Seed Starting Stuff

Seed stand compressed  Yes, I’m repeating this photo from the last post because I had several inquiries about my seed starting “Facilities.”  See that tall rack?  I built it over thirty years ago out of scrap lumber and some aluminum sheeting.  A few finish nails and lots of wood glue and Voila!   You may note that the third from top shelf is beginning to sag.  Well, that happens as we age, but I think it will last as long as I do!  The lights are just standard 4′ shop fixtures.  Last year, I did replace a couple of the bulbs that had burned out with “Plant and Aquarium” bulbs, which are more expensive.  Not sure that it made a difference.  The seedlings are only under there for a few weeks, not their entire life.  The stand can hold 4- 10×20″ flats on each shelf, so that’s 16  (There used to be a 5th shelf, but it fell apart six years ago and I haven’t made a replacement since I don’t really need it that badly anymore now that I’ve downsized.)  The lights are so bright in the photo, it almost looks like there are domes on the flats in the lights stand, but there aren’t.  Each flat is just filled with rows and rows of baby seedlings, waiting to get big enough to transplant.  If you look carefully, you can see cipollini onions at each end of the second from top shelf.  One batch is Bianca and the other is Gold Coin.

This set up is in my basement, in what used to be the laundry room, so there is water handy.  When I closed the herb farm, I moved one of the 4’x8′ plant benches (in the foreground above ) to this area.  It’s generally my work/transplanting/seeding “table”, but until I get the greenhouse “improved” and the temps quit dropping into the teens at night, it is being used for transplanted seedlings.  It also holds the heating mat (it’s orange, under the domed flats)  heat mat compressed 2  This is a commercial sized one that holds 4 10×20″ flats.  I’ve had it 26 years, so even though it was $60, it’s been worth it’s weight in gold many times over.  Notice that each flat on the mat is covered with a clear dome….that’s because all these seeds need light to germinate.  If they needed darkness to germinate, I’d cover them with an overturned solid black flat. (That means you should group seeding rows in a single flat by their light/dark requirements, too.)  The domes stay on until the seeds germinate, when they immediately get moved to the light stand shown at the top of the post.  Note in the upper right hand corner of this photo is the thermostat that controls the temperature of the heat mat. I can plug 4 mats in at once, but I don’t need that many any longer.  I try to group my seeds according to the temperature they need, as well as the date they need to be started, since you can only select one temperature, but you can increase or decrease the temperature with each batch of flats as needed.

Now, back to that light stand.  Notice how very close those flats are to the light bulbs?  With artificial light, they need to be VERY close, like 2-3″ from the tops of the plants.  I can adjust the shelves and group taller seedlings together as they grow.  In reading many blogs of beginner gardeners, I see lights that are far, far above the flats.  Or, maybe there are no lights at all, just a bit of sunlight (on whatever days it may choose to be sunny) for a few hours.  This results in stretched seedlings that will never produce the way a well-grown, compact seedling will perform.  When I first began gardening, I moved my seeding flats from a “sunny” window to my kitchen counter every night.  I’d put shoe boxes or baking pans under the flats to raise them up to within 2-3″ of the under-counter kitchen lights.  Keep in mind that it takes at least 2 hours of artificial light to equal 1 hour of direct sunlight.  If a baby plant needs 8-10 hours of SUNLIGHT a day, that’s a lot of artificial hours.  I use a Christmas tree light timer to give my light stand 18 hours of light a day.  Buy them at the after Christmas sales cheap!

Seed stand 2 compressed

So far, I’ve transplanted 955 seedlings, so I’m about on schedule even with the late start due to traveling.  But, because of the greenhouse snag and our record low temps this coming week, I’m getting a backlog, so I’ve had to set up another shelf in another part of the basement.  Hopefully, the weather will settle and I can get the temperature problem resolved SOON, or I’ll have to add more shelves and lights 😦   And before you think I am TOO organized, I’ll let you peek at my poor winter-overed plants crowded in front of the sliding glass doors.  They get shoved out onto the

Wintered plants compressed  patio whenever it is warm enough, but otherwise, they have to endure these conditions.  You can see the lemon tree is still producing lemons and even has some new blooms, and the dwarf pomegranate is leafing out merrily, but some of the others are NOT happy.  Warmer days will come, children, and then you can all go out to play.

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About carolee

A former professional herb and lavender grower, now just growing for joy in my new potager. When I'm not in the garden, I'm in the kitchen, writing, or traveling to great gardens.
This entry was posted in gardening, hobby greenhouses, Potager, Seeding, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Seed Starting Stuff

  1. SandyBelknap says:

    Wow! That is quite the set up to start seeds. I used to have a few racks with warmers and lights and always loved the process of starting the seeds – especially the fragrance of the seed-starting ‘dirt’ in March! Now, I don’t start more than a few items, and usually just seeds I sow directly into the ground for the few annual in my garden. I’m on my 4th generation of zinnia seeds – which are so easy to save and store year to year. One day, I’ll probably get back to starting herbs again. For what I use, I try to give my business to local farms who do that work for me, now.

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    • carolee says:

      Supporting local growers is excellent! Without people sharing that same attitude, I couldn’t have stayed in business for forty years, so I totally appreciate it. And, not everyone has the time, space, or patience to start seeds. I think next year I will just purchase pansies and violas. I waited to seed until we were done traveling, and it was too late to have them in flower now, when I want them! Since we want to travel while we can manage it, that seems the best solution, even though I enjoy selecting the varieties I want from the catalog, rather than from the limited offerings at the stores.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. cavershamjj says:

    995! That’s pretty hard core. All for your own garden, or to sell?

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    • carolee says:

      Generally, for my own garden. It takes 200 marigold plants just to edge the two intersecting main paths of the potager, plus some for the front garden, the front island bed, containers for the deck, etc. I need 200 tall zinnias to do all the places that need them, and this year I’m adding the cutting garden, so I’ve planted more, and the shorter ones for the foreground. I put nearly 200 snapdragons in the interior border of the potager, and it wasn’t enough to finish the back section. I ran out of nasturtiums before I had them in all the places I’d planned. And, this year I wanted to try some new colors, so I’ve added more blue and lime green varieties. Plus I always grow extra in case of problems (last year rabbits ate all the first planting of zinnias!) And, then there are all the veggies! If, when I’m done planting I have extras, I donate them to my little local garden club’s annual plant sale, along with a few things that I’ve grown on purpose for them (usually herbs, since that was my “field.”)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Rita Rosol Shields says:

    What a great blog, Carolee! I always seem to learn so much from your thoughts and the way you Illustrated all with your pictures. I am currently rereading your herbal books yet again as I love them dearly and I see so much of you in them. I still hope in my heart of hearts that will be a fifth book that that that hint hint

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    • Carolee says:

      Thank you, thank you. Who knows…must wait for the writing spirit to fill me. If winter keeps dragging along, I may start writing out of desperation!!!

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      • Rita Rosol Shields says:

        Well then (and please forgive me!) long live winter. I really want another story…and you are very good at it.

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  4. Annie says:

    Oh my! Unbelievable…. I am in awe!

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  5. That is great! I wish I had as much space as you do in your laundry room. Are the only grow lights on your shelves? If you are only growing seedlings, a cool fluorescent light has the color frequencies they need and are much cheaper. The number of plants you have are impressive! You are very organized. Thank you for sharing!

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    • Carolee says:

      No, only two bulbs (purchased last year) are actual grow lights….all the rest are just cheap standard fluorescent bulbs. After forty years of growing and anal record keeping, I should hope I am finally getting most of it right! Ha! Thank you for the kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am just curious, is your overhead light an incandescent or fluorescent? Yes, I am sure I could learn so much from your experience! Too bad you aren’t my neighbor.

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  6. I have been really wanting to set up lights and grow seedlings during the winter months and have never gotten around to it. Your set up is truly impressive!!

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    • carolee says:

      Thank you. I started out growing my seeds in styro cups I gathered up after church coffees, and growing them on a card table in front of a window, as many do. Quickly learned that extra lighting is essential if you want to start them as early as I did. If you are patient, and start them later so they are only reliant on window light for a couple of weeks rather than months, it sometimes works. The lights really aren’t that expensive since they last so long. I’ve had most of mine since 1980!

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  7. Wow! Love this! You are so organised!

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    • carolee says:

      Hey, if I were really organized, I would have worked on the problem last autumn and have already been able to move seedlings into the greenhouse. The weather has moved into the upper 20’s, so I did put 7 flats in last night and turned on the heater. When it gets light out, I’ll go see how they fared. Right now it is 35 degrees, so it actually warmed up overnight! THat’s a good start! Blessings.

      Liked by 1 person

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