February can be a trying month for gardeners. The spring seed catalogs are starting to roll in, but most days are too cold, windy, wet and/or overcast to facilitate much outdoor work. Even on the rare sunny day, temperatures are still too cold for planting heat-loving crops. While lettuce and carrots will germinate at temps as low as 45°F, tomatoes need a minimum of 70°F.
Several garden bloggers have been posting about starting seeds indoors--a great way to get ahead of the spring gardening game. I've turned spring green with gardener's envy at some of the elaborate set-ups I've seen: triple-tier metal stands with T-5 grow lights and heat mats and what not. Looking at these systems, I see why the scotch bonnet seeds I tried to start in the garage last winter didn't work well -- no light and no heat! The few seeds that did sprout quickly turned gangly and flopped over before any true leaves formed.
Alas, top notch seed starting systems with grow lights can be very pricey, anywhere from a couple of hundred bucks up to over $600! So tonight, buoyed by posts on The Greenest Dollar and the Simple Green Frugal Co-op, I started thinking about what I had around the house that I could cobble together to make a DIY seed starting system, and this is what I came up with. It's sitting in the corner of my living room (the only spot I have for it!).
OK, so it ain't pretty, but I'm thinking it just might work. The "grow light" is a Coralife aquarium light that a friend gave me last year. It's 24 inches long and puts out 130 watts of light (two-65 watt double compact fluorescent lamps). If it's suitable for growing live aquarium plants, I figure it'll sprout some seeds. (I did spend some coin to swap its actinic blue light out for a 10,000K full spectrum light.) The "heat mat" is an old three-setting heating pad that has no auto shut-off. And the cinder blocks supporting the light fixture are, well, cinder blocks. As the plants get taller, I figure I can up-end the blocks to raise the fixture.
Whaddya think? Would it work? Why not? "What could possibly go wrong?" I'm all ears. Until I hear back from you, I'm off to dig the toilet paper rolls out of the recycling bin to make seed starting pots!
Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.