It is nearing the end of that part of the year that those of us who are known as seasonal growers are looking forward to getting our hands dirty. A lot of the plans for the year are already in place, such as seeds ordered, bulbs ordered, garden plots laid out and, hopefully, any repairs that were needed are finished. We may have some time to tune up or repair our equipment. If you are like us, you replaced the plastic on one of the hoophouses that has been on for seven years. That got us three more years than expected.
Now it is time to get the seeds started, and that is what we are into this time of year. We have converted one room in our basement for starting and growing on seedlings. We use fluorescent lights that we picked up from salvage and I built racks to hold the trays and lights. It took some make and mistake trials before I settled on the best design for us. One thing I learned was to make the shelving wide enough so that the lights could be lifted all the way to the next shelf. The light also provide warmth for the shelf above, which the seedlings need, but when they are all running, they make too much heat so I have to ventilate the room by forcing cool air from the outside into the room. I built 6 shelf racks that hold 30 trays under light and 4 trays of storage OR for other storage. For a couple of the racks, I have hung a light from the ceiling so that I can use all six shelves.
With the seven sets of shelving, we are able to put approx. 210-220+ trays under lights at a time. At times we alternate the trays and run the lights 24-7. The biggest deterrent to using this process is the time it takes to water, because the trays have to be moved and hand watered. However, when the temps outdoors are in the 0 to 32 degree range, it is a lot cheaper than heating a greenhouse or hoophouse. The sequence that we use allows us to start seedlings in early February and have good growth before we have to move them to a minimally heated hoophouse sometime near the end of February, depending on weather forecasts. This really works well for us but I know that it wouldn’t work for all growers. One plus is that we pay closer attention to the plants because we are close and don’t have to get bundled up to go to a greenhouse. We use very little additional energy other than the lights. I would be happy to answer any questions that arise about our system of starting and growing on seedlings.
Specifics on the shelving: I use 1×4 white pine or fir for the shelves and crosspieces. For the shelves, I use 2 or 3 pieces 4ft 2 inches. The uprights are 6-ft 1x6s and the cross pieces. are 12-16 inches. I use light chain to suspend the lights and 4-penny finish nails with the heads cut off to hook the chains on to the shelf above. Glue and screws hold everything together. I use 24-hour timers and plug strips to control the lights. I can control three racks of lights with one timer. Happy growing!