Favorite Grow Trays for Chili Seedlings?

sjetski(6b NJ)January 27, 2011

Hi all,

I'm aware that many are using plastic/styrofoam cups to plant their chili pepper seeds, as have i, but i was wondering if any pepper growers had a favorite type of tray?

I ask because i wanted to try something different this year, so i purchase some speedling trays, the 72 cell and 32 cell trays. And i also purchased five really deep 38 cell Star tree plug trays that are 5 inches deep with a larger opening at the bottom. I'm hoping to go direct from tray to ground, so therefore i felt that a slightly larger and deeper tray would be beneficial and allow some space for growth.

Some of you may be aware of the concept behind the speedling tray, they channel roots down to the bottom where they are naturally airpruned at the opening, no root spiraling or anything else. The Star trays appear to use a similar concept in that there are grooves that channel the roots downwards to a large opening where they will hopefully airprune and not tangle up in knots.

So does anyone have a favorite type of tray they like to use for pepper seedlings, or have some thoughts on the trays i chose? I would have posted in one of the other subforums but i notice a lack of hardcore chili pepper enthusiasts participating in those discussions...

Here's some links for everyone to get a visual:

Speedling 72 cell: http://www.groworganic.com/speedling-transplant-tray-72-cell.html

Speedling 32 cell: http://www.groworganic.com/speedling-transplant-tray-32-cell.html

Star 38 cell Tree Tubes: http://growerssolution.com/page/GS/PROD/plug/59-51451

Great Speedling tray article with pics: http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/4689/seed-starting-in-speedling-trays

Here is a link that might be useful: Great Speedling tray article with pics:

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sjetski(6b NJ)

Oh, almost forgot, here's my list that i'm planting this year:

Jumbo Serrano
Jumbo and early Jalapeno
Bhut Jolokia Red
Jamaican Hot Chocolate Hab,
Peruvian White Hab,
Yellow Hab,
Orange Hab
Caribbean Red Hab
Mushroom pepper (the C. Annuum type)
Super shepherd ramshorn, these babies are sweeter than apples
Fish pepper, (maybe)
Trinidad Perfume
Tobago Seasoning
Numex Suave Orange Habanero (mild)
Aji Habanero (mild)
Earl's #4 (cap annum from europe, low/med heat)
Maybe Cayenne and one or two other Annums.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 9:27PM
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Those look like cool trays, i bet ya can pull the seedlings out of there with root ball for very easy transplanting.

I still have some of those old 96 cell light guage black plastic trays i got to use up for this year. Sometimes i end up cutting them to pieces if the roots start growing out the bottom and get stuck in there.

Also im going to use some styro egg cartons to start seedlings this year too. I planted one dozen seeds in one egg carton 4 days ago. Should be any day now before they start popping.


    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 10:30PM
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sjetski(6b NJ)

I liked the way they looked too, and i liked the story behind the Speedling trays, apparently many tobacco farmers have been using them exclusively since they debuted over 20 years ago.

I also liked the look of the Star Tree Plug trays, 2 inches across, 5 inches deep, vertical channels with a large hole at the bottom for air pruning (hopefully) and relatively cheap at the store i linked.

So far i've only planted the Bhut Jolokias and the Habaneros i listed since they take longer to fruit than normal. In a few weeks i'll begin planting the rest.

Got a bybrid lighting setup this year with a mixture of Blue + Red LED's, T5 and T8 fluoros. That should be enough lighting for now i suppose, if i need more i'll just buy a couple of those $10 dual T8 setups.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 10:47PM
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sjetski(6b NJ)

Talk about lighting, here's a Super Shepherd Ramshorn that was grown under one string of blue LED Christmas lights, 4 watts total. It was sprouted under warm temps 80f+ but was moved into a 60f basement to get the blinding blue led lighting out of my eyes.

Notice how the new leaf layers are closely bunched together, this pic is at around 5 or 6 weeks i think. That's a layer of baked clay granules on top, the cheap kind some mechanics use to clean spills. I was dealing with a fungus gnat problem with my overwintered plants and i didn't want this plant to get infested. Those Mosquito dunks they sell at Lowes eventually finished them off.

