How to Pot Up Seedlings with Students

The end of March means seedlings are just starting to take root and shooting out their first leaves. With crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and some annual flowers, it is also the time that visiting students at The Farm School help us transfer seedlings into bigger pots as they outgrow their initial tray pod. Potting up these tiny and fragile plants is tedious and delicate work, and can be difficult for beginning farmers, such as young students, to master. We have found a couple tricks that help make this work easier for them, and thus more enjoyable and satisfying.

To prep the space, I make sure there are enough pots for the number of plants that need to be transferred and enough soil to use in those pots. This work is usually done best in groups of four to five kids, so I set up a table of approximately 4 feet x 6 feet that we can all work around together. I then break the task up into four separate jobs, thus ensuring each student can be a productive, contributing member to the team. The four tasks are:

  1. Load potting soil into a box on the table from the larger shared potting soil container.
  2. Take seedlings out of their tray pod by pushing from the bottom of the tray cell.
  3. Load soil into the bigger pot until it is about halfway full and place the seedling in the middle.
  4. Add soil around seedling until it is situated in the middle and at the right soil height. Press on soil to stabilize seedling.

I have found this breakdown effective for most groups as each job requires a different skill set. For instance, the higher energy students usually excel with the loading of the soil onto the table, while detail oriented folks are great at carefully removing seedlings from their trays. Other steps, such as sifting the potting soil to take out larger organic matter, can be added to accommodate for more students.

Once this assembly line is set up, the students are able to carry out the work independently, needing only occasional assistance for pulling tricky seedlings out or making sure the plants aren’t buried too deep or too shallow in their new pot. When originally seeding the trays, I usually seed about 20% more than the need to leave room for mistakes, which helps keep the work low stress for the students and for me. When all of the seedlings have been potted up, we work as a team to move all of the pots to their location on the watering tables and give them a good watering. They help clean up the potting table and if there is any time left over, we celebrate our work with snacks from our microgreen trays!