Friday, March 9, 2012

Spring Training Farmer Style

The finished seed starting station.
Spring is here! Well, it's almost here. "Life is Skittles and life is beer." As beginning farmers, spring means we get to try our hand at starting seeds again.

If anyone remembers our seed starting efforts last Spring(here’s our post about trying to grow Basil in the Bathroom), they spread into every room, took over all the floorspace in our apartment. The contraption we built was very unsteady and basically looked like a college kid’s idea of a growlab.

This year will be so much better! We have drastically upgraded our seed starting system. We found this design through a farmer's Twitter post and saw it again in the book. So, we decided to try it. It is a pretty standard seed starting set-up. And, here are the reasons why it's so popular for avid gardeners and beginning farmers; it's A. Inexpensive, B. Easy to assemble, and C. Can accommodate several trays of seedlings. It’s the next best thing to building an actual greenhouse, but a whole lot faster.

Assembling the seed starter station
How To Build It
The seed starter unit is straightforward to make. It requires a 6-shelf metal unit. This one stands about 6'5" tall and 4' wide. The florescent shop lights come with small chains that allow you to adjust the height by raising them up as the seedlings grow. The fluorescent lights are the real neat trick. You can buy tube lights specifically for plants and aquariums that mimic natural sunlight, but they’re more expensive than regular fluorescent tubes. We made the same effect by putting one cool light and one warm light into each of the five shop lights. We used the highest light output tubes we could find. Then, we (well, Rich) put them all together. (I photographed.) The trays will sit over heating mats, so we can regulate the soil temperature in the trays. Once the seeds germinate, they’ll need 14-16 hours of daylight, daily. We plugged the five lights into a power strip that is attached to a timer. None of these supplies need to be special-ordered, we picked up all our items on clearance at Home Depot and Walmart. Altogether, it cost about $150, and we’ll use it every year. Best of all, it will hold up to 1,000 seedlings! That's a pretty good investment.

Lights, Camera, Action!
Right now, the seed starting station is set up in our home office, alongside the vermicompost bin. It was a choice between there or our bathroom, but the office stayed warmer. (Yikes!) The seed station definitely adds to that “farm-y” feel. With it right in our faces, we can check on the seedlings often. The shelves fit four trays each, which is great,because we have a lot of seeds to start in the next 11 weeks. We decided to invest in soil blockers to make the seed cells this year. Has anyone used those? We’d like to hear how they worked for others.

We’re sure that this year will be a better start for our seeds and we’ll have a higher germination rate than last year.Seeing the station makes us excited for the changing of the seasons. Now, for those soil blockers!


  1. Awesome! Can't wait to see the seedings growing out. How do you transfer them after they start growing?

  2. well well, just so you know this is EXACTLY the set up we have in our seed propagation room. Actually, since we are now supplying starts to the local nursery, we have 5 of these metal units....and are maxed out on our wattage for grow lights :-) So finding new ways to keep things going all the time -- some plants don't need as high a temp to keep germinate, so we let them germinate in the cold frame outside. Also, we've found that if you can, move things to protected outside area (ie plastic hoop house) as soon as you can after they germinate, they tend to be less leggy (but may grow more slowly). All weather dependent of course. Happy Growing !!
    T & D
    Lopez Island

  3. oh, one more thing -- once the seeds germinate and start growing, it is helpful to have a small fan blowing on low in the room with the starts -- the air movement helps them grow strong and healthy. Especially important for things you might need to keep under grow lights for a long time - like tomatoes and peppers.