Starting Seeds Like a Pro

Starting seeds like a pro

Starting seeds like a pro

OK, ok.  Enough of this make-do seed starting nonsense.  Rearranging my tiny house to make use of the south-facing windows, too little light, inconsistent heat.  And trying to start seeds in cold frames was hit-and-miss (hit 2011, miss 2012).

The past two years I have had to purchase most of the plants I like to ‘start’; primarily tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and basil.  This has meant buying hybrids or otherwise settling for varieties I would not have chosen myself. But my biggest complaint is that these starts are expensive. This year I was determined to do better.

Watering tray cells

Watering tray cells


So I invested.  Two sets of starter trays (50-cell insert, frame, tray, and clear lid), and two heating mats (10 x 20″).  I opted for the larger cells in the 50-cell tray as opposed to the more common 72-cell tray, hoping to delay the eventual transplant.  I opted for two heating mats because the destined bench in my shed is long and narrow – unable to accommodate the 20 x 20″ double-wide mat. 

For a light source, I chose an inexpensive 48″ ‘shop light’ with two T8 bulbs instead of ‘grow lights’, because I had read that shop lights were sufficient. Someone recommended getting two different ‘temperature’ bulbs to fill out the spectrum, I so got one ‘warm’ and one ‘cool’.

Cool and warm light combo

Cool and warm light combo


I started the seeds before I got my system set up in the shed.  To keep the trays warm, I put them on my radiant heat bathroom floor, under the tub.  I forgot to notice that the tomato seedlings sprouted on time on Day 5.  On Day 6 when I discovered them, the seedlings had already grown leggy, reaching for the weak light from the northern window. Doh!

I quickly set up the trays in the shed with the heating mats and lights and just plan to cull the tallest sprouts per cell.  Pepper seeds are now sprouting with basil and tomatillo to come. Hopefully they will be the short, robust starts that I meant to encourage with this method.

My only complaint is that the two-bulb shop light is a bit narrow for my plant trays.  It is recommended to place the shop lights as close to the plants as you can.  This causes the outer plants in the 4-wide tray to lean into the center.  If I were to do it again, I would go for the 4-bulb shop lights.

Seed starting set up in the shed

Seed starting set up in the shed

What is the best inexpensive seed-starting setup you have tried or seen?

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This entry was posted in spring, starting seeds, tomatillos, tomatoes, vegetable starts. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Starting Seeds Like a Pro

  1. Rhonda says:

    I’m basically using the same set-up as yours, heat mats & grow lights. I really need to get more grow lights or shop lights next season for the amount of plants that I have. The problem comes after I pot up and use larger containers, I have less space under the lights.

    • jkmcintyre says:

      I am hoping to be able to move my plants out to the cold frames once I repot them. That’s why I started in the larger cells so I wouldn’t have to repot so soon. We’ll see how that works out. Good luck!

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