That plant was just an experiment with lighting btw, late fall/winter boredom. I won't be using many styrofoam cups this year either, maybe just a few for giveaways to family/friends. They take up too much space under the lights, which is why i'm going with trays this year. For 2012 i may try those square mini flower pots, the 3" ones. Those ought to take up less space under lights and have a decent enough size for juvenile plants to grow.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 11:16PM
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sjetski(6b NJ)

Received those Star 720562C tree tube deep trays today, and I'm liking them a lot. The tubes do taper down gradually to a large hole at the bottom so hopefully they will naturally air-prune and not have roots spiral all over the place. Overall they are a tad sturdier than your typical nursery tray, with the right care they should last more than a few seasons.

Here's a few pics i took:

^^^Here's a pic of the entire tray / 38 cells

^^^ a close up to give an idea of size and shape (a hair over 2" wide)

^^^ a side profile, 5" deep.

Another side view.

An upside down view of the tray, yes they arrived a little dusty.

If anyone wants better pics, let me know and i'll take ones with better lighting.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2011 at 12:05AM
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Yep. I bet those trays will work just fine for ya. Looks like plenty of volume in those cells to grow yer plants 4 or 5 inches tall and they should pull out of there easily when it comes time to put em in the ground.

I spent alot of hours last year transplanting seedling out of the starter trays into larger cups. I did enjoy it tho. We'll see how it goes this year as ill be doing the same thing. Maybe ill get me some of those trays for 2012.

I plant probably 4 times the amount of plants i will use myself. Last year i gave alot of seedling cups away to friends, family and neighbors. Im even thinking about getting a table at the local farmer market street fair this year and maybe sell some, we'll see.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2011 at 2:37AM
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I've always started in Jiffy pellets in the dome covered trays, and gotten 90+ percent germination. I just buy the refill bags of pellets. I pot them up to 4 inch pots in MG organic choice potting soil and have had excellent results (like harvesting Bhuts in August). I grown them at 75-80 F under an htg T5 growlight with a silver mylar sheet draped over the top (to minimize light loss) and give them only water when needed. Last year I tried making soil blocks using some fancy starting/potting mix from Vermont Compost Co but had very poor germination rates (

    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 1:22PM
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sjetski(6b NJ)

Hey PrestonFarmer, thanks for joining in.

I'm not a fan of using peat for seedlings. Mostly because i use the lazy grow method and hate "potting up". The few times i've experimented with peat pellets, i got lots of white mold even though it wasn't drenched (i underwater usually) and the seedlings stood frozen and never grew their second set of leaves, they needed to be potted up obviously. Just not a good fit for me in other words, hence my motivation in trying out these specialized grow trays.

I should mention that i began a test run of the Miracle Grow Orchid mix/coco choir/worm castings blend about 11 or 12 days ago. I planted these seeds in dixie cups, they are for my brother in law so his plants were my guinea pig :)

4 seeds each of:

White habanero
Caribbean red hab
Yellow Hab
Orange Hab
Chocolate Hab
Bhut Jolokia aka Ghost Chili

And out of those 24 seeds, 22 of them have sprouted so far. The temperature in the furnace room fluctuates between 80-86f which i'm sure helped. Many of them even have their second set of leaves poking through. I now keep them near the ground where temps are around 78-83f and have a fan on them. Soon i'll move them to a cooler room so they don't get leggy in all that heat.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 8:03PM
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sjetski(6b NJ)

I'll post pics on my next post, but i started my first star deep tray and planted mostly the later blooming varieties in it, Bhuts and certain Habs etc.

This time i used a custom blend in this tray, 1/3 Fox Farms Ocean Forest, 1/3 miracle grow orchid blend (forest humus) and 1/3 coco choir. All of it was sterilized with 180f heat for 30 minutes to kill the nasties and weed seeds etc. I then rehydrated it with filtered water and some neem oil. After a few good plain water soakings i'll recolonize it with some beneficial bacteria + fungi + powdered calcium + micro nutrients (azomite lava). I'll add some fish emulsion down the road sometime.

I used coco choir for better water absorption and to reduce the "hot mix" of miracle grow and fox farm soils. I researched Azomite and it supposedly provides 70-something micro nutrients for both plants and bacteria/fungi to benefit from, it was cheap so i just had to try it.

Pretty sure this recipe will hold me over till planting time.

I'm really liking these deep trays...

    Bookmark   February 20, 2011 at 4:23PM
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Those speedling trays, even the 200-cell size will grow tobacco seedlings that are 12" tall, though by early June they need watered almost every day. My biggest problem with them was low germination rates for peppers, though I had not experimented with them in the past.

I moved away from Ripley before farmers started using them, but my understanding is that the trays are placed in troughs of water and move around in it via a fan - at least when the plants are young. I can tell you they can be transplanted on a 95 degree day and never wilt a bit, provided they have been hardened off.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2011 at 4:49PM
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sjetski(6b NJ)

Nice, thanks for chiming in wordwiz, some great info by someone that has used speedling trays before.

