We currently have three gardens as well as a small greenhouse on the property. Between all of these growing areas, we are able to produce nearly all of our own tasty veggies for the year. What we lack in fresh produce over the winter months, we make up for with the various things we have canned and frozen (of course, we do purchase a few things over the winter – Kale, Lettuce, etc)
In order to maximize what we are able to grow and harvest ourselves, we start planting seeds indoors under lights in January. These plants are then large enough to begin fruiting in April when they get moved out to the greenhouse. We continue seeding for our gardens right up until the last frost is expected, to make sure we have a productive plot of land.
This is our system, it works well for us.
Shelves that you can hang hooks & lights from are ideal. Also, the ability to move each shelf to different heights is a great benefit. As your plants grow, you’ll be happy you are able to easily adjust the distance between shelves, and the distance between plants and lights. These particular shelves are available in just about any department store. We lucked out as there were some left here in the shop by the previous owners.
Proper lighting is a must. You don’t need to break the bank on lights marketed as ‘grow lights’. These LED shop lights are what we went with. Each fixture packs 75 watts of LED lighting. A big advantage of LED vs fluorescent lighting is that the light emitted by each one is consistent from end to end. Fluorescent lights tend to be brightest at the centre of the bulb, with a drastic decrease in lumens towards the ends of the bulbs.
More: LED Shop (Grow) Lights
Power Strip + Timer
A timer will help give your seedlings a consistent ‘daytime’. While you can successfully run your lights 24 hours a day, it’s not really necessary. Running on an 18 hours on and 6 hours off schedule works for us. It’s a good idea to run your lights at least as long as the sun is up. If your lights are out and the sun is shining through a window, your seedlings may try to reach out for that light, and they’ll get leggy if they are trying to do that. This power strip has two power delivery sections. On the left, the 4 outlets are run by the timer. We run our lighting through a separate power strip plugged into the timer outlets. The outlets on the right side of the power strip are always on. These we use for our heat mats, so that the trays we are giving a little extra heat to stay on at night when it gets chilly.
More: Power Strip With Timer
Although heat mats aren’t a necessity, some plants really benefit from the additional warmth. In particular, pepper seeds, strawberry seeds and many herb seeds really like to have toasty warm toes during the germination stage and as they are just starting to peek out from the soil.
More: Seedling Heat Mats
Trays + Dome Lids
Trays with clear lids are another very useful item to collect and use. The trays trap water and keep your growing area tidy. The clear dome lids keep humidity up and heat in during the first stages of plant growth.
More: Pro-Hex Seedling Trays
Our System Shelf By Shelf
Our system is set up with 4 ‘shelves’. The bottom shelf is actually an old table. On top of this table, we propagate our cuttings. These are mainly ornamental and houseplants. These will become planters for our deck in the spring time. We raise our cuttings under fluorescent lighting rather than LED lighting. The reason for this is that cuttings don’t need a tremendous amount of lighting when they are rooting. Each of these fixtures deliver 40 watts of light on the warmer end of the spectrum. Once they have rooted, they’ll be transplanted into small pots and moved to windowsills in south facing rooms in the house to grow.
Our second shelf is where we keep our heat mats. Currently, we are germinating strawberry seeds and celery seeds. It stays nice and warm in this spot with the heat mats, as well as the fluorescent lights below the shelf. Two 75 watt LED fixtures provide the light for this shelf. Once the plants have germinated, the lights will be lowered and the lids removed from the trays.
Third shelf we currently have Kale, Basil, Summer Savory and several pepper varieties. The lights on this shelf get raised an inch every few days, as the plants get close to the fixtures. Two 75 watt LED fixtures deliver the light to this shelf. These plants are approximately 2-3 weeks from planting the seeds.
The top shelf is used simply for storage and to keep the area somewhat tidy. It’s a plant room, though, so there is always something lying around, somewhere.
When the plants outgrow the seedling area, they’ll be transplanted into larger pots and moved underneath a pair of HID lamps. We use 1 Metal Halide and 1 High Pressure Sodium lamp once the seedlings are ready for more intense lighting. We’ll prepare a post outlining that portion of our seed starting method when the plants get moved into that area.
A few weeks under those lamps and it is time to move everything out into the greenhouse to mature and become food!
For larger year round growing, use these: LED Grow Lights