As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” After receiving a box full of seeds from All America Selections, I was inspired to come up with a plan to build an affordable growing system. My seed collection is about to outgrow it’s current accommodation – an air-tight metal box I bought at IKEA years ago. I’ve been coveting the Stack and Grow seed starting system from Gardeners Supply for a while, but the reality is I simply can’t afford it. Two high school athletes, one on the verge of becoming a licensed driver, and a gigantic orthodontic bill mean things just got a bit more expensive. And I need to get creative if I’m going to continue to feed this insatiable green thumb.
Every year, I head to the local garden centers and buy four-packs of tomatoes, peppers and zucchini but never grow all of it. At 4’x16′, my raised bed is small and can’t accommodate all of the store-bought garden-ready plants and the things I grow by direct sowing. I usually give the extra away and if there are no takers, chuck it into the compost. I hate being limited by what’s available at the stores and by creating my own compact growing system, I can grow whatever I want at a fraction of the cost. This year I’m going commando (well, not in the traditional sense) and this little set-up is going to make it possible.
I found a three-tier chrome rack at Home Depot with adjustable shelves and legs that was incredibly easy to assemble. I had it together in 20 minutes. Larger racks are available but the dimensions, 30″ high x 24″ wide x 14″ deep, were just the right size for my modest aspirations.
This is where