My No-Cost Grow Lights
Today, I want to share how I start herb, veggie and flower seedlings for my garden, without a fancy grow light system.
Before I get into the details, I want to say a big “THANK YOU” for all of your help in filling out my survey the other week! I was so happy to learn that the overwhelming majority of you do want to hear more about my nerdy farm life and all of its related ups and downs! While I certainly won’t abandon my DIY body care, herbal recipes or soap making projects, I’ll start interspersing a little farm life here and there and see how it goes.
Several years back, I decided to branch out from buying the limited selection of plants at my local garden center and instead, start heirlooms from seed.
It sounded so easy in theory.
The reality was that I killed quite a few poor little plants at first! Over time, I learned not to overwater, underwater or crowd seedlings, plus the fact that baby plants benefit from a little fish emulsion every week or two once their true leaves start appearing.
Seedlings also need light. Lots and lots of light. This one was tough for me. The one spot in our house that gets enough sun happens to be right in the one spot my daughter’s bed fits in her room.
I tried moving the trays from sunbeam to sunbeam during the day, but my seedlings still got tall and leggy. (Not a good thing.)
One day, while looking up the cost of grow lights and lamenting the fact that my budget was so slim, it suddenly dawned on me that the lights in my basement looked pretty much the same.
I did a little research and found that yes, you can use regular fluorescent bulbs for growing plants. Hooray!
So, I went right down in my basement, took the thin cover off of the nearest fluorescent light, pushed a (really heavy) bookcase under that light, then stacked boxes and books until I had just the right height for my seed tray. It took a little trial and error to figure out how close it should be. (I keep them really close, but not touching, the bulb.)
This is what my fancy setup under one light looks like:
In the morning, I wake up and turn on the lights. At night, I flip them off.
In January, I started broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. In February, I’ll start tomatoes, peppers, basil and many other warm weather veggies, herbs and flowers. Those trays stay on top of my refrigerator (peppers especially need that extra warmth to germinate) until they’ve all sprouted, then they go under a light too.
A handy little tool I use for figuring out when to start seeds, or plant seedlings outside, is Clyde’s Garden Planner. (I bought it HERE from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co for only $3.00.) You slide the red line to your area’s last frost date and it tells you recommended planting times for spring. If you flip it over, you can do the same thing for fall crops. It’s an excellent chart, but I still go a little bit earlier than it suggests (because we all can’t wait to get that first tomato of the season!) :)
I have one final hard earned lesson to impart –
Whether they’re store bought or home grown, don’t leave your lovely baby plants hanging out on your front porch if you have free ranging chickens, or this sadness happens!
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