Although it’s a school day, I am at home. No, I am not playing hookey; our school district is closed today due to a chance of “inclement weather”. Today certainly does not feel like spring with temperatures in the mid-30′s and falling outside, but I am creating Spring in January in my basement.
After the excitement and travel of the winter holidays abated, Eric and I got to work creating a seed-starting station for me in our storage room. I have been working a little at a time to get ready to start seeds, and finally got my first round planted last weekend. Many of them have already sprouted! At my sister’s request, I am attempting to give a virtual tour of (and some resources / instructions for) my grow station.
In the past, I have used a shop light and old set of shelves for my grow station, and it worked just fine for the limited space we had in our former homes, but it was always a little awkward to manage. This year, with more space, I wanted to see if I could improve on the set-up. I did some research online to see what others have done, and kept track of ideas I liked on my Garden Design Ideas board on Pinterest.
I found two blogs online with similar seed starting set-ups. The first blog was LibrariAnne and the second was Seed Geeks. These two bloggers have essentially the same set-up. We contemplated making a structure out of wood, but ultimately decided to get the shelving unit that was used in the Seed Geeks post at Lowes (it was about $20 cheaper than the one at Home Depot). The pro’s to the metal one versus a home-made wooden one were (1) time, (2) flexibility – the shelves can be adjusted as plants grow, (3) more fire-proof than wood since I’ll be using as heating pad and (4) the wire shelves allow us to easily hang and adjust the shop lights.
We purchased the cheapest energy-efficient T-8 shop lights that Lowes had (we got two Utilitech 48-in Fluorescent lights for about $15 each). I deviated slightly from the bulb recommendations on the two blogs referenced above. I decided to get one set each of cool and warm lights, so that plant seedlings get the full spectrum of warm and daylight light temperatures (about $15 total for bulbs). I put one of each bulb in each shop light, so they are alternating over the plants. Here are the bulbs I used:
I loved the idea that SeedGeeks had about using a thermal rescue blanket to reflect light back onto the plants. I had two laying around in our camping gear that I purchased years ago (similar to this one at Walmart), and I used one to make a 4-sided “box” around the shelf that we are using as our seed starting shelf. We can easily get more shop lights and bulbs to have a second shelf for seed-starting, if we want to expand. Here are a few images of the set-up so far (click on any image to enlarge):
I have the front flap of the thermal blanket folded up over the top. Here is what it looks like with that front flap down – you can see how it really keeps the light trapped inside the seed area:
We finished putting this station together on January 1st. Next, I ordered a seedling heat mat from Amazon.com for about $19 (it looks like the price has gone up a few dollar since I ordered).
The next step was to decide what I wanted to grow my seedlings “in” this year. In the past, I’ve used seed-starting pellets, recycled plastic nursery containers with combinations of hydrated coconut coir and compost. These have all worked well-enough, but there have been draw-backs. I wanted to try something different this year. I decided to make newspaper seed pots filled with a homemade seed starting mixture. Burpee sells a nifty wooden Pot Maker mold for making newspaper seed pots for about $20 plus shipping. I knew there must be a way to make these for free, however, and a little internet research uncovered some tutorials. The best, by far, was by the Bonzai Aphrodite blog. I had a little trouble with one of the last steps (involving lifting a flap and tucking it in), but after a little practice, I was cranking these out fast while listening to an audio book. I made two slight adjustments – I used a smaller can (6 oz tomato paste) and a dot of Elmer’s school glue to hold the bottom flaps together. This will dissolve and/or be easy enough to pull apart when I’m ready to plant the pots.
For the seed-starting mixture, I used hydrated coconut coir (more sustainable than peat), vermicompost, perlite, greensand, and vermiculite. I had all of the ingredients except for greensand. I tried to find this locally, but none of the garden shops I know carry it. So I got it online through Gardener’s Supply Company for about $15 including shipping.
- 3 parts hydrated coconut coir
- 3 parts vermicompost
- 1 part perlite
- 1/2 part greensand
- 1/2 part vermiculite
Last weekend after the arrival of my greensand, our 60-70 degree weather inspired me to mix up the seed starting mixture. I have a chart in Excel to track which seeds I need to start when, given our average last frost date in April. I filled 36 cups in an old see-starting container that has a plastic dome lid (to retain humidity) and started my seeds last Sunday (1/20). I turned on the lights and plugged in the heat mat, and amazingly, by Tuesday (1/22), I had the first sprouts! Five days later, almost half of the seeds have sprouted. The germination rate for my older seeds (I have 4- and 5- year old tomato seeds) has been 50% and it’s only been 5 days. The mat is keeping the seed pots toasty despite the cold basement temperatures. The dome over the seed flat is helping to retain the heat.
As you can see in this photo, I put a piece of wood under the heat mat to help insulate it (putting it directly on the metal shelf would have left the underside exposed to air circulation. I also put a towel under the wood to catch dripping/moisture from the seed flat – the thermal blanket sustained a few little scratches/rips under the seed flat, and I didn’t want it dripping down to the next shelf.
For now, I am just using a regular power strip, but I may upgrade to one on a timer as the seedlings get bigger. I also plan to set up my small camping fan for a few hours a day to circulate air and prevent mold. This shot really shows the difference in the light temperature: