Setting Up a Seed-Starting Station
All serious gardeners eventually find that they need to start their own plants from seed. Maybe their gardening ideas are bigger than their budgets, or maybe they want varieties that their local garden centers don't offer. For some of us, the challenge is the fun part. Whatever your reason, once you decide to start your own seeds, you'll need a place to do it. If you are only starting a few plants, a sunny windowsill will do nicely. If you are starting many plants for beds or containers, read on.
The first thing to consider is where you will locate your seed-starting station. It should be a place that has easy access to water for watering and general cleanup. It must have an electrical outlet nearby to plug in your lights. A non-carpeted floor is a good idea, for obvious reasons. And there should be ample space to store your pots, flats, soil, watering tools, and all the other paraphernalia that you will be using. I've found that my basement is ideal for this, specifically the area near my washer and dryer, which has a nice deep sink. For you, it may be a heated garage, a sunroom, or even an unused bedroom with a nearby bath.
There is nothing fancy here. You will need something to set your pots or flats on. My first seed-starting station was made up of two of those white laminate cabinets you can find anywhere that you have to put together yourself. My most recent is a tall bench my husband built (five feet long by two feet deep) with a wide shelf on the bottom for storing my soil and tools. Mounting a shelf above your seed-starting surface is a good idea for a couple of reasons. First, it gives you the perfect place to hang your lights from. And second, it is a great place to put more cell packs and tools within easy reach. You will want to hang the shelf about two feet above the seed-starting surface, which will give you ample room to get in and work with your plants, but still be close enough to the surface to give them maximum light from the light fixtures you will be hanging. If you are lucky enough to have a cabinet or something nearby to store more tools and things, all the better.
The most important things you will need are the lights. Get yourself two of those shop light kits that you find at almost any home center. They're cheap, usually costing less than ten dollars. As far as bulbs go, there are two schools of thought. Some say to buy one cool light fluorescent tube (the kind you normally think of when you think fluorescent) and one warm or natural light tube for each fixture. Others say two cool-light tubes are just fine, and I'm in that school of thought. I have tried it both ways, and can't say that I saw a dramatic difference when I used the warm-light tubes. The cool-light ones are cheaper, and will do a fine job. These light kits usually come with chains for hanging, but if yours doesn't, you can always purchase chain at the home center. You'll need some hooks to hang the fixtures from the bottom of your shelf. A timer for the lights is also a very, very good idea, since seedlings require around sixteen hours of light to grow well, and who wants to remember to turn the lights on and off all the time?
Besides all of these things, you will need basic seed-starting supplies: plastic flats and cell packs, soil-less seed-starting mix, a mister, plant labels, seeds, and small pots. Some people also use warming mats under their flats to speed germination. I have never used one of these, and my plants germinate just fine.
Once you have all your supplies, you are ready to go. Screw the hooks into the underside of your shelf, and suspend the fixtures, one beside the other, from the chains. You'll want the lights to be three to four inches above the surface of the seed-starting medium in your flats, and you will raise the lights several times in the coming weeks to keep that interval constant. Plug the lights into your timer, set the timer, plant your seeds, and you are on your way. Once you experience the satisfaction of starting your own plants every year, you will find that your seed-starting operation will grow a little every spring. And, soon, you'll have to set up a second seed-starting station! ITGO