Question regarding indoor seed starting set-up?

amunk01January 16, 2014

Ok, I have my homemade "mini-greenhouse" up and going in my kitchen to start seeds in. It consists of a stainless large baker's rack wrapped with plastic (plastic drop cloth painters use?). 4 double bulb florescent T8 shop lights between two shelves using 6500k daylight bulbs. The lights are on a timer. I also have a thermostat that maintains soil temp at the set temp. with a soil sensor that turns on 2 heat lamps to regulate temperature. Oh, and a fan for circulation..
Here is my question: (i am using tomatoes for an example) If I germinate a flat at 77� one week, then move that under the lights, to germinate another flat of seeds on the dark shelf, is it ok for the new seedlings to remain in the same temperature needed for seed germination? Is 77� too hot for the baby seedlings? What is optimum growing temp for seedlings once I'm finished germinating (or in between weeks I start new plants)?

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I don't believe that tomato seedlings are all that picky, once they are up and growing. Some of my best, last year, were placed on our sun porch, once they were about an inch high. Our sun porch was really cool at night. But they did fine.

Sounds like you have a really good set up. That fan is very important to avoid damping off.

By the way, one thing I often do, is to germinate my tomato seeds in a damp paper towel, inside a sandwich bag that isn't very tightly sealed. I keep these in a warm place until they germinate and then, once I seed little white roots, I poke them down into soil medium to sprout. This works really well.

Tahlequah, OK

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 8:27PM
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Thanks George, I created my set up based on all the fantastic advice and great minds found on this forum! So far about 40 percent of my tomato flat germinated in 3 days which I thought was amazing. I'm testing Tom Clothier's recommended germination temps this year for fun, and 77 degrees for the tomatoes really works, apparently!
I know its really early but I couldn't stand it any longer and had to start something lol those will just have to be covered once they go outside.
Plastic bags sound like a simple method, although I fear I may be too clumsy to plant the babies without doing damage :) Maybe I'll try that next! Thanks again

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 12:43AM
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It sounds like a nice set-up. One thing I would be concerned about would be using heat lamps around drop cloth. Drop cloth does not handle heat very well, a fire could really mess up your plants, your house too if it is inside. My set-up has 27 watts per sq. ft. for light. I start plants in the house which is around 65 or 70 degrees. I think my plants would do better it they were a little cooler (the temp is a little warmer under the light than the rest of the house).


    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 9:29AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I don't understand the purpose of the drop cloths, and like Larry, I'm concerned about the fire risk. Raising seeds indoors will lose its appeal really fast if your light-shelf set-up burns down the house.

Tomato seedlings should be grown on at cool temperatures after the seeds germinate. The ideal temperature for them is 65 degrees. Leaving seedlings on a seed germination mat is risky and can damage them.

I have a seed germination mat and rarely use it. If I'd known how easily 95% of the plants I grow from seed would germinate indoors without a germination mat, I never would have bought one. Some years I don't even dig it out of storage and use it at all. When I do use it, I move the entire flat off the mat once 50% of the cells in the 72-cell flat have germinated seeds in them. About the only vegetable seed I'll use the germination heat mat for is pepper seeds, particularly older seeds I've had a few years.

I often germinate my tomato, pepper and other seeds in zip-lock bags like George mentioned. As long as I remove them from the zip-lock bag before the plant stems and roots become intertwined with one another, they don't mind being moved from the bags to the flats of soil-less mix. I find it very efficient because I'll have full flats with each cell filled with seedlings, instead of having flats with some empty cells because the seeds in them failed to germinate.

I prefer to grow seedlings on for a few weeks in conditions that are fairly cool. Because the guest room where I put my light shelf faces the south and has big windows, I struggle to keep the room from getting too hot for them. To keep it cool, I close off the HVAC vent in that room so that it isn't getting any heat when the heater is on. I let them have a couple of hours of early morning sun and then close the drapes so that the room doesn't heat up too much. I keep a fan running 224/7. When you raise seedlings indoors in a room that is too hot, they quickly grow into monster plants, and that's not good for them. When they grow large quickly, they outgrow the available space under the plant lights. When that happens, what are you going to do with them? I used to move mine to my screened-in back porch, but once we built the greenhouse, that became the place I put them when I kick them out of the nice warm house. They might get warmer in the greenhouse than I'd like during the day, but then they get very close to freezing temperatures in there most nights, so that keeps them from growing rampantly like they would indoors.

It is so early to be starting tomato seeds indoors that I get a headache thinking about it. You only need to start them 6 to 8 weeks before your recommended transplanting date. The OSU-recommended planting dates for tomato transplants are April 10-30, with the April 10th date being intended for folks in far SE OK and the April 30th date being intended for folks in far NW OK. The rest of us have to chose an appropriate transplanting date somewhere between April 10 and April 30, based on where we live in the state and on our local soil temperatures and air temperatures. Sometimes, in a really hot winter with an early last freeze, we can put tomato plants in the ground up to a month early and get away with it, but years like that are few and far between---maybe once or twice a decade, and it just happened in 2012, so I don't know if we'll have another year like that any time soon.

I usually start my tomato seeds on Super Bowl Sunday, and that can be far too early for me in years when the air and soil temperatures stay cold deep into spring. And, it can be almost too late in a year like 2012 because it means my seedlings will barely be big enough to be transplanted early. So, I feel like it is the exact right time to start them since it isn't precisely right for long, cold springs or short, warm winters. It is right in the middle.

If I started tomato seeds as early as you have, my husband would lock me in the cellar until the insane urge to start seeds now had passed. That is because he knows all too well how crazy it makes me to have big, healthy plants indoors that cannot go into the ground for another month or two. Because our weather is so erratic, even when I start them on time, I sometimes cannot put them into the ground for another 2-6 weeks beyond the preferred transplanting date. The last time we had a year like that, it just above drove me crazy, and I just about drove him crazy. So, since you started your seeds so early.....welcome to the insanity!


    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 2:30PM
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Thanks all! Yes, its crazy to start so early! :) I only did one flat just to ease the spring planting anxiety. And to test my germination "tent". I've only been a "crazy" gardener for a year so it hasn't started really getting to the hubby yet, of course a house fire may rapidly change that!
We did a 24hr test run with the set-up to test just how hot the plastic gets and it was barely warm to the touch. The two lamps hang on opposite sides of the bottom shelf but face one another (so the heat is not directed at the plastic.) Then a fan below them points up/towards the back to circulate the air constantly. The lamps only click on for a few minutes at a time to maintain the set temp. So far no problems, but do you guys have a better solution to the plastic I'm using? I just grabbed it because its heavy, cheap, and 10x24 so it wrapped around the entire rack with no problem. I'm completely open to suggestions :)
As for room, I'm not too concerned, I'm still so new at seed starting, I doubt all the seeds will make it. I managed to over water a lot last year and probably half my toms damped off. So this flat is more of a technique trial run for me. If some miracle occurs and I end up with a bunch of plants, I guess I'll just have to figure something out. It will be fun to experiment and I'll learn more about growing tomatoes? :) In the meantime, I'll be praying it doesn't keep freezing into May like last year! Thank you all so much. :)

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 4:40PM
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I would get rid of the drop cloth or they may all damp off.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 8:45PM
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I also don't understand the "heat lamp" reference. Can you please explain that?

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 12:12AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Why are you wrapping it with anything at all? That's what I don't understand. I don't wrap mine with anything. Air flow is incredibly important. As Carol mentioned, damping off (a term used to describe plant disease/death that can wipe out a whole flat of seedlings in no is not one disease but various fungal diseases encouraged by poor air flow and overwatering) is common when air flow is poor, so you don't want to do anything that will encourage it.

If you need to fiddle around with some seeds this early in the year, you could sow begonia or petunia seeds. It takes them a long time to get big from seeds---the new sprouts are so tiny you almost need a magnifying glass to look at them---but if you start their seeds in January, you'll have nice seedlings to plant outside once the weather is warmer in April or May. Lisanthus is another one that takes forever from seeds.

I understand wanting to plant seeds early. I do, I do, I do. I fight the desire to do that nonstop. I've started too early before, sometimes merely because I lacked self-control and sometimes deliberately because I expected an early spring, and there is nothing wrong with starting early as long as you are prepared to deal with the consequences of starting early.

We might think the odds of lights starting fires is very low, but it happens all the time. We have had to fight structure fires before that started when an electric blanket or a light bulb in a dog house, chicken coop, or barn ignited bedding or some part of the structure. A few years ago a small, local garden center in Ardmore had a fire when the ballast in their plant lights somehow ignited during the night. (I am not sure why the grow lights were on at night....plants need a rest period daily too, just like humans.) We had a structure fire near Thackerville just a couple of nights ago, so fire safety is very much on my mind right now. It is heartbreaking to see someone's home or business burning, and there is nothing you can say to them at a time like that which will make them feel any better.

To combat damping off, if you keep chamomile tea bags handy during seed-starting time, you can water your seedlings with chamomile tea once a week or so and it helps prevent damping off. Sometimes you can save some of your plants with the chamomile tea. The very moment you first see signs of what might be damping off, if you water the plants lightly with chamomile tea, you usually can save them. I have had the same box of chamomile tea bags for a very long time. I bought them at a Whole Foods in Arlington, TX, and I don't think I've been in that store the last 4 or 5 years, because a Central Market opened in a location closer to us (Southlake, TX). Nowadays, lots of grocery stores carry chamomile teas, as do health food stores, but back then they were a lot harder to find.


    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 10:26AM
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After reading about all the different ways to germinate, I just combined a bunch of different method that work for people. So lets see if I can explain this a little better. The plastic is wrapped all the way around the entire bakers rack simply to allow me to maintain the warmer temperature needed for Fast germination (Clothier said 77 is optimal for toms to sprout in 6 days so I wanted to test it). The plastic creates an indoor "greenhouse", if you will. Now that they have all come up, the entire front/one side is uncovered so between the fan sitting on the bottom shelf and the ceiling fan that's almost directly above, I think they should be getting plenty of air flow. The lights for heat are also unnecessary now. They were only used for germination so they are unplugged (Did I just hear Dawn sigh in relief?) Lol :) I appreciate everyone's concern and sound advice, I was very careful to make sure all my devices and plugins, grow lights, bulbs, etc are within their designated wattage limits and even had my hubby double check.

Soonergrandmom, the heat lamps are just simple flood lights in aluminum cone fixtures with clamps. They hang on their own shelf away from anything that could melt or catch fire including the cords. They are connected to a hydrofarm thermostat with soil sensor that maintains a set temp within two degrees. So when the soil drops from 77, the lights click on for about five minutes (or less). Does that clarify the "heat" lamps?

Dawn, first off thanks for putting out fires all over the place, in Oklahoma and on this forum! :) I think what you do is amazing.. As for the chamomile, I have read a lot about it and am giving it a shot this year, along with bottom-watering. I knew literally nothing about gardening, starting seeds, etc when I jumped in head first last year so I made a ton of mistakes! I've been reading nonstop since then so i feel a little more prepared for the upcoming season. Thank you guys for all the wisdom, I will do my best to put it to good use!

Oh, and thank you for the flower names, I was actually going to ask for a few ideas from everyone, but that is plenty for now. Hope everyone has a great day!

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 5:49PM
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Oh my, can we start over? While helpful to have a cover to hold humidity while the seeds germinate, you want the trays uncovered as soon as you see green. Almost no vegetable requires light to germinate, but they need lots of light to grow. The light should be just above the tops of the plants, so you will be adjusting it almost everyday. By close, I mean almost touching, but not quite. Once you have germination, the plants don't need the same temperature as they did for germination and will be healthier if grown at a cooler temperature. Peppers will require a little more heat than most.

I would be very afraid of having plastic that close to lights, and if you are growing inside your heated home, then you probably have plenty of heat, and your lights will add even more once they are on. Remember the heat from the lights is going to rise, so the soil in the trays above the lights are going to get extra heat. I grow peppers on a high shelf and and tomatoes on a lower one, so the light fixture above the tomatoes provides extra heat for the peppers above.

When I grew inside my house, I found that the plants got plenty of movement from the ceiling fan and I didn't need to run anything else. I used plastic covers to help with germination then they were never covered or wrapped again. If you happened to see my shelves, and saw that I had reflective material around 3 sides of my shelf, remember I am growing in an unheated building, so the only heat is that of the lights. I think you should remove the plastic, and if you feel you must use plastic, wrap it around your tray JUST for germination, but you don't really need it.

The reference to heat lamps bothered me most of all because if they are pointed at your plants, they can kill them very quickly. Remember, when we are talking about germination temperature, we are talking about when the seed is still under the soil. Once it is showing any green, it has no need for that much heat and needs no cover, but it now needs light. If you meant that they were on the bottom shelf and pointed up to plants germinating on a higher shelf, I will feel a little better, although I think it is overkill.

Some flowers do need light to germinate, so if you have flowers under lights, the lights should germinate enough heat for you to start vegetables on the shelf above.

Relax, and don't make this any harder than it needs to be.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 11:54PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I don't put out the fires. I just carry water, Gatorade, coffee (when it is cold outside), snacks and meals to the firefighters. Today a fast-moving grass fire in our own neighborhood threatened homes and other property, but firefighters from two departments brought it under control fairly quickly considering how dry all the vegetation is and how much the wind was gusting.

The weather pattern that is contributing to the fire danger levels every day is making me crazy. We need rain, but all we're getting is high wind and low humidity, day in and day out. The soil sure will be dry at planting time if we don't get some rain. It isn't exactly real moist right now.

Carol offered lots of words of wisdom so I won't repeat them.

We want to see you succeed and I can tell you have done all your research and are trying hard to do everything just exactly right. Well, guess what? You don't have to be perfect. You don't even have to be almost perfect. You can relax and just enjoy the process. Raising seedlings is relatively simple. More seedlings are killed by someone who tries too hard, and overwaters them or overheats them or both. We call that "loving your plants to death". You don't want to be that person! (grin)

I think that you'll find the seed starting process more enjoyable if you don't let yourself obsess over it so much.

I thought that as the years went by, I'd become more regimented and sort of stuck in my ways and would do everything "just so", but the opposite has proven to be true. My seedlings get about 10% of the attention I once gave them, and they still sprout and grow just fine. There's a lesson in there, and the lesson I took away from the experience is that I used to spend way too much time, money and attention on them....and they hardly need me at all.


    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 2:41AM
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I started my own seeds for the first time last year and was pretty successful thanks to this Oklahoma corner of GW. there is a lot of different things people do, just do the basic. the only thing I did different is I wrapped foil, light reflection, on 2 sides of my plant stand leaving 2 sides open for fans/airflow.
It was a lot of fun and I was able to give away a lot of plants. I hope to do the same this year. This year I am only going to start a few, ok 10 or 20 tomatoes early and wait for the rest till later. And that was a great tip about putting the peppers above a light fixture and not on the bottom shelf, thank you for that. some of mine struggled last year.

Dawn as to your firemen's aid I did it years ago too and didn't realize till later not all firemen have the aid that we provided. It was a wonderful time and I do miss it. We had a great auxiliary in Aubrey TX. it is a lifesaving service you provide.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 8:20AM
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Carol, thanks so much, I completely agree and am doing it exactly as you said. :) The covers came off and the T8 lights came on the second the first sprouts popped up. The heat lamps are put away, and I've removed all the plastic. I can't just ignore great advice from experienced gardeners! Thanks for making sure I don't burn down the plants... Or the house ha

Dawn, I'm sorry its been so windy and dry. Sounds like its keeping you quite busy! I hope no one was injured during your neighborhood fire, how scary! Ya'll stay safe and we'll keep praying for rain :).

    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 3:27PM
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