February 10, 2011

Starting Seedlings: Equipment and Supplies (Part 2)

(Continued from the previous post)

4) Lighting: I would consider lighting to be the most important piece of seed starting equipment. The amount of light from brightest windowsill in your house might be enough for a houseplant, but it is probably not enough for vegetable seedlings. I would highly recommend growing your seedlings under artificial light (unless you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse). I grow my seedlings in the basement where very little natural light is available, so artificial light is a necessity.

If you have the money, you could purchase a high intensity lighting system such as a high pressure sodium lamp or metal halide lamp. These lamps are common in greenhouse production. High intensity lamps can also be used in the home, but they generate a lot of heat. The warmth can benefit plants, but can also make them dry out quickly. High intensity lamps are quite expensive to purchase and will be more expensive to run in the long term than other options. Generally, these are not appropriate for hobby gardeners.

Less expensive lighting options include common household bulbs. I would advise against using incandescent bulbs because they are very energy inefficient, fairly dim, and may cause your seedlings to grow very tall and spindly (due to the distribution of photons they emit). The best option for a home grower may be fluorescent lamps. I use five fluorescent shop-light fixtures for seed starting. Each fixture holds two four-foot bulbs (so I have a total of 10 bulbs). Full spectrum grow lights intended for plant lighting can be purchased at most hardware stores, but they are usually quite expensive. Instead, you can use one cool-white bulb and one warm-white bulb in each fixture (this mimics the full spectrum fairly well). In my area, a shoplight and two bulbs can be purchased for less than $20. If this seems like a big investment, start with one fixture and add more each year as your addiction to seed starting progresses (and believe me, it will). The bulbs will need to be replaced as they start to dim. Don't wait for the bulbs to burn out. By then they've already dimmed so much that they're not doing your seedlings much good. Assuming you are only lighting seeds for a 16 hours each day for a few months each year, your bulbs should last at least a couple years.

Fluorescent shop-lights are easily adjusted and provide sufficient light for starting seeds indoors.
Hang your lamps above your growing area. Most shop-lights come with chains for hanging, but you may have to purchase additional chain for added length). If hanging isn't an option (if you don't want your living room looking like a torture chamber) prop up the lights on bricks, books, or something else sturdy. Place your bulbs no more than 2-3 inches from the plant canopy. Fluorescent lamps are fairly cool to the touch, so don't worry about frying your leaves if they do touch the bulb. The lamps will need to be raised as the plants grow taller (either cinch up the chains or add more bricks). For ease of use, put your light on a timer and give your plants 16 hours of light each day.

Use a timer to turn on and off your lamps each day
To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. I bought a rig off of Amazon.com that has worked pretty well. I think it was about $30 and it has an adjustable height and everything.


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