Tray fillers provide uniform media, allowing uniform watering and plants. Here’s what you need to know when picking out one of these machines.

Filling containers is one of the large labor users in the production of plants. The typical hand-filling rate of 60 to 100 flats/person-hour is considered good. On the other hand, machines are available that will fill more than 1,000 flats/person-hour.

The advantage to choosing a machine over hand-filling is the uniformity of media in the container. There are no compacted areas. This results in more uniform watering and therefore more uniform plants.

Although a tray filler can be used as a standalone machine, they are more efficient if they are part of a production line. Tray fillers can include a soil feeder, seeder, transplanting machine or conveyor, watering tunnel and tagger. It is usually best if all equipment is purchased from the same manufacturer so the components match.

Basic components

What should you look for in a container-filling machine? The following are the basic components of most machines.

Soil bin — The bin should be able to handle the type of mix you are using without bridging or sticking. Bin capacities ranging from 6 cubic feet to 4 cubic yards are available. One yard will fill about 75 flats or 480 6-inch pots.

Conveyor for flats — A belt or chain conveyor is used to move the containers under the soil bin or flight conveyor. A variable-speed drive, either electric or hydraulic, will allow you to adjust the feed rate depending on the size of the container. Feed rates of five to 30 trays per minute for small machines and 20 to 60 for large machines are common. Pot rate will depend on size and whether they are individually fed or are placed in a template tray.

Read more: Selecting a tray filler