Thursday, March 26, 2015

Use an ordinary shop light as a grow light

This spring I splurged on equipment that will serve me for years to come as I turn $3 worth of seeds into big, strong tomato transplants for my garden. Sure, Big Box Land has seedlings for $3 to $5 each, and those are convenient. But if you're planning to set out a whole bunch of transplants, you may want to try what I finally succeeded at this year.

The set-up was a one-time investment for saving money in all the coming years. Simple math.

In the past I have turned out sick, spindly little tomato plants. I thought I could just set them in a sunny window, but they just reach for the watery sunlight instead of growing up tall and strong. To overcome phototropism, you should rotate the plants every day, but it really doesn't work.

This year I installed a four-tube shop light. Yes, having a shop light hanging by chains over the kitchen table is pretty much of a monstrosity, but just think, it's only temporary. Once you've grown your seedlings for the season, you can put your equipment away in the garage or basement.

The shop light I bought is 1 foot wide and 4 feet long -- perfect for hanging over a domed seeding tray (mine is 1 foot wide and 2 feet long). Why did I get such a long shop light? I was thinking ahead to the time when I would be planting my seedlings in larger containers, and I would have 4 feet of space for these bigger cups. This worked out very well.

Getting a four-tube light is a key to this system. With a two-tube system, your plants would always be straining their necks toward the middle, resulting in thin, sickly, leggy little babies that won't do well in the real world. So spend a little more on a four-tube light.

I think I paid $50 for the shop light fixture, then I splurged on four T8 plant lights at about $10 each. While I'm reasonably certain you can use regular fluorescent bulbs, naturally I took it over the top and I'm glad I did.

My husband installed the lighting fixture with strong hooks into ceiling studs. I bought him two 6-foot lengths of white chain that have links that are about 1 inch long. These chain links are important because you'll probably need to raise the light every day in order to keep it 1 inch above the top of the plants.

Along with heating mat and seed tray (see yesterday's blog), the shop light allows me to bypass commercial seedlings. For sure, I had to put time and money into this system, but let me tell you, it's well worth the investment. I am a confirmed seed starter.

See yesterday's blog for how to start seeds indoors using a seeding tray and heating mat.

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