside observers, stunning even those who were optimistic in the first place. If adapted to local conditions and replicated on a massive scale in various parts of the world, it could do much to shorten the terminal crisis of humanity by several decades or more. Charles Hervé-Gruyer, co-founder of the tiny farm with his wife Perrine, can prove it — he has the numbers. Microfarming the way this family does it in a remote corner of Normandy cuts undesirable inputs and raises desirable output significantly. This book tells how they created La Ferme du Bec Hellouin over the past decade. Continue Reading →

Starting a Small-Scale Livestock Venture: Understanding Market Considerations

Kelly Klober

Farmer sitting near pigsA number of years ago a neighbor called with questions about starting a purebred swine operation in our area. It was going to be based on a breed not already present in the area, but one that was well-regarded and had been used often to produce some good, rugged cornfield shoats across the Midwest.

I agreed that it was a good idea as the breed was one that we had once considered. I was about to advise a small, careful start when he told me that they had already purchased 30 gilts and two rather pricey breeding boars. Within two years they were out of the purebred swine business. It was a case of too much too soon.

MARKET RESEARCH
A livestock venture and the market for it tend to begin small, and it will take time for both of them to develop. Along with acquiring needed skills and experiences, the producer must determine to what level of production the venture can be grown and continue to garner good selling prices and returns.

Price is set by the quality of the output and the demand for it. The producer can certainly shape the quality and, to an extent, have control over the amount of output (at least from his or her farm into nearby markets where most direct sales are generated). Before selling a single boar of his chosen breed our neighbor had the numbers in place and the money spent to be producing them by the score.

It is a mistake that we have all made, and some of us have made it several times. A young man of our acquaintance once ordered 50 quail chicks, grew them out with comparative ease and sold them quickly for a tidy profit. He next placed an order for 1,000 quail chicks, and the results were disastrous.

Small creatures though they may be, 1,000 quail chicks taxed his facilities, almost immediately problems began to arise that were beyond his level of experience, and a market that bought 50 and wanted a few more had no need for them by the hundreds. His losses of birds and dollars were substantial.

Continue Reading →

A Passion for Quality Meat

This article appears in the March 2016 issue of Acres U.S.A.

by Samm Simpson

Alice and Simon Carter (front) with Lucy, Amanda, Matilda and Will Carter on their farm in North Carolina.

Alice and Simon Carter (front) with Lucy, Amanda, Matilda and Will Carter on their farm in North Carolina.

In 2007 Amanda Carter discovered the underbelly of the industrial food system after she and her husband, Will, drove from North Carolina to Washington state in their newly converted grease-powered panel truck.

Carter wrote a research paper on yellow grease, replete with details on roadkill, chicken carcasses and scraps being recycled into animal feed. She decided her family would never eat commercially fed animal protein again.

“We’d already eliminated trans fats, HFCS, hydrogenated oils, Red #40 and artificial flavors, so we decided we’d raise our own meat.”

The Carters experimented with broilers and rabbits and practiced humane backyard processing while introducing Simon and Alice, their first two children, to farm life. Carter developed a feed business, driving 800-mile round-trips to buy and supply non-GMO feed for her 150 customers. She crafted a newsletter with an eye to animal handling, health and ever-changing government regulations. Continue Reading →

Joel Salatin: Communicating Ecological Eating

This article first appeared in the February 2016 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Six Key Messages for Consumer Outreach


by Joel Salatin

Joel Salatin believes ecological farmers must constantly teach consumers ecological eating.As farmers, we enjoy conversations about soil, water, animal husbandry, horticulture and every other kind of production nuance. That’s as it should be. But all of this production is meaningless without someone to use it.

Obviously the industrial food system has a lot of users. Whether those users are lazy, ignorant, evil or just plain unconscious is anybody’s guess. But if we’re ever going to get ecological farming more widely practiced, we obviously need more ecological eaters.

How do we move ecological farming forward fastest? Is it by converting farmers, or converting people who buy our stuff? Certainly both need attention, but I’ll submit that we don’t put enough responsibility on customers. While we farmers shoulder the brunt of accusations regarding depleted soils, tasteless food, animal abuse and pathogen-laden fare, by and large consumers escape with excuses. Continue Reading →

Hedgerows Aid in Pest Control

hedgerows

Research has shown that hedgerows of native California flowering shrubs planted along the edge of a crop field help keep crop pests under control by increasing the activity of natural enemies. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and UC Berkeley researchers analyzing hedgerows in Yolo County have found that not only are farmers diversifying their land by planting hedgerows, but those plantings are attracting natural enemies that provide economic benefits. The two-year study of hedgerows planted adjacent to processing tomatoes showed higher numbers of natural enemies such as lady beetles (aka lady bugs) and fewer crop pests compared with conventionally managed field crops edged with residual weeds.

Benefits from Hedgerows Extend into Field

The researchers discovered that the increase in natural enemy activity in the hedgerows extended 600 feet into adjacent tomato crops and resulted in a reduction of aphid pests and an increase in stink bug egg predation by parasitoid wasps. Tomato fields adjacent to a hedgerow required fewer pesticide treatments than the tomato fields without hedgerows.

This report appears in the November 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.