Strange about your pepper experience with them, one could only guess but i imagine it had something to do with other variables besides the trays themselves, unless there's something about styrofoam that inhibits germination, or that the water was draining too fast for unsprouted seeds. So some farmers float them around like little life rafts? I guess they're buoyant enough with a light seedling mix.

Tobacco plants till they're 12" tall in the 200 cell tray, now that's a surprise. Unless there's something about tobacco plants where it's ok for them to grow spindly compared to peppers(?). Tobacco is one of the things my parents used to plant on their farm(s), along with grapes and the usual vegetables on their backyard plots, maybe i'll ask the old man for his thoughts.

Transplanting on a 95 degree day, ha! I know it's normally a recipe for plant suicide but it's good to hear, proof that the concept works in other words. Heck i've had plants die from hardening off, done the wrong way of course...

Going to compare transplant results of speedling vs star trays, if i see a noticeable difference then i know what i'll be using exclusively next year. But otherwise like i said before, i'm really liking the deep star trays, and the price is just right on them in the link i provided in my first post.

2011 is shaping up to be an interesting year.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2011 at 5:27PM
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I do suspect I used the wrong potting mix combo - I tried a few seeds this year and had fairly decent results. But I learned to water from the bottom, not the top, especially if the mix is real fine - it can drain out the bottom!

The tobacco plants were a bit spindly, but not so much as to hurt them. I planted them deep in the soil and the six of them were almost as good as any plants we raised, even though I didn't side-dress them or other things growers do!

I wish these things were available back in my childhood. Imagine burning a bed then later raking it. Spending hours on a board or mattress plucking up weeds. Having to water the beds at least once a week in dry weather (we had 10-12 beds of plants), taking a canvas off and putting it back on, pulling plants and bundling them - the Speedling trays probably knocked off two, maybe three hours of labor per thousand plants. That would have been a lot of time when we raised 17 acres of tobacco!


    Bookmark   February 20, 2011 at 8:16PM
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sjetski(6b NJ)

Mike you've provided a window to the past. I could imagine it, my parents have often spoken of the toil required. I'm glad they've left that life behind before they broke themselves down too much (young adults, freshly married). They probably bear some of the signs though, creaky joints, tough looking hands...true sons/daughters of the soil.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2011 at 9:13PM
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sjetski(6b NJ)


Hello again everyone.

I can confirm there is little to no root spiraling in the Star tube trays. It's almost funny when you lift a larger plant out of one of the cells, the roots look almost like an upside down Christmas tree with lots of small lateral root "hairs", which is exactly what i was hoping for. I did not notice any roots growing upwards. I'll try to snap a picture of the next few i lift out and post them here.

I got off to a much later start with the Speedling grow trays (Annuums) so i haven't potted up any of those plants yet, but i'll try to take a few pictures of those when i do. I used the 72 cell speedling trays, but unfortunately did not use the larger 32 cell one... i saved that one for last till i figured out i didn't have enough room for all of those plants!!! I'll save the 32 cell tray for some more exotic chili's that i'll try growing in 2012.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2011 at 9:54PM
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Hi sjetski,

I think that those speedling trays look great. I tried checking out the "Growers Solutions" site but couldn't find those trays. Is that where you got them?

    Bookmark   May 1, 2011 at 9:24PM
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sjetski(6b NJ)

Hey northernmn

Actually, growers solutions is where i got the Star tube trays, unless that's what you were actually referring to?

Otherwise Groworganic.com is the only place where you'll find Speedling products online.

Once you're at the main page of Groworganic, type "Speedling" into the searchbar to check out all of their products.

Here is a link that might be useful: GrowOrganic Link

    Bookmark   May 1, 2011 at 10:21PM
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Found them ! Will be ordering for next years seed starting.

Thanks afor starting this thread. It's been very informative.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 11:40AM
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sjetski(6b NJ)

Glad we could help northernmn. While you're at it, and if you're willing to make 2012 an "experimental year", maybe checkout wordwiz's write-up at the Hot Pepper forums. Apparently he had great luck this year using Oasis Horticubes, saving him tons of time, effort, and even electricity (less bulbs needed for reduced coverage area). Apparently the Horticubes air prune the roots, which keeps them from becoming potbound which in turn reduces transplant shock. You can always try a test using both Speedling trays and Horticubes.

