Question of the Week
What is the best process for efficiently transplanting rootstocks and graftlings on a small or medium scale?
Answer: There are many ways to accomplish this. Some folks will work up the rows really well (using a tractor first to get deep, and then a BCS tiller to pulverize the soil). Then, with a long-faced hand hoe and positioned on their knees, they work their way down the row, transplanting the graftlings about every 12 inches. Getting the soil really loose before starting to transplant is key if you don't like to spend time on your knees. Pulverizing the soil with the BCS tiller is a hard decision—there are worms and other soil life to worry about, so it's best to only till the actual row and not the walking aisles between the rows. That leaves plenty of worms to re-colonize the tilled rows.
Another approach is to have an "up person" with a shovel making holes or slits, and a "down person" putting in the graftlings and covering up the roots. Depending on soil texture and tilth, there are times you could just go through once with a garden fork to loosen up the soil and then follow on your knees and place the graftlings in with the hand hoe. The process can go pretty fast.
Watering in the transplants is always recommended to make sure the soil sifts in around the roots.
Out west in the big nurseries, this process is, for the most part, automated, with two people sitting on the back of a transplanter pulled by a tractor. The tractor opens the ground just in front of the transplanter, and the people put in the rootstocks or graftlings at a pretty fair pace. After the transplants are placed in the slit made by the tractor, a trailing part of the transplanter throws the soil back to the row and tamps it down. You may have seen videos or photos showing something similar in the big strawberry farms out west.
The process does take some experimentation, and there very well might be a better process that will suit your equipment and labor better, so keep an open mind and figure out where you can improve it to suit you.
For more information on tree fruit production, see the ATTRA publication Tree Fruits: Organic Production Overview, available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=2.
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