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Make do for seed starting

Posted by okmoreh z6 MA (My Page) on
Tue, Jan 16, 07 at 11:11

I'm planning to start a modest number of plants from seed -- the number will be small because my garden consists of just two small balconies.

I've looked at the small, table-top grow lights, but they're expensive for such short -term use, so I would rather improvise. I could buy a shop light and prop it up on something, but I'm wondering if it would be adequate to use the household lights that I have.

What I have are one "angle-poise" lamp and one clamp-on fixture. Both are designed to use 60-watt incandescent bulbs. I would replace the incandescents either with ordinary CFL bulbs (getting daylight bulbs if it all possible), or perhaps with reflector CFL bulbs.

I'd set this up in front of a south-facing window that gets lots of sunlight when there is any sun (it's raining now). Would this be enough light? Are reflector CFLs worth the cost?

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Make do for seed starting

  • Posted by watergal z6/7 Westminster, MD (My Page) on
    Tue, Jan 16, 07 at 23:45

How big an area do you need to illumine?

RE: Make do for seed starting

You can certainly use CFLs, just the regular screw-in ones. The reflector ones seem to be ridiculously expensive but you do need some form of reflector to direct the light downwards. Normally my advice is that the electricity is by far the most expensive part of lighting, but the cost of the reflector CFLs runs it close! In the same vein, if you plan to use more than a couple of CFLs for more than a few hundred hours, do invest in some straight tube shoplight type lighting which will give you more light for less electricity.

With the CFLs, plan on about 30W per square foot of seed trays. You may have to adjust this depending on your plants and you reflector. The bulbs will need to be a few inches away from the top of the plants.

RE: Make do for seed starting

For the cost of one 42 watt CFL, you can buy one shop light and one tube. Another $2 gets you another bulb.

In the same area that one shop light would light, you would need a minimum of two CFL's, plus the reflector lamps to house them.

If it were me, I would invest in two shoplights which will hold two or four standard flats depending on how your turn them.


RE: Make do for seed starting

I was in the same position a few years ago. I ended up buying two shop lights and an inexpensive shelf that I installed in an unused closet. I hung the lights below the shelf with some screw hooks and chains so that I could adjust the height of the light as the seedlings grew. I spent far less than $100 on the setup and have had great success with tomato, pepper, herb and flower seedlings ever since.

Good luck, and have fun!

I didn't have any natural light at all; the closet gave me a n easy place to install the lights, but I needed more light as the plants grew, so I have to make sure not to sow the seeds too early or the plants start to suffer before it warms enough to plant them out. If you're set on installing the lights next to the window, you could probably get by with just one light. You can probably rig up a way to hang the light from a curtain rod. For the cost, its hard to recommend anything but the cheap shop lights from one of the big box stores.

RE: Make do for seed starting

I hung shop lights in my basement about three years ago and have had terrific luck using them to start seedlings. I think I spent about $60-70. Easy, no-fuss, with good results. Obviously you have to find the space, but if you can swing it, even for just a couple of months out of the year, you'll have an effective and not terribly expensive lighting system.

I also learned that it's worthwhile to have a small fan running for at least part of the day, to give the seedlings some air circulation once they're up and growing. You've probably read this on the forum---the breeze supposedly strengthens the stems and helps deter damping off........Have fun! Seed starting can be addictive!

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