With all of the experience he has trying different products over the years, it's convinced me enough to use them for my bulk C.Annuum plants in 2012. I won't expect miracles or anything, call it high hopes but low expectations maybe? With any luck, he may chime in here also. Mike/wordwiz you're more than welcome to post your Horticube results in this thread if you like.

URL: http://www.thehotpepper.com/topic/21591-for-those-who-start-hundreds-of-seedlings/

- Steve

Here is a link that might be useful: Wordwiz's Horticube thread

    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 10:09PM
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Was just at the biggest nursery in town looking for something else when I stopped by one of the prep stations to ask for some help. Noticed some heavy duty plastic transplant trays (well, heavy duty for your normal semi-reusable/disposable trays that is) that looked very much like the speedling trays. Only instead of being perfect pyramids they were more like the old fashioned elongated trapazoidal popsicle molds. Nice grooves down the sides, good air pruning holes in the bottom, each cell probably 2 inches by 3 inches, each try with 30 cells (5x6).

Asked them if they had anything like it for sale. Said they were the empties from where one of the supliers had sent them a shipment of lilies. One employee thought the supplier wanted them back, but called the manager to see if they had anything close to it for sale. Manager said to just give me the empties.

I said thank you, took the stack (only wanted one, but they gave me the full half dozen trays) and got out of there before somebody had time to change their minds. =)

Can't wait for my second round of bhuts to sprout so I can put them over into one of these trays. I'll try to get pictures tonight when I get home.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 9:48AM
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Update on the jiffy pellets. I got tired of having the non-compostable nets from the outside of the pellets turning up in my garden year after year, so this year I cut them off. Prolem is that it pruned the roots, and I think that caused the problem I'm currently having. The plants are yellowing, as are my tomatoes and eggplants. They're well fed, both roots and foliage with Multi-Bloom, never overwatered. After the feeding, they're beginning to come back, but they look like hell.

Lessons learned the hard way are learned well!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2011 at 9:24PM
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When I use the Jiffy pellets to start peppers I remove the netting when the plants have at least two sets of leaves, when I pot them up to a larger container. I have never had any problem with it hurting the roots. I just tear the netting off. IMO it sounds like you removed the netting when the plants were older and I can see that might affect the roots.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 8:12AM
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sjetski(6b NJ)

Edymnion That sounds like an ideal shape, gradually narrowing itself downwards in shape, and a larger hole at the end. I can't say for certain but i think those will air-prune, and thus you'll likely end up with a healthy rootball and less transplant shock. Not to mention they GAVE you 6 trays x 30 cells, you scored well in my opinion. Pictures would definitely be welcome.

PrestonFarmer, i agree with Vic01, i think those plants may have been left in the Jiffy peat pellets for a week or two longer than they should have (?) I've experienced yellowing during May plant-outs, when it rains too much before the transplants have acclimated themselves. They always bounce back, but it sets their growth back another week or so. Good luck either way.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 8:45PM
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So the sppelings are GROW trays, you are starting seed where?

Is there a tray to put under the speedling tray?

    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 5:37AM
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Ah, finally had the right combination of sun and free time to snap some pics of the trays I scored.

Glove and lighter for scale.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 5:00PM
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sjetski(6b NJ)

Sam, you can start seedlings in virtually anything as long as you keep the soil moist, including speedling trays. And yes that website sells trays that go underneath them. As mentioned earlier, once your at the GrowOrganic website, type "speedling" into the searchbar to see all of the related products.

Edymnion: Those look like nice trays with big cells, exactly the kind i prefer since it buys you extra time before you have to pot-up. However those small holes at the bottom won't airprune, not that it's really a huge deal or anything. It would need a single large hole at the end of a tapered bottom to get air pruning to work in case you are curious. The picture of the upside down Star tray i posted should give you an idea. But like i said it isn't a big deal especially since those trays you got look really good, and were free to boot, hard to beat that ;). With some care it looks like you can get a few more seasons out of them.

Here is a link that might be useful: Sam: Here's that link again to GrowOrganic.com

    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 8:46PM
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cmpman1974(Zone 6 MI)

My favorite growing containers for peppers are either 36 cell plug trays or individual 2.5" square x 3.75" deep containers. Both are space saving and produce decent transplants. Of course you can grow much bigger plants with 3.5" or 4.5" square pots, but I'm happy with these from an overall space / plant size perspective. I've experimented with a LOT over the years. :)

    Bookmark   May 9, 2011 at 11:05PM
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