"Commentary from the Countryside"
Thoughts on current events,
history, homesteading, preparedness, real food, and anything else I find interesting, from a cranky, middle-aged woman's common-sense perspective.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Making a Grow Station

I'm always looking to do things without spending a lot of money.  This is how I made a seed starting/growing station in my basement with scrap lumber, bits of things I had around, and some old office lights I got off craigslist for around forty dollars.

The lights came with the pigtail in an aluminum conduit from where they had been hard wired into a building electrical circuit.  A couple of them still had the diffuser panels.  I left the original light bulbs in place; I know there's a lot of talk about 'cold' and 'warm' lights, and phenomenally expensive 'full spectrum grow lights', but the seedlings seem to do just fine with the regular issue light bulbs.

The first chore was to remove the aluminum conduit and wire a plug onto each light.  I always have wire nuts, electrical tape, etc., in the tool box, and whenever something dies, like a vacuum cleaner or a sump pump, I cut the power cord off and save it.  So I had enough cords on hand to wire all four lights with a plug without buying any parts.  The wiring is pretty simple - red or black is hot, and white is neutral.  One just has to be careful to keep hot to hot and neutral to neutral to avoid any potential fireworks.
Once I had all the lights wired with plugs and tested, I laid them side by side on a couple of 2x4s.  (True story:  I found a whole bunch of these 2x4s in a roadside ditch where someone was making a burn pile of debris from a home renovation.  They're not perfectly straight, but certainly useful, so they came home with me!)  Using some drywall screws with small washers, I drilled through the metal housing of the lights and secured them to the 2x4s, eight screws for each light.  Then came the fun part, turning the whole apparatus over.  It wasn't graceful but I managed to do it without breaking any of the lights.  Using two more scraps of 2x4, I put cross pieces on to stiffen the light bank and keep it from flexing, then using washers and some eyebolts I made attachment points for the hanging chains.

I put heavy spikes in the overhead joists, and hung lengths of chain, which I connected to the lights with S-hooks.  That way I can adjust the height of the lights above the plants.  This picture is a little hard to make out; but you can see the chains in the top area, the 2x4s, and then how bright the lights are over the seed trays.  I used my outdoor Christmas lights timer to control a fused power strip that all the lights are plugged into, and a small electric heater under the seed trays.  I have it set to give the seedlings about 12 hours of light per day.  The seed flats are supported by a couple of old sawhorses and left over 2x10s and a 2x4.
The above pictures are from last year, when I first set up the whole thing. Here's some pictures I took today; a little better picture of the chain arrangement, and you can see the sheets of styrofoam insulation and cardboard I use to keep the light and heat in by the plants:

Lessons learned from last year's experiment have resulted in better results so far this year:  1. Every single little seed has it's own name tag; one per row results in mass confusion when it's transplant time.   2. Go ahead and buy peat pellet refills and use the premade plastic covers.  Saran wrap is a pain, peat pots are hard to keep covered, and dry out too fast.   3.  Keep mouse traps set or the little pests think the whole thing is a giant salad bar.

I'm already repotting the first flats of tomatoes that I planted, and today I need to start with the pumpkins and squashes.  Once they sprout, they really take off!  In just twelve days or so they've gone from seeds to overwhelming the whole flat.  So far germination has been very good; out of each flat of 72 pellets I've only had a few that didn't sprout.  Several seed packets were bought new this year, and a friend sent me some squash and okra (Okra! What am I supposed to do with that??),  but most of the vegetable seeds I used this year were saved from 2010 and 2011, and almost all of them are heirloom varieties obtained from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com).  This is my third year using their seeds, and I've been happy with the customer service and the quality of the seeds.

So far this little growing station has worked well for me, and cost very little to set up.  I don't really like using electricity and running up that bill, but I don't have an outdoor greenhouse, nor enough south facing window space, and my basement rarely gets above fifty-some degrees, so this is what it is for now.  Using the timer helps to keep the bill down a little, and I am planning to change the heat source.  Even using heavy gauge cords and a GFCI outlet, the electric heater makes me a little nervous.  Can't argue with the results, though, and the whole apparatus is only in use for a month or so out of the year.  As time goes on I hope to build an outdoor greenhouse, but that project is a ways down on the priority list.

Despite the fact that a sharply cold north wind continues to howl around the house, I believe it won't be much longer until I can start setting the seedlings out to harden off.  Then it will be planting time, and hopefully a chance to make a dollar or two selling the extras.

Happy gardening!

No comments:

Post a Comment