Grow Light DIY

Setting up your own grow lights for indoor seed starting is simple, cost effective, and extremely satisfying.   You save money by not spending hundreds of dollars at the nursery on starts.  You know exactly what, if any, fertilizers or chemicals were used to grow your starts.  You are given a choice of plant varieties that suit your individual tastes and growing conditions.  AND, the satisfaction you will get from growing a plant from start to finish is immeasurable.  Dang, I sound like a full fledged plant nerd.

I started my own indoor growing system so many years ago, my dull mommy brain has forgotten when.  I’d say it’s been at least 8 years, and I still use the same metal shelving unit I first purchased back then.  Since the shelving is only used for growing 3 months out of 12, it doubles as a catch all shelf in the garage the remainder of the year.

Sure, there are other prefab plant systems you can buy, but they are very spendy.  I found this ‘Jump Start Liight Unit’ at True Value, which includes one light and stand for $69.99.  They also had this ‘T5 Light System’ for $200.  Or, I found this drool worthy deluxe system at Burpee.com for $460.  Too rich for my blood!  Hence, the DIY.

In the beginning, I invested in the rack, 2 fluorescent shop lights, and 2 seed tray kits $100.  I kept adding a light or two each year, as my budget allowed.  After 3 years of tall, spindly starts, I added a second shop light to each shelf and noticed a huge difference in the stockiness and health of my starts.  Good lighting is essential if you want strong, healthy plants.

Once you have your shelving unit in position, it’s easy to hang the lights.  I purchased some chain and ‘S’ hooks from the hardware store.  My local hardware helper even cut the chain into sections for me.  Love good customer service!  Simply attach the ‘S’ hook onto the shelving and then onto the light.  Use a surge protector for all the cords and to keep things safe.  You can even add an automatic timer so you don’t forget to turn the lights on and off.

Since I am a cheap ass, and I use the same trays year after year, it’s important they receive a proper cleaning each spring.  This prevents the spread of disease from last season’s starts, to the new season’s baby plants.  There is nothing more disheartening than losing a fresh crop to a preventable disease.

To clean the trays, I give them a good spraying with the garden hose and allow them to air dry in the sun.  Next, I bring them into my bathtub, where I soak them in a cup of bleach and steaming hot water for an hour or so.  This will kill those germs!  Rinse them thoroughly and allow to dry.

Repeat this process with the 4-pack containers in a sink or bucket.

Assemble your trays and fill them with a good quality seed starting mix, NOT regular potting mix.  Regular potting mix is dense, too rich, and does not drain as well as seed starting mix.  You can find a small bag, like the one below, for about $5, and it will fill a little more than 2 trays.

At this point, I like to moisten the soil.  Instead of top down watering, I prefer to fill the tray with water and allow the soil to wick up the moisture.  Seed starting mix is very light and airy, and when you top down water, it tends to splash all over and make a huge mess.  Take it from years of dirt cleaning experience.

Now the fun part, get yourself a soil poker, like a butter knife, and your seeds of choice.  Following the seed packet directions, plant the seed at the appropriate soil depth.  The soil temp In Seattle is still pretty chilly, so today I am only going to sow my cold season crops; broccoli, cabbage, and swiss chard.

Using an Avery mailing label, I identify each row of starts by name and variety.  I also make a note in my gardening journal so I remember which day I started my cold season crops.

After they are planted, labeled, and topped with a clear plastic cover, they are slid onto the shelving unit.  Position your lights as close to the seed trays as possible, without actually touching the cover.  Keep the covers on the seed trays until you begin to see seedlings emerging from the soil.

This plant nerd can’t wait to for the first baby plant to pop from the soil.  Which plant will it be?  How long will it take?  Exciting!  Has this DIY inspired you to start your own seeds indoors this year?  If you already have a grow system, what are you starting this spring?  Happy sowing!

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