Projects        < Previous

Indoor Seed-Starting Artificial Light Set-Up

Many garden clubs enjoy starting their plants from seed. It's a huge cost savings and a very satisfying endeavor. Most gardeners set aside a little space in their basements every late winter / early spring. You don't need anything fancy! The main thing you have to provide is artificial light for the two months or so that you will start seeds indoors before outdoor planting time.

See articles in the Seeds, Bulbs and Start-Ups section on this website for other grow-light ideas, if this one is too difficult for your building skill level. You can buy a tabletop growlight and stand from a garden center, but it will only serve a few dozen seeds at a cost of $100 or so.

Or you can build your own, from PVC pipe:

Sketch shows how the simple parts work together.

Here's a cheaper way to create artificial light. You can obtain the "ingredients" for this "recipe" from your local hardware store, or try garage sales for the shop lights:

  • Two 10-foot long, 1 " wide sections of Schedule 40 PVC pipe
  • Four 1 " PVC end caps
  • Four 1 " T-shaped fittings
  • Four 1 " rounded elbows
  • Two 48" shop lights that can hold two bulbs per fixture
  • Four 48" fluorescent lamps
  • About 6' of double-loop chain (though some shop lights come with chain included, so check)
  • Four small S hooks
  • Scrap wire
  • Power strip with grounded outlets
  • Timer
  • 320-grit sandpaper
  • Pliers

Cut the PVC pipe into two 52" support rails, four 20" legs, four 2" couplers, and two 12" spacers. Sand edges with sandpaper.

Attach one T fitting a few inches in from t the end of each spacer. The spacers will rest on the table at either end.

Into the open ends of each T fitting, insert a coupler and then a PVC camp.

Insert a 20" leg into the middle hole of each T fitting. These are the vertical legs.

Attach a rounded elbow to all four tops of your legs.

Connect both ends of the 52" support rails into the open ends of the four elbows.

Voila! It should stand up securely now!

With pliers, close up one end of an S hook, then wire it to one of the top rails near the corners. Repeat for the other three corners.

Hang the shop light fixtures from the stand with the double-loop chain, hooking the chain links onto the open end of the S hooks.

Install the fluorescent lamps, and make sure they work.

Use the chains to lower and raise the bulbs so that they are 3" to 4" above your seedlings as they grow.

Use the timer to set up your light/dark cycles. Some people prefer 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness; others prefer 14-hour light "days" and 8 hours of darkness.

The trick is to start seeds of plants that tend to grow at about the same rate, so that you don't have some plants that are two inches tall at six weeks, and others that are 10 inches tall by that time. If that happens, it will be impossible to keep the lights 3-4" above the plants since they will be at such different heights.

If it's not possible to coordinate plant heights like that, you might have to build two sets of artificial lights.

Your plant light stand is useful year-round, if you have the space. After you've set out your garden plants for the summer, you can use your system to grow alfalfa sprouts for salads and sandwiches. You can also use it to get a good head start on your fall crops, such as the second round of lettuce and spinach, to be transplanted in the garden in late summer.

By Susan Darst Williams www.KidsGardenClub.org Projects 14 2011

Projects        < Previous