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Just Grow It

Seed Starting Shelving

Seed Starting Shelving

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I recently moved my office from one building to another. During this trip, I managed to lose my seed starting shelf (amongst other things).  That shelf cost me a few hundred dollars -it was this one here( Insert Link and picture). So now I'm going to build one instead of purchasing one.  

I have a garden at my house that's around 1200 sq ft. I also work on an urban farm that is approximately .25 acres.  We grow A LOT of vegetables. Purchasing all these starts from a nursery would be costly.

Let's say I was planning on filling up 10 4’ x 8’ beds with tomato starts.  I usually plant between 8- 10 per 4’x8’ bed so to fill all the beds that would be between 80-100 plants.  At my nursery, I believe the tomato starts costs around $3.50 each that means I would be spending around $280-$350 to fill these beds.  You have to be out of your mind to think I am going to buy $300 worth of tomatoes from the nursery.  

I can buy one pack of tomatoes from one of my favorite seed banks, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  The seeds packs weigh in around .16g, which is between 40-83 seeds, the pack cost around $2.50.  So do the math, If I put two seeds in every pot before germination, that means that one $2.50 pack of tomato seeds should yield 20-40 plants at a cost between .03-.06 per ( $2.50/ 40 or $2.50/83).    

I thought gardening was supposed to be cheap and help you save money, not if I would have to buy all the transplants. This potential to save is one of the reasons why it is vital to start your seeds.

Every avid gardener needs a way to start their seeds.  The way I am going to show you have a relatively high up-front cost but I guarantee in the long run you will save a lot of money.  Also, starting your seeds, you will be exposed to more varieties than you would be shopping at your local nursery.  

What you need is an indoor growing system, seed starter or whatever you want to call it it is a way to suspend a light above your trays of plants. Here are a few reasons why you should get your indoor  lighting setup:

  • Plant Varieties- When you start your seeds you are not at the mercy of your local nursery. You can experiment with varieties that many people have never heard of or tired. Then you get to brag to your friends in your garden club how your squash plant made theirs look like a seedling.

  • Head Start- Starting your seeds helps you get a jumpstart on the growing season. You are no longer at the mercy of your local nursery, waiting and hoping they get the varieties that interest you. You can have your starts ready to go as soon as the last frost date passes.

  • Earlier and Increased Harvest- Because you are starting the seeds yourself you determine when you begin growing them. The earlier you start, the larger your plants will be by the time they are ready to be transplanted. All plants have a certain amount of days until they reach maturity.

  • Grow food indoors- Yes, this system is mostly used to start seeds, but this shelving system can also be used grow smaller plants indoors. Smaller plants include but not limited to microgreens, lettuces and other greens.

To build seed starting rack, you will need the following: (These instructions are for a five-tier shelving system. Modify these directions for a three-tier shelving system) :

  • Wire shelving

    • Five shelf system (74-in H x 48-in W x 18-in D).

    • Casters

      • wheels ⅜” #16 2in casters

      • Fluorescent Housing-

        • 48″ Fluorescent Shop Light Housing- will need 8 for the five shelf system

        • Fluorescent Bulbs- Purchase bulbs with the highest Kelvin rating. T5 or T8 bulbs are the best. T12 produces leggy, stringy starts.

          • 48” Cool Light Fluorescent Bulb-4

          • 48” Warm light Fluorescent Bulb-4

          • LED Bulbs also work

          • S Hooks - 16 for five shelf Chain

          • Programmable Timer

          • Power strip with eight outlets

How To:

  1. Assemble the shelf according to the instructions

  2. Remove the threaded feet

  3. Insert and thread the casters into the shelving unit to replace the feet

  4. Install bulbs into fixtures

  5. With S hooks and chain. Attach two fluorescent light housings per shelf. The chains and S hooks allow you to adjust the height of the light. Keep the lights between 2”-5” from the top of the plant.

  6. Plug lights into Power strip

  7. Plug power strip into timer

  8. Set timer to run with a schedule of 15 lights on and 9 hours lights off.

Just like that, you have a relatively inexpensive seed starting system! Well, relatively cheap when compared to the $600.  I think the total for this system was around $150. The final price depends on where you purchase your materials.  I have found the best prices on the shelving units on Amazon. Recently, Lowes had them on sale for $49, which at the time was cheaper than Amazon. Now I know that $150 is a lot of money but think of this shelving unit as in invest. You do have to pay the cost initially, but then you will save long term by no longer purchasing $3 starts.

Think about all the varieties of vegetables you will be able to grow.  You will be the envy of all your gardening friends.  While they are talking about varieties which can be purchased locally, from garden centers,  you will be blowing their minds with varieties they have never seen or heard of before.  Can you envision your rack full of seedlings ready to be transplanted into your garden? I can!

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