Divide and Conquer

This time last year, the Tin House was a mess. Three big construction projects were underway at once—the root washer, the onion rack, and another chicken coop—and you risked life and limb just trying to set your foot down. This winter, however, the situation is entirely different. The tables and floors are bare, as though the farmers had flown to Aruba, yet we’re still thoroughly occupied, just in a way not easily observed. This winter we’re focusing on our field systems, i.e. how we prepare beds, how we plant, and how we cultivate/weed. It’s mostly a matter of research— assessing the pros and cons of different planters, making sure a new cultivator will fit the tractor, etc.—but once the season gets underway, all these hours in the office will pay off.

The paperpot transplanter is the most exciting purchase to stem from our research. Invented in and well-known throughout Japan, it was only recently imported to the United States. The tool is a game-changer in that a single person, pulling the transplanter, can plant 264 seedlings in less than a minute! Our current method, by comparison, takes 15 minutes or more. The paperpot system starts out with the paperpot tray—a paper chain woven into a tray, which is spread over a frame. At planting time, the tray is removed from the frame and set on the transplanter, which unfurls the chain and anchors it into the ground. When we first heard about the transplanter several years ago, it seemed too good to be true. As a growing number of reputable farms endorsed it, however, we became increasingly eager to jump on the bandwagon. Then, just two weeks ago, I drove out to Early Girl Farm in Bayport, where head grower Patty Gentry invited me to trial her newly-purchased transplanter. My experience corroborated everything I’d seen online, and we decided the time had come. Our transplanter is now sitting in a box, awaiting assembly.

Because the paperpot transplanter spaces crops more closely than our previous method, committing to it meant reconsidering how we cultivate. In theory, closely-spaced crops won’t leave room for weeds, because they form such a dense canopy.