starting a seed space

Many people tell me that they want to grow plants from seeds, but just don’t have the indoor space.

Au contraire, mon ami! Finding a place to start seeds may be easier than you think.

A standard “1020” planting tray or flat is approximately 10 by 20 inches. An area only two feet square will hold a couple of trays easily. Look at the top of your refrigerator, an unused bit of kitchen or laundry counter, or the top of a dresser or table.

A folding card table in the corner of a room will hold six trays (three on the table and three on the floor below). An area five feet long by 20 inches deep (for example, a closet shelf, wire shelving unit, or a wide bookcase) will hold five trays, as long as each shelf can hold at least 100 pounds.

Your site should be at or slightly below normal room temperature, but no cooler than 65 degrees and have good air circulation.

Once you’ve chosen the space, bathe the area in fluorescent light. For a couple of trays, an inexpensive under-the-counter fixture 24 inches long works well.

If possible, hang the lights so you can adjust the height of the bulbs above the plants by varying the length of chain. One way to do this is to build a three-sided wood box, and hang the fixture from the top (see the diagram at right).

If you use a card table, you’ll need lights for the plants on top of the table as well as those on the floor.

For a five tray setup, buy a couple of 48-inch two-bulb shop lights, and hang them on chains attached to hooks screwed into ceiling joists. Keep the lights about six inches above the plants, and leave them on about 18 hours each day.

If you want to automate the lighting, plug them into a heavy duty 110-volt timer. Standard fluorescent “cool white” bulbs are fine. Do not use halogen or incandescent lights.

The medium you use is important. Use a mix specifically labeled for seed starting. Don’t use potting soil or topsoil, because they are too heavy and don’t drain well.

Don’t buy a mix that has fertilizer added; seeds already contain all the food they need to get started.

If you don’t want to buy plastic seed-starting trays and flats, milk cartons or butter tubs placed in a baking pan will work just as well. Cut down to about 2 inches high, then punch several holes in the bottom.

Wash thoroughly, soak for a couple of minutes in a 1 percent bleach solution, and air dry.

Home centers, nurseries, and seed catalogs are good sources for plastic trays and flats, pots to transplant seedlings in, and seed starting media.

The next article in this series will discuss basic seed starting techniques.

Jim Janke is an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Haywood County. For more information call the Haywood County Extension Center at 828-456-3575.

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