Planting seedlings is not just for the lazy gardener, it's for the gardener that looks at their watch and decides "it's time to make a move!". While propagating from seed is no doubt the most cost effective way to grow your food, when you enter the season late or simply don't have the time to invest, we can always fall back on the seedling. And thankfully, some well organised nursery has grown it on our behalf.
First thing's first: how to choose the perfect punnet? A lot of newbies think that bigger is always better and look for more established plants, however plants that have over-cooked in the pot are often root bound and stressed, making them tough to transplant. Quite often they are producing premature fruit - a telltale sign of stress - and have become hard stemmed. It's a battle that's best avoiding. Look for young plants that are vibrant and well spaced out and feel the pot to ensure they are not root bound (hard pots means a tangle of roots; soft pots means they are growing more freely).
Our biggest concern is for the welfare of the seedling when transplanting. You have to realize that these guys have spent the former months of their lives in a cosy greenhouse and now they come face to face with their reality. Make it a pleasant transition by watering in any seedlings 10 minutes before transplanting. They are no doubt thirsty, tired and worried; this will make the process far more comfortable.
Now vibrant and enthused, it's transplanting time! Don't fall into the trap of many green gardeners and plant them all together - this is the one big chance to realize their potential and they won't if everyone's stepping on each other's toes. Work out the necessary spacing for the variety you are planting and go about separating the individual seedlings.
When faced with a rectangular punnet the challenge of separation is a more organized one. Neatly arranged in rows and columns, press thumbs firmly between the seedlings and pull each one apart, trimming off any jumbled or monster root growth. Lay them down as they will be spaced, ready for planting.
A square pot on the other hand - jammed packed with little tackers - confirms your fear there is some work to do. And you certainly weren't mistaken because separating 50 little seedlings with clumsy fingers and thumbs can be frustrating, but do your best to channel your Zen and stay calm. If you are finding it difficult to separate each one, 2 or 3 together (particularly as most veggies that come in these pots are smaller varieties) will not be a total disaster. Zen. Similarly lay them down as they will be spaced and get set for planting.
If by now you feel your efforts deserve a break, and with the seedlings well hydrated earlier, time is not as critical and a cup of tea is not out of the question. However if the day is particularly hot and with the plants now at their most vulnerable, it's probably best not to faff about too much. Pop them in the ground and water them into their new home.
Despite their initial fears, life's not too bad after all.