DIY Seedling area in the Office!

A practical post for all you DIY folks out there… allow me to present the EGP temporary office seeding area!  This came together in an afternoon when our regular seeding area was unavailable for a few weeks in January.

If you’ve got a warm indoor area with lots of sun exposure, whether it be on top of your fridge in a sunny kitchen or on a shelf in a front window, you could use that area to start your seeds without much trouble.  If, however, you don’t have something like that, you could set up an area similar to this in a pinch.

Lights hanging from bamboo poles so you can easily adjust height

We didn’t need much space – just enough to start our onions, which tend to take their sweet time getting ready for transplanting in Spring.

And we needed it to be easy to remove.  We have far too many farm seedlings to start in our office – this area can probably be used to start seeds for school gardens, but ultimately will be gone by the end of February.

This temporary structure was built entirely out of materials we already had on hand, with the exception of a power bar with an integrated timer to control the grow lights.  All of these items were donated to the EGP over the years, but you would probably be able to find similar things for free on craigslist if you needed, or substitute with whatever you’ve got.

Materials we used:

  1. Four tomato cages
  2. Six bamboo poles
  3. Five bin lids
  4. Three fluorescent lights with full spectrum bulbs (or one warm, one cool fluorescent bulb)
  5. Four bricks
  6. Twine
  7. Power bar with digital timer

The process was fairly simple – tomato cages were turned upside down and four bamboo poles were attached with twine.   I had a couple different ideas about what to use here: scrap wood, metal conduit – but ultimately decided on bamboo as it was lightweight and strong.

We hung the lights about 10-12 cm above the trays using twine*, put some bin lids down underneath to catch water draining through trays, and put two more bamboo stakes down to make a level surface for the trays.  Bricks were used as added support to hold the tomato cages in place.

Finally we hooked all the lights up to one power bar with a digital timer and set it for 12 hours each day**.  You wouldn’t need a timer if you were building this at home and could turn it on and off manually, but the timer safeguards against forgetting to turn lights on or off.

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Once our area was set up, I put a few bin lids on top of the bamboo stakes (the second floor, I guess).  This area was for placing trays after they were seeded and before they germinated.  Seeds generally don’t need light until they have sprouted, just warmth***, so when I saw the first sprouts, they were moved down under the lights.

Within four days, our onions had started sprouting.  I check to make sure soil is damp and rotate the trays every so often to ensure they are getting even access to the lights.  So far, so good.  Our little onion seedlings are looking great!!

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Happy little onions making an appearance!

Do you start seedlings for your garden indoors?  If so, where do you start your seedlings?  What are your favourite tricks for getting great germination?  Share your success (or frustrations) in the comments. 

 

 

Notes: 

*It is important that you can adjust the height of your lights.  They should be fairly close to soil level when starting (around 10cm) but should be raised as seedings get taller.  Often growers use chain to make it easy to adjust height of lights, I used twine.

** I set my timer for 12 hours, some folks go as high as 15 hours.  We don’t normally use any artificial lights for our seedlings, but since this space was indoors it was necessary.  Seedlings do need some darkness to grow, so don’t be fooled into thinking more is better.  Do not exceed 15 hours of light, somewhere between 12-15 should be perfect.

*** Every seed requires a different optimal temperature to germinate.  In our case, I didn’t heat the area beyond room temperature, but you should try to have a temperature at lowest 15 degrees celsius and highest 30C.  I generally try to keep my seedling area around 21 degrees for a happy medium.  Colder temperatures will result in slower and spottier germination.

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