The garage I use as a seedling nursery is nice. I feel pretty spoiled to have the space. It’s on the south part of the house, with three tall windows on the south wall and windows on the east facing garage door. Lots of natural light. It’s great, especially in the winter time.
I’ve been sprouting seeds in there for a while, on a workbench next to the windows. It worked pretty good. I rotated the plants every morning to get them to lean back the other direction as they would flop back and forth looking for the source of the light. I kept thinking it was robbing my plants of some of their energy that could be going toward growth and they weren’t getting direct sun for very long, so I hung two four foot long fluorescent lights from the ceiling by long chains so that I could adjust the height and the length of time that they get light. I got the idea from here.
This season my strategy has changed. I use to use small plastic pots. I could get about 10 per tray with an okay germination rate. Now that I have a soil blocker I can fit 44 soil blocks in the same space. That’s a lot more sprouting seedlings… to watch… sprout. Did I mention I love watching seeds sprout? I might have… just a couple of times.
In any case. I thought it might be better to have a system where the height of the light was easier to control, and where I wouldn’t ruin the wood shelving on my workbench when one of the plastic trays springs a leak. In fact, it would be nice to have some storage for my extra trays and my watering cup, plastic pots, etc… So, I purchased a five shelf wire rack. They have some that are super expensive and can hold like two elephants per shelf, but if my seedlings weigh that much then my soil blocks are MUCH too dense, so the normal grade one worked fine. I bought the four foot wide rack because the fluorescent lights that I have and the ones that are super cheap at Lowe’s are all four feet wide. That way I don’t have 6 inches of awkwardness hanging out over each side. The fact that they are wire means that hooking the lights onto the bottom of the shelf is simple and if one of my trays springs a leak then the water goes onto the concrete floor and is easier to deal with.
So now I have two shelves for seed sprouting. Each shelf can hold at least two trays and is lit by four light bulbs. Of course there are FIVE shelves, so after I purchase more light fixtures and light bulbs, I could expand to four shelves (five if I hung lights from the ceiling), which would give me 8 trays of seedlings x 44 seedlings per tray, for a grand total of 352 seedlings (did you see that math? that engineering degree has really paid off). That’s a lot of growing! Nice!
This has become a pain in the backside. Actually several times I have abandoned what labels I have and have just said, “I’ll remember what that is” Of course when you are trying to tell the difference between creeping thyme and oregano, or broccoli and cauliflower, you’re pretty much hosed. I tried the official markers like this, but without success for the soil blocks. After all you can’t impale the soil block with them without destroying it. You can tuck it in between the block and the end of the row, which works great until you lift the tray and then the markers all fall into the tray and you have a hard time getting them out without destroying your blocks.
So, clothespins. I actually came up with this idea all on my own. This is the first time I’ve tried it so we’ll see how it goes. The nice thing is that they are very inexpensive and have a decent writing area. Once they are in other pots or transplanted into the garden I’ll just use Popsicle/craft sticks because they are even cheaper.
The trays are $1.58 at Home Depot, when they have them. When they don’t have them you’re pretty much hosed. Lowe’s sometimes carries them too, but none of the nurseries near me do. Most of the time Lowe’s and Depot are out. So, I found the greenhousemegastore.com! What a great name for a website!
I’ve purchased 1 gallon plastic pots from them before and was pleased with the price and the product, so I bought some 11×22 plastic trays. If you order more than one 10 pack then even with shipping you can get them cheaper than buying them inside Home Depot (again, if they have them). You can see how convenient these shelves are as they hold my trays and amendments.
When transporting the trays around with the fresh soil blocks they get kind of heavy and a little squirrely since they aren’t that rigid. I like to use a piece of scrap wood underneath them when I am moving them around.
Like I said the lights are the cheap variety from Lowe’s. I couldn’t find them on their website, but I think they are $14. You don’t need to buy the super expensive grow lights, just normal fluorescent lights will do, just buy one on the low end of the frequency spectrum and one on the high end (this should be listed on the package followed by the symbol “Hz” for hertz), so one will be more blue and the other more orange. You want the height to be adjustable because you want the light within 6 inches of the plants. Since the lights are a lot less intense than the sun they need to be as close as possible. The longer you leave them on the plants the better. I recommend 18 hours a day. I hook all of the lights into a power strip and then into a timer so that I don’t have to plug and unplug.
That’s it! I saw a couple of broccoli starting to pop up from the seeds I planted a couple of days ago, so I’m sure I’ll be posting some sprout pics real soon.