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!