Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Incredibly Cheap DIY Seed Starting Setup!

As we sit and hope that our incoming storms are big enough to fill our lakes, and not our floodplains, I've been running around thinking about nothing but gardens, gardens, gardens! Seed catalogs, garden layouts, germination temperatures, start dates for perpetual harvests; the list is endless! I can't wait for spring!

In order to get an early jump on the season and avoid the issues from last year when we lost nearly ALL of our starts to a mistake and a freeze; I opted to set up a cheap seed starting room over in the small engine shop.

I started with two shelves in a dark corner of the shop; piled high with forgotten boxes and random piles of books. I wish I had taken a picture before clearing it out, as half of the lower shelf was out of sight. But this picture, taken after cleaning and running electricity to the area will have to do.

You can see a combination hygrometer / thermometer in the right side of the photo. I wanted to test to see how wet and cold this corner got normally without lights or seedling mats, so I set this up the day before putting the area together. Overnight as the first of our storms hit, the corner varied from 49-52 degrees and 85-89% relative humidity. As damping off occurs around 90% humidity, I expect that I will have to do something about that before sprouting. I will wait to see what the addition of lights and soil heaters do to the humidity and will work from there.

In order to give a hint of insulation and reflectivity to the walls, I went for super cheap. I cut up a few used pallet bags from our pellet stove fuel. By carefully pulling apart the top seams and cutting the rest with a utility knife I was able to get two 3x15 foot white plastic sheets. I used a steel straightedge with the knife to cut away the freyed plastic and cut the pieces down to size. While the thin plastic will not do alot to keep heat in, I hope that since it is airtight, it will allow cold nighttime air to move down the wall to the ground without hitting the plants. I will know more by checking our temps tomorrow.

I reused some old rubber flooring for matting to cover the shelves and prevent water from the top shelf from dripping down onto the light below. I avoided cardboard and metal, since we would be dealing with electricity and water and figured to keep a second conductor out of the mix. I know they will be well separated, but hey; better safe than sorry.

For the lights, I used two types. One is a $10 4' fluorescent shop light fit with two full spectrum bulbs. The two lights above are 8" reflectors (like brooder lights) fitted with 150w Gro-Spot floodlights. (Which we hope to have in stock sometime this week.)

The idea is that I will use the low intensity fluorescent for seed starting, and then move more developed plants under the gro-spots. The grow spots are clamped onto an old six foot piece of 1"x1/4" flat steel, fittid into place with deck screws so I can adjust lap height as I go. I also have the ability to add three more lights if needed.

49-52 degrees is a bit cold for some of the plants I want to get a head start with, so I added two seedling mats. The seedling sprouter single and two tray mats. (19.99 and 39.99 respectively) they will raise the soil temperature 10-20 degrees above ambient, so we should be getting 62-72 degrees at peak. I'm hoping the lights will keep the area a bit warmer as well. (Again, we will see as we go)

I opted out of a timer for this set up, since seedlings are going to need about a 14 hour cycle. Since I'm here from 730-4, I should be able to go the first week by simply turning ont he lights when I leave and off when I get here. There is nearly no ambient light in the corner, so I am not worried about darkness during the day.

To set up a simple 72 seed starter kit of your own, drop by and pick up the following:
8" Reflector - 8.99
150w Gro-Spot bulb - 10.99 (back-ordered as I write this, expected in by Feb 1st)
Super Sprouter Seedling Heat Mat - 19.99 single tray, 39.99 double
Seed Starter Green House Kit - 6.99

Alright, lets grow!

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