Germinating and Growing Seedlings under Lights: Chamber Set-Up

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Today we finally had a chance to set up our germination/seedling area in the basement. It’s not fully done yet, but so far we have:

  1. One large Gorilla shelf rack – fits 4 standard Jiffy or Burpee seed starting flats perfectly. $87.97
  2. four shop lights (2 sockets each), chain links and S hooks included. 4 x $8.97 = $35.88
  3. One pack of 10 fluorescent bulbs: T8, 48″, 32W, 6500 K color temperature, 36.000 hours lifetime light temperature. $25
  4. four wooden dowels (4 x $1.45 = $7.25)
  5. one timer ($11.97)
  6. one power strip ($4.98)

Total cost (so far): $173 (plus tax), at Home Depot.

If more space for seedlings is needed, we can put two more lights/four more bulbs above the lower shelves.

The dowels (those round wooden sticks) fit the holes in the shelf unit perfectly and the shop lights hang from it securely. We can adjust the lamps’ distance from the seeds/seedlings either by shortening the chains or by moving the dowels up some more.

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We’re going to put a sheet (poly? shower curtain?) around the whole unit, creating a chamber. This will trap the heat and the humidity.  Now the dowels are too long and we’ll trim them some, but we’ll leave them sticking out so that

  1. there is some clearance in front for one person stand inside the chamber
  2. there is space for the heat to rise to the highest shelves (for the germination and the most heat-loving plants)
  3. there is air flow (we might also drill holes in the particle board shelves)

We’ll monitor if these lamps generate sufficient heat for the seed/seedlings (our basement is only about 55-60 degrees F, and we’ll need temperatures between 65-70). If not, we’ll try a hot lamp or  heating mats, which are more expensive.

We’re also going to put a small household fan inside the “chamber”, to prevent damping off (fungus).

  • Germination part

The top shelf will be the germination part of the operation, because it will be the hottest (since the heat from the lower shelves will rise).

Most seeds need an ambient temperature of 65-70 degrees F, and soil temperatures of optimally (though not necessarily) 80-85 degrees F. Heat is the most important consideration, then light. Some seeds need light to germinate (lettuce), others need darkness (many flowers), but most are indifferent (pepper, squash, tomato). We’ll simply put newspaper over the darkness-loving seeds to block the light, or we’ll paint their domes black.

  • Seedlings

A plant is a seedling as soon as it has grown to “true leaves” – leaves that weren’t already part of the seed-package. Seedlings need up to 16 hours of bright light per day to thrive. Our timer will ensure we don’t forget!

There will no doubt be some shuffling around as we get to know our system, our seeds and seedlings. I’ve added an extra Flickr badge in the sidebar with annotated pictures of anything garden.

Also still needed: seed-starting mix, flats, domes, potting soil, peat pots…

Seeds? Check!

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