The group's main focus was on vegetables, specifically peppers and tomatoes, so everyone could experience the entire process, from sowing seeds to harvest. We started seeds in the greenhouse and I kept the seed flats watered in the until they germinated and ready for the next step.
When the young seedlings were large enough to handle, everyone returned to transplant them from their seedling flats into individual pots. It's helpful to have anyone who does not have much experience growing from seed to transplant tomatoes because they are resilient and fast growing.
Once the seedlings grew into larger and stronger plants, and acclimated to the outdoors, we had a planting day to plant the sturdy seedlings out into the beds to grow to maturity. Later everyone harvested the fruit from the plants that they had sown themselves.
This season, I am changing the focus to flowers. And not just varieties we are evaluating in the trial garden, but flowers for everybody to take home for their own gardens. I chose 6 different easy to grow flowers that would grow in similar conditions, attract pollinators and look nice together: Sunflower ‘Junior,’ Salvia ‘Marble Arch,’ Cosmos ‘Dancing Petticoats,’ Zinnia ‘Persian Carpet,’ Dahlia ‘Watercolor Silks,’ and Nasturtium ‘Vanilla Berry.’ I prepared a kit for each person that had the seed packets, "6 pack" containers and sterile soil mix, plant tags for labeling, and a list of simple instructions of how to sow the seed them.
Our first session sowing the flowers went very smoothly, and everyone enjoyed themselves: There’s nothing like the gardeners version of chatting and "relaxing over a couple of 6 packs." I was really happy to see everyone with their newly sown flats of 6 packs, bringing them into the greenhouse. I will keep them watered and tended until the seedlings have germinated and it is time for the next step.
Once the seedlings are large enough to handle, each person can choose to thin out extra seedlings either by just cutting them off at the base, leaving just one seedling remaining with space to grow, or by dividing the seedlings in each 6 pack, transplanting them into individual pots. This just depends on how many plants each person wants to end up with.
It's normal for beginners to want to keep as many seedlings as they can. I remember a day that I wouldn’t think of thinning plants out either, but wanted to keep them all. I guess I have just developed a little different mentality since growing plants is something that I do every day. Thinning out extra seedlings has become a necessity to avoid being totally overwhelmed by so many plants. Thinning seedlings properly also gives each little young plant the room it really needs to grow to maturity successfully.
When the plants are large enough, we will gradually acclimate them to the outdoors to "harden off" or get accustomed to outdoor conditions for a week or so. After that, each person will pick them home to plant and enjoy. Hopefully I am helping “plant a new seed” in everyone’s confidence in growing flowers.