Let there be light, for the seeds of course!

This is a guest post from the hubby!

As the live-in handyman for the RootCeller I am the one who builds the garden structures and turns the dirt. This year it was decided that we would take on the task of starting everything from seed indoors using the wisdom that the RootCeller learns through books, classes and her own experiments.

Getting a seed to grow is not really that hard. You put it in some potting soil in a planting tray, keep it moist by watering it often and make sure that it gets enough light by putting in a sunny window sill. Then boom! in a couple days of constant water and sunlight you’ve got yourself some green leaves poking through the dirt. However with some seeds water and sunlight from the window is just not enough.  Even though you may be able to get your seeds to sprout above the surface of your seed trays and grow some leaves doesn’t mean they will end up turning into the sturdy starts you can buy at the nursery. To get those types of sturdy starts you need lights!

We set out knowing that we wouldn’t have the money to get the grow light set up that we wanted. We learned this by visiting our local garden supplement/hydroponic grow shop. They had every light you could imagine and even directed us to the fluorescent lamp section as the least expensive option. However even with their least expensive option we would still be spending around $90 per each lamp box that covered an area roughly 1ft deep by 4ft long. Since we would need roughly 4 to 6 of these lamp boxes to cover our seed growing set up this was not going to pencil for us. Instead we went with a less intense light system for a fraction of the cost by using shop lights sourced from our local DIY store.

So here is your shopping list and links:

6 – 48”electronic ballast T-8 shop lights (plug in with on/of pull chain) 6 @ $18
6 packages 12 total, 32 watt,  5000K 48” T-8 fluorescent tubes 6 @ $7
1 Power Strip 1 @ $10
6- 2X4 studs cut at 36 inches in length 2- 10’ studs @ $2
1- 5 shelf wire storage unit (check out Target) 1 @ $42
Total $206

Lowes – Lights

Lowes – GE Sunshine 5000 K T-8 Tubes

Target – Wire 5 shelf storage unit (the one in this link is more expensive, but we found nearly the same one at the store without wheels for $42)

Once you have purchased all of the materials all that is left to do is some assembly.

Start with the shelf. After assembling, dis-assembling, assembling, and dis-assembling, and then assembling this shelving system I found that an equal shelf height of 13 inches or 13 open marks between shelves is adequate for our growing set up.

Once your shelf is assembled cut the 2×4’s to their 36 inch lengths and measure in from each end to 2 ¼ inches and make a mark in the center of the wide side of each 2×4 section (2 ¼” in from the end and 1 ¾” in from the edge).  Use 1/16 drill bit to drill a pilot hole at these marks so that it will be easier to screw in the hook supplied with the shoplight.  Only mark and drill the holes on one side of the 2×4 drilling roughly halfway through.

Open up your shoplight boxes and open the part bag attached to the plug chord. Included with each shoplight you will find (2) hooks with a screw thread on the end that need to be sunk into the pilot holes you just drilled on the 2×4 studs. Use a thick gauge nail or screw driver fed through the hook to help twist the threaded edge of the hook into the pilot hole.  Once you’ve twisted the hook in and can no longer see any threads you should feel a pretty strong hold of the hook into the wood. If it still feels loose then sink the hook deeper.  Align the open end of the hook perpendicular to the long edge of the 2×4.

Take each 2×4 section with hooks mounted, flip them upside down and set them on the shelves so that the hooks protrude down through the wire shelf. If you count the rungs of wire from front to back on the shelves, I found that 4 rungs in from the front and 5 rungs in from the back provide the proper spacing for the lights that will hang from the hooks. Moving the 2×4’s front to back within the rung will adjust for roughly ¾ inch of space.

Assemble the hanging chains by hooking them through the top of the fluorescent shoplights per their design. Install the fluorescent T-8 tubes at this time as well. Hang the lights by looping the chain over the hook hinging down from the 2×4 at each end. Adjust the height of lights by moving hooking different links on the chain.

The use of the upside down hooks screwed into the 2×4 to hang the chains of the lights seems like overkill as you could simply buy S-hooks and connect the chains of the lights directly to the wire frame of the shelving. And in fact using S-hooks to do just that will work fine. However I found that adjusting the height of the chain using the S-hooks was a lot more frustrating because the S-hook moves. And when the S-hook is moving and you are trying to hold the light from falling on top of your seedlings while adjusting up or down a link on the chain you have 2 moving components to contend with. It is possible that every time you want to adjust the height of the lights you could take off the S-hook, adjust the link in the chain, and then re-hook the S-hook. This simply takes a little more coordination when you have leaves protruding below that could be smashed is you slip up. Under the method where the hook is fixed into the 2×4 the hook never moves. All you have to do is grab the link in the chain and move it up on the hook.  It’s motorskill semantics, but I’ve got extra 2×4’s so I’ll use them to make my life easier.

Good luck!

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Filed under Edible Plants, Garden, Garden Construction

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