How do you have the most successful final product possible? You must have a successful beginning. For tobacco farmers, this means starting out with strong seeds that grow into healthy transplants. With a seed so small its volume ranges from 10,000 to 20,000 seeds per gram, transformation from the fragile seedling stage into hardy transplants is essential for a profitable harvest season.
Home-grown or purchased?
Growers should try and have the highest-quality transplants to ensure the survival and strength of the tiny plants. Sometimes even the best field management may not be enough to salvage poor-quality transplants. Growers have the choice of buying transplants from a dealer or producing their own.
Purchasing transplants requires a full inspection of the product. Danny Peek, Extension specialist for burley tobacco and high-value specialty crops with Virginia Cooperative Extension, recommends that you look over the transplants carefully to make sure they are not diseased. Look at the bottom of the tray, and pull a few plants up. Examine the plant’s foliage, stem and root system. Slight discoloration does not necessarily mean the plant is not healthy, but an extremely poor color or deteriorating roots are both signs of disease.
Unfortunately growers may not have the luxury of an abundance of supply. There used to be more transplants available for purchase, but as greenhouse space is so expensive, producers have been cautious not to over-plant, making your choice more important than ever.
The North Carolina State University (NCSU) Flue-Cured Tobacco Guide advises that waiting until after the second week of February helps decrease fuel usage and thus reduces the cost of transplant production. Please consult your state’s production guide for specific guidelines for growing transplants.
Avoiding disease during the transplant stage can save you from large plant losses. Unfortunately, the float system creates quite favorable conditions for some transplant diseases. The humid conditions especially can promote infection of roots and leaves from different pathogens.
One way you can keep plant pathogens out of your float system is by avoiding water from ponds or creeks that might contain fungi like pythium or the black shank pathogen. In addition, the 2011 Kentucky and Tennessee Tobacco Production Guide recommends keeping soil out of float bays, which can also harbor pythium pathogens.
Maintaining the area around your greenhouse—keeping it free from weeds and shrubs—will also help minimize pathogens that could enter your greenhouse by wind or by insect. Keep flower and vegetable gardens at a distance as well.
Keeping your trays as clean as possible is also important. You should always sanitize used trays, dispose of unused or diseased plants immediately and throw out old clippings and debris. If you find diseases such as black shank, the Kentucky and Tennessee guide advises not to mow plants, as that action would spread the disease to healthy plants.