It’s the most wonderful time of the year…
It’s the time of year gardeners look forward to, especially if they live in regions where snow has blanketed their landscape and the short winter days have left them dreaming about pina coladas on a beach far, far away. It’s seed starting time. The promise of abundance. Hope in a tiny seed. And visions of a full pantry are packed away in bits of plant DNA saved over the course of generations (or longer!). With spring comes so much promise and, as the fields pull back their snowy quilts, the farmer sees this potential. These hands belong in the dirt.
Last year, which was our first growing season here, I purchased some of my garden vegetables as transplants from a local nursery. We have zero south-facing windows in our house and, since we are still remodeling, not a lot of places to dedicate to seed trays. When a late frost and snow storm killed most of my newly planted seedlings I had to purchase even more. This isn’t exactly the best way to save money when growing your own food so I decided I would have to change things up this year.
One of the biggest draws to starting your own seedlings (besides the cost savings) is that you have much more control over the varieties you can grow and the sources of those seeds (if things like organic, heirloom, sustainability, supporting local, etc. are a concern for you personally). Last year my local nursery had 2 types of strawberry plants and maybe 4-6 varieties of tomatoes (your typical Early Girl and Celebrity with no fancy heirlooms). Although those had proven to grow well here it was a bit disappointing since, as a new gardener I wanted to try all the things, all at once. I wanted fancy tomatoes…not just ones that could easily be mistaken as store bought. (To be fair, those tomato plants bore extremely well and I still have canned salsa and pickled green tomatoes in the pantry). So, this past winter I did a little research and purchased seeds for varieties I’ve learned about and want to try (and not just tomatoes!). But I still had the issue of space and light to contend with to start those seeds indoors.
I stumbled across another blog (or vlog as it were, since most of their content is in video format) called From Seed to Spoon. I watched their video (above) about building a seedling starting station and then set about to research the cost of the materials I would need. I read a few other blogs and articles and learned that simple, bright white LED lights could be subbed for actual grow lights. Last year I bought a single 2 foot long countertop grow light which set me back $40 so the proposition of purchasing 3-6 more grow lights in the 4 foot length was not appealing…or in the budget. I mean, we’re growing our own veggies partially for the cost savings. And we already laugh about how our farm fresh eggs are probably the most expensive eggs we’ve ever eaten (considering the building costs of the coop, run and our fancy solar powered chicken door). So, I set to task to find an *relatively* inexpensive seedling starting stations.
I also decided to “sacrifice” some floor space in my yoga room for the seedlings. Since I had already set up a chick brooder in the corner the room was in chaos already…so why not add some plants into the mix? (Note: As the chicks grew, so did my seedlings. Earlier this week I noticed all of my pepper and chili seedlings were g-o-n-e. Cut off at the soil line. Apparently, my older chicks are able to fly out of their brooder and onto the seedling shelving. Thanks Universe…lesson learned).
Here are the details:
Assembling the shelving unit was simple. No tools are required but it is heavy and very large. You might want to build it where you plan to use it. The lights were pretty much preassembled. They came with plugs and connectors so you can link the light bars together or plug each one into an outlet individually.
The lamps came with little clips which are meant to be screwed into a ceiling. The lamps are then snapped into the clips. Since I’m hanging these from a wire shelf I used a piece of bailing wire instead. I have different lengths of wire so I can raise and lower the lights as needed…however, most sources claim you don’t have to do this with LED lights. An alternative would be to use pieces of wood or old phone books underneath your seedling trays to move them closer to the light.
According to my research, LED lights that are super bright white are suitable for growing seedlings and greens. If you want to grow flowers or need to grow your veggies indoors all year you’ll have to get either true grow lights or mix your bulbs to include warm colored lights to ensure you get the full spectrum of colors necessary for flowering (of course, to get them to fruit you also have to hand pollinate but that’s another story). I’m using this to start my seeds so the cost savings versus those very, very expensive grow lights is well worth it.
You can definitely opt for different lights. A lot of people still prefer to use fluorescent or aquarium bulbs and you can often find old shop light fixtures at yard sales, thrift shops or on sale at big box stores. Most of these require two bulbs and many gardeners choose to use one bright white and one warm white bulb per fixture to get the best color spectrum. Either way you go, if you’re just growing seedlings and/or microgreens you don’t have to spend a fortune on expensive grow lights (unless you want to).
The big test will be when it comes time to start my tomatoes. I purchased two special varieties, Rose De Berne and Kellogg’s Breakfast, after reading about them in an article highlighting chefs choices in tomatoes. Both seed packets came from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Other popular heirlooms frequently mentioned as favorites are Cherokee Purple and Brandywine but there are hundreds of tomatoes from which to choose. And, it’s easy to see how one can get carried away with seed buying!
So far I’m very happy with this seedling starting set up. Our climate is extremely dry so I find I have to water often, especially since the room they are housed in is kept extra warm for the baby chickens. Clear domes placed of the seedling trays would help keep some moisture in (and chicks out) so I’m on the look out for a good deal on those.
In the next post I’ll talk about our homemade seed starter “soil” and how we make our own seedling pots so be sure to visit often!
*At the time of my purchase, the shelving unit was $44.99 and included free shipping. I’ve noticed the price fluctuates greatly so you might want to add it to your watch list or shop around for the best price. I’m very happy with the shelves. They are very heavy duty, easy to assemble and attractive.
Disclosure: Tales From the Mutiny (aka Clark and Lynn Bonelli) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Our aim is to link to products we actually use and recommend.