Seed Starting in Speedling Trayscomments (15) April 5th, 2009
by Yvonne Savio
from issue #25
My mother started her vegetable and flower seeds in soil nursery beds, well amended with manure and compost, so I never knew there were other methods until I subscribed to gardening magazines and mail-order catalogs. The wealth of available tools and techniques fascinated me. But in a household in which the most minor item was reused many times—before it was known as recycling—actually purchasing a new item was all but inconceivable; you simply made do with what you had.
I began my own seed starting endeavors by scavenging assorted containers that promised a healthy start to my tiny sproutlings. Milk cartons, cottage cheese and yogurt containers, whipped margarine tubs, orange and grapefruit rinds, egg cartons, wax-lined cereal boxes, ad infinitum. Quite a collection of odd sizes and shapes, but with a thorough cleaning and a couple of holes punched in the bottom for drainage, they did the job quite nicely.
These trays were developed by Speedling, Inc., for large-scale agriculture. The company’s patent has since run out, but I’ve never located a source for trays other than those made by Speedling, Inc.
Speedling trays are roughly 13-1⁄2 inches wide by 26-1⁄2 inches long by 3 inches deep, and they typically come in four cell sizes: 1-inch (200 cells per tray), 1-1⁄2-inch (128 cells per tray), 2-inch (72 cells per tray), and 3-inch (32 cells per tray). Although they’re rather bulky compared with the typical plastic nursery flat, they’re made of molded polystyrene and are quite lightweight, which is helpful when lugging the trays around the garden.
|Speedling trays come in several cell sizes. The most versatile are the 2-inch cells, shown above with lettuce starts and at far right in the photo at right.|
Root pruning is automatic
|In a Speedling tray, seedling roots are air-pruned as they poke through holes at the bottom of the tray, so seedlings are rarely rootbound.|
In Davis, I became interested in stretching the growing season. I soon discovered the insulating value of my polystyrene Speedling trays. With the addition of row cover as a canopy, held up by the plant label stakes, the seeds were enveloped in an environment-modifying cocoon that helped them germinate and grow in cooler weather.
When the plants in a Speedling tray are large enough to transplant, you can pry them out of the cells with a paring knife or even a sturdy plant label without disturbing their roots. Watering the day before assures a turgid plant, but allows excess moisture to drain, so the rootball easily pops out.
|The angled sides of the Speedling cells encourage seedling roots to grow downward, rather than circling around as in a square cell. The pyramidal soil plugs are easy to transplant.||You don't have to pop a pyramidal plug out of a Speedling tray, especially if you water the night before, leaving the plug neither too wet nor too dry.|
Then there’s the longevity of the trays themselves. Although the trays from my first purchase have become dirty and dinged (and are apparently tasty to slugs, which have nibbled the edges), I’m still using them—some 20 years later. I now bring both new and old Speedlings to my Master Gardener classes on tools and recycling to illustrate the value of frugal but wise purchases. My trays definitely pay for themselves year after year.
Several years ago, I decided to accept the reality of my penchant for late transplanting. I had been using only the trays with 1-inch-square cells, so I could start as many seedlings as possible in each tray. This was driving me crazy because I was always late in transplanting. I was eternally battling with overgrown seedlings planted too thickly in each cell, a problem not even a Speedling tray can overcome. I now allow myself the luxury of using trays with 2-inch-square cells for just about every kind of seed, and saving the 1-inch-square cells for leeks. And I sow three seeds in each cell: one to come up and thrive, one to come up but fall victim to disease or critter, and one never to germinate in the first place. The lone survivor has a sturdy stem and full foliage, its roots occupy the full cell, and transplanting is a snap.
|More great seed-starting information:
• Soil-Block Your Seeds
• Seed Starting Strategies
• Video: A Simple Way to Start Seeds Indoors
• Get Those Seedlings in the Ground
For more links to articles, blog posts, and videos on starting vegetable and flower seeds, see All About Starting Seeds.
posted in: seedlings