Edible gardening

Indoor seed starting setup for reliable germination.

An indoor seed starting setup gives 4-6 weeks heads up on the season, and enables us to grow seedlings in a protected environment until they are ready for transplant.

Last year I had used a simple folding table with heat mats and grow lights. I was able to accomodate 4 10*12 trays and couple lighting setup. However, I had several growing on the floor as well and it was not the best use of space. I scoured around for a vertical seed starting setup, with heat mats and grow lights, but the professional ones costed north of $600. So, I decided to build my own, since I already owned the lights and heat mats, I only needed to add a sturdy shelving system.

Walking down one of the aisles @Costco, I found “TRINITY 6-Tier Wire Shelving Rack, 48″x18″x72” that will work very well for my needs. The system is super easy to assemble and comes apart as two separate shelving systems if need be. It fits my space very well, and costed about $100. After assembling the shelving, the remaining tasks were to install the lights and heat mats.

Materials used in the setup

  1. TRINITY 6-Tier Wire Shelving Rack, 48″x18″x72
  2. 2 grow lights – I used the ones I already had purchased at a local store. There are a lot of options available online, but here is the ones I used. They are not the best, but works quite well for my purpose.
    1. Hydrofarm T5 light with 4 light bulbs.
    2. Hydrofarm with 1 light bulb. I got this as it happened to be on a good sale at my local store.
  3. Heat mat – Vivosun 2 pack seedling mat. Link https://www.amazon.com/VIVOSUN-Durable-Waterproof-Seedling-Hydroponic/dp/B015PD8I7I/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?keywords=2+pack+vivosun+heat+mat&qid=1582910994&sr=8-1-spons&psc=1&spLa=ZW5jcnlwdGVkUXVhbGlmaWVyPUEzQUUxODhKWjNQUTI0JmVuY3J5cHRlZElkPUEwMzQwNjcxSzczS05aM05MRUNBJmVuY3J5cHRlZEFkSWQ9QTAwOTk4NTYzOUwwTTFXNzRVSUlDJndpZGdldE5hbWU9c3BfYXRmJmFjdGlvbj1jbGlja1JlZGlyZWN0JmRvTm90TG9nQ2xpY2s9dHJ1ZQ==
  4. Chain links with “S” hook or anything sturdy to attach the lights to the shelving. I had a few curtain hoops that I repurposed for attaching the lights to the unit. I recommend using the chain + S hook option as it gives you the flexibility to raise or lower the light source quickly and easily.
  5. Timer for automated control of light. I leave mine on for about 12 – 16 hours during the day and turn off manually at night, if I remember. I will be investing in a timer for reliably controlling the light exposure for the seedlings. Here’s the option I have narrowed down, to be able to plug in all the heat mats, and lights : https://www.amazon.com/BN-LINK-Outlet-Protector-Digital-Outlets/dp/B07VMNSFJ8/ref=dp_ob_title_ce

For most seed, you only need bottom heat via a heat mat to help the seeds germinate. Plants like eggplants and peppers benefit from bottom heat to germinate reliably. I use the damp paper towel method to help with germination and check for seed viability. Simply place seeds in a double folded thick paper towel, and close it on all sides to prevent seed from falling out. Label or number the paper if you are growing several varieties. Lightly dampen the paper towel and place it in an air tight container such as used salad box or ziploc baggie. This will help retain the humidity and keep the seed moist. No additional water is needed until the seeds germinate. If the paper appears dry to touch, add a few drops of water. Place the bags in a warm area such as the top of a refrigerator, or near a fireplace or as in my case above the heat mat. The seeds typically germinate within 3-7 days depending on the kind of seed. Once the seeds sprout, I transfer the sprouts into the growing medium covering lightly with soil. The sprouts are quite resilient and easy to pick up using fingers or with tweezers even if they are stuck to the paper towel. Some sprouts may root through the paper towel if left too long, in which case I simply cut a small bit of paper along with the sprout and place it in the growing media.

Once the seeds have germinated and has rooted its time to turn on the lights for upper plant growth. Place the light about 2″ above the seedling. As the plant grows up, maintain the 2″ distance. If the seedlings do not have adequate direct light, the seedlings will be leggy and weak. Mine is by a very sunny south facing garage window, and yet the additional light makes a huge difference in the quality of the seedlings. Once the outside temperature is in the 60’s take out the seed trays and give them a sun soak for few hours each day between 9 – 3pm. Make sure to bring them indoors in the evening.

A heat mat and grow lights have made a huge difference in successful seed starting, especially in the colder months. The shelving system is mostly for convenience and you can do away without one if you have a small set of plants to grow.

I hope you find this post useful in setting up your own seed starting space. Happy Gardening!