Monday, February 14, 2011

Starting Seeds

It's almost seed starting time.  With that in mind, I spent some time over the past few days readying my seed starting operation in my shed.  It's a fairly simple operation with only 4 ingredients: seeds, seed starting mix, heat, and light.  Fortunately I have saved many seeds from the past few growing seasons so I've got that covered.  I also have leftover sterilized seed starting mix.  It retains moisture but also drains well.  And last spring I decided to get serious and devote a few bucks to the heat and light portion of this equation.  What did I buy?  Heat mats and simple fluorescent light fixtures.  Nothing too fancy.  One heat mat was also a gift, thanks Frank and Robin.

From top to bottom: two 4-foot fluorescent light fixtures, seed trays, and heat mat.  
The first photo is my exact setup from last year.  This year I wanted to expand the operation to grow even more plants so I doubled it.  I now have two heat mats that hold four seed trays (8 total), four light fixtures (each holds two bulbs), and timers for the lights.

I had trouble fitting the whole setup in a single picture so I opted for this view.  Not a great shot but it gives you an idea of what it looks like.
Automated timer.
The automated timer makes everything easy.  I can program it to come on early and turn off late in order to provide maximum light for my UV-hungry seedlings.  I don't have to get up early or stay up late to fiddle with lights.  You can call me lazy, but I call it efficiency.  I also like to keep the lights very close (within a few inches) of the seedlings. Strong light leads to thicker, sturdier, stronger plants.  Low light leads to weak, spindly plants.  The lights are on chains so I can raise them incrementally as the plants grow taller.

You can also buy thermostats to control your heat mats. Unfortunately I don't have thermostats so I keep a thermometer and humidity gauge nearby for reference.  It's not the most accurate gizmo but it's a good reference.

Pick one of these up at your local hardware store.
I'm still trying to sort out what I will start in the seed trays.  Definitely the longer growing season staples like tomatoes, peppers, etc.  I usually transplant those to slightly larger containers and place them back on the heat mats for further growth before planting them outside. I also plan on starting lettuce and other veggies.  I don't recommend growing root veggies like carrots, beets, or radishes in trays.  They do better when directly sown in the garden.  And fast growing plants like cucumbers aren't usually worth growing in cells.  I also sow those directly outdoors.

What do you do to prepare plants for the upcoming season?  Peat pots, cups of seeds on a bright windowsill, pots outdoors?  Wait for warmth and plant in the garden?  I'd love to hear from you.  I'll post again after I start the process and germination is underway.


Tom said...

Dave, The shed looks great and so well organized. I am sure Mike has "shed envy." I know I do.
Do you think that part of the barn could be used as a seed starting area?
The horses are on the next property now, so that won't be a factor.
Can't wait for you to see it and advise!!!

Burgher said...

I was wondering - did you buy special plant bulbs for your fixtures or did you just get regular fluorescent bulbs?

.09 Acres said...

I am currently using regular fluorescent fixtures. You can buy specialty bulbs, but I've found regular bulbs to be reliable and they have produced well for me.

.09 Acres said...

We can likely set up a good area in the barn for seed starting. Looking forward to seeing the new place and helping with the garden and planting a few fruit trees!