The paperpot transplanter is Lean Farmer Ben Hartman’s all-time favorite tool—and with good reason. It helps boost production on his farm while reducing up to 88 percent of time and labor spent transplanting.
“One of the reasons I love this tool is because in the springtime it gives me so much extra time,” Ben says. “There’s so much that needs to happen this time of year, and I save several hours a week from our work by using this tool.”Ben Hartman
In his video, Ben shares how he uses the transplanter to transplant Osborne Seeds’ Hampton lettuce heads using a 264-paperpot chain. He also talks about how the tool has transformed his farm.
The Japanese Paperpot Transplanter
Ben Hartman owns an older Japanese model, the HP10 transplanter (since replaced by the HP16 paperpot transplanter), and he likes it for its lightweight and simple design.
Since it has very few moving parts, anyone on the farm can easily pick it up and move it around.
He tried several of the newer models, such as the Terratek paperpot transplanter, and found that they can be a little cumbersome to use—they can be up to 20 pounds heavier than the one he uses. He chalks up the heavier weight of the newer transplanters to preference and soil type; he thinks his transplanter works best in finer soil types.
Adjustable Parts on the Paperpot Transplanter
At the rear end of the tool is a pair of press wheels that help press the soil around the seedling after it’s been deposited in the ground. You can opt to tuck the press wheels up, but Ben has always kept them down.
The front wheels are also adjustable to create shallower or deeper trenches when transplanting certain crops. The trench depth can also be adjusted during transplanting by either pushing down for a shallower trench or pulling up the transplanter for a deeper trench.
The main handle of the transplanter can be adjusted to the height most comfortable for you to use.
The transplanter also has an optional ramp that helps bridge your paperpot chains to the rest of the transplanter, and although different models can have different parts for this, Ben finds a simple ramp is all you need.
Is the Paperpot Transplanter the Right Tool for You?
According to Ben, the paperpot transplanter is the ideal tool for larger plantings.
It will be a huge help if you’re doing 264 cells of lettuce at a time—but not if you’re only transplanting 30 bok chois weekly.
It’s also not the right tool for zucchinis, watermelons, tomatoes, and other larger crops that need wide spacings. In these cases, hand transplanting is the best way to go.
Soil Prep for Planting in Paperpots
The transplanter needs fairly good soil conditions for it to work well. Ben usually prepares his soil for transplanting the same way he prepares it for direct seeding, except he leaves out his final raking.
But since Ben was farming on new property in his video, he added a layer of compost and used his BCS tiller at a depth of about 2-3 inches to fluff up the soil and even out the compost, so as to make sure the transplanter would pass through easily. Lastly, he ran his bed rake down the bed to make sure nothing could gum up the transplanter.
Key Points to Make Sure Your Paperpot Transplanter Runs Smoothly
1. Transplant the crops as young as you can. This is Ben’s best tip: Think of transplanting as direct-seeding pre-sprouted seeds.
The paperpot cells are about 1 inch in height, which means the crops are not going to look healthy at 7, 8, or 9 weeks after being seeded—there’s not enough potting mix to allow that to happen. The transplanting also goes smoother if your crops don’t have a lot of root mass all bound up inside the cells.
Ben prefers to plant his lettuce at about 4 weeks old, when they’re well-established and have enough true leaves that they won’t be in danger of being completely drowned in soil when they’re transplanted.
2. Transplant when it’s cooler. Ben usually transplants during cloudy, shady days, or in the evenings, when it’s cooler, to avoid stressing out the seedlings.
3. Pre-wet your soil. Make sure your soil has good moisture content before transplanting.
4. Pre-soak your trays. Ben has also found that pre-soaking trays in a half an inch of water for two hours makes them easier to transplant.
After aligning the transplanter at the edge of the bed, place your tray on the pan, tucking the ramp underneath the paper chains.
Take the first cell of the paper chain and thread it to the end of the transplanter and push it into the soil, making sure it’s secure. This will act as the anchor pin that the rest of the paper chains will follow.
Ben seeds his lettuce every other cell to ensure they have enough space to grow large heads. Some crops can fit up to six rows of paper chains in a 30-inch-wide bed, but three rows work well for Ben’s lettuces.
The transplanter can be pulled along while straddling the rows, or from the side. When the transplanter runs smoothly over the soil, remember to keep an eye out on two things: that the paper chain is unraveling well, and that the seedlings are being transplanted correctly at the other end. Otherwise, make height adjustments as you go.
The paperpot transplanter is one piece of equipment that keeps Ben Hartman farming lean. Given how successful his farm is running—along with all the time and energy he’s saving—the paperpot transplanter may be worth a try on your farm!
If you’re a farmer, and you want to save time and energy on your farm, then get started with the Paperpot Transplanter!