Homemade grow lights — Start your own seeds and transplants

Special guest post by Matthew

You can spend a lot of money on a grow light setup and special light bulbs, but all you really need is a 48” shop light (or a couple), and a warm white and a cool white bulb.  I was a little skeptical at first, but this combination has worked fine for me for a wide variety of seedlings.   I’ve started most everything common and some decidedly uncommon things.*

My fixtures take either T8 or T12 fluorescent tubes — I use T8 for greater energy to light efficiency as compared to T12.  It is important to be careful how old your bulbs are, as long fluorescent tubes lose their efficiency long before they die.

I learned this the hard way — my seedlings were getting long and spindly instead of staying shorter and being robust.  I replaced the bulbs and had much better results with my next round of seedlings.**

You’ll also need a shelf at least as wide as your lights… wider is really not necessary, but a little extra can give you somewhere to put odds and ends, even if that space is no good for growing.

I strongly recommend installing your lights on chains so they can be moved up and down as needed for the height of your transplants…. And to allow you to use your heat box when it’s appropriate.  It’s also well worth taking the trouble to center the light fixture back to front.

I also recommend an extension cord long enough for your needs, an automatic timer to turn the lights on and off at about a 16 hour day (for most plants), and an electrical plug splitter (if you have more than one light fixture) so you can plug your lights into the timer.

Happy growing!

*I’ve started the following:

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Collards
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Celery
  • Celeriac
  • Parsely
  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • Tomatoes
  • Tomatillos
  • Peppers
  • Eggplants
  • Hardy Kiwi
  • Squash
  • Melons
  • Fennel
  • Various flowers
  • Strawberries
  • Rhubarb
  • Asparagus
  • Hardy Kiwi
  • Kholrabi
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach

**Any store that sells fluorescent tubes and bulbs should accept spent tubes/bulbs for recycling. Please do not place in the trash — they contain mercury!


First Friday veg potlucks
As I’ve mentioned before, we’re part of a vegetarian potluck group that meets once a month to share delicious food and good company.  This month’s theme was “veggie adventure” (AKA, make something you’ve never made before).  Inspired by our recent Indian restaurant trip, I made chana masala, using this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, with delicious results.  (One of these months, I will actually remember to bring the camera and share more about these gatherings.)

And so it begins
Saturday marked the official opening of the 2012 gardening season, which unofficially opened in early January when Matthew started seedlings under the grow lights.*

The Dude “helped” Daddy and Grandma at the garden, giving me some time to myself.  Their day involved some heavy lifting — working to move two dump truck loads of compost while carrying a little monkey on their backs.

Meanwhile  . . .
I caught up on things around the apartment, cleaning the kitchen so we could mess it up again later, among other things

My bicycle turned routine errands into some nice physical activity and outside time, though the sun fooled me into under-dressing for the outingI’ll take a slightly chilly breeze on my face over being stuck in the car any day.

And then came Sunday
The Dude and I graced the church pews for the first time in eons — my attendance record since he’s been born is quite embarrassing.  I tell myself it will get better when he gets older and our routine is a bit more predictable, but thinking of families in times past (and present, I suppose) who make it to church Every. Single. Sunday., with a baby AND other little ones in tow makes my excuse look a little pathetic.

Pre-church bath -- we bathe a bit more frequently than we go to church, but not much 😉

Meanwhile . . .
In case he hadn’t gotten enough exercise at the garden on Saturday, Matthew spent a good chunk of Sunday on his bike, preparing for the Cycling Savvy class he’ll be teaching in a couple of weeks.**

We wrapped up the weekend with a relatively simple dinner featuring a large salad with greens from the low tunnel, homemade pasta (made and frozen on a previous weekend), and a delicious rhubard dessert.

*Stay tuned for a grow light guest post from Matthew.

**If you’re in the St. Louis area, check out the upcoming Cycling Savvy classes.  Thanks to some grant funding, they are offering the classroom potion for FREE, and each of the on-bike portions for $15/session.  All three sessions normally cost $75!  Whether you’re a newbie, someone who’s logged hundreds of miles, or somewhere in between, Cycling Savvy has a lot to offer.