Saturday, February 16, 2013

Starting Seeds Indoors & a DIY Grow Light Tutorial

It's time to start seeds indoors already! (At least here in NC it is). We started seeds for several varieties of vegetables a couple of weeks ago and they are coming up nicely. We have seeds planted for tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower, cilantro, broccoli and kale. For those of you wanting to start your garden seeds indoors, do you know you can make your own grow light for a mere $20?

That's right--a cheap grow light made from PVC pipe, a fluorescent light, and metal hooks that can be taken apart or disassembled when not in use!

Here is what you will need:

- PVC pipe (three 1/2"x10')
- hand or chop saw
- 1/2" PVC corners (6)
- 1/2" PVC tees (2)
- 48" dual tube fluorescent light with included chains (runs about $12)
- appropriate fluorescent tubes (2)
- J hooks and nuts (2) for securing lamp into PVC piping
- drill and drill bits

For starting seeds:

- seed starting trays or pots
- soil
- pencil
- seeds
- towel
- water in spray bottle

Here is what you will need to do:

The stand can be assembled in two sections, the base and the hanger. The base is just a rectangle made with two 50" and four 12" lengths of 1/2" PVC pipe, assembled with four 1/2" corner connectors and two 1/2" tees. The long side of the rectangle must be slightly longer than the light fixture, so if you choose a different size light, scale this dimension appropriately.

The pipes should fit snugly into the connectors, so no glue is needed to hold the whole thing together.

The finished stand is shown below. The open hole of the tees should point up in order to receive the riser pipes.

The hanger is shown below. The risers (top and bottom of the picture) can be cut to whatever length needed to hang the light at the desired height. I chose 3 feet, but later cut some shorter risers so that the light can hang closer to the seedlings. One to two feet should be plenty for shallow seed trays. The cross bar (the part that supports the light fixture) should be the same length as the longer side of your base (50" in this case). Two corner connectors hold the whole hanger together.

You can hang the light on the cross bar however you prefer, but J hooks were cheap and keep the fixture securely in place. Simply measure the distance between where the chains connect to your light fixture and drill two vertical holes (slightly larger than the diameter of the bolt portion of the J hook) centered that distance apart in the cross bar. Throw a nut on each J hook and you're ready to assemble everything.

Push the ends of the riser into the open holes of the tees in the base, and then hang the light fixture by the included chains. That's it! Should take 30 minutes or less. The nice thing about this setup is that it can be easily customized to your particular needs. With two more tees added to the base, another hanger can be added to accommodate a second fixture. Since you didn't have to glue it together, the whole thing can be disassembled and stored under a bed or in a closet at the end of the growing season.

To start the seeds, use high quality potting soil or organic compost with soil and place in seed starting trays (we used the Jiffy trays with the plastic tops and recycle them each year).

I use a pencil eraser to push a little indention into each seed container, then drop a seed or two in each one. Make sure and keep a list or diagram handy to write down what seeds you have placed where. Cover seed holes back with soil and water well.

Place under grow light and monitor growth (we also kept a towel underneath our seed trays). Water every day so that soil doesn't dry out (or use a self-watering seed starting tray). We keep the grow light on the seedlings about 16 hours per day with the help of a three-prong light timer.

You may have to give it several days to germinate before you see growth, so be patient! Before too long we will have to transplant these to bigger pots, and then out to our cold frame, and then finally into the ground when it is warm enough.

Are any of your starting your seeds indoors this year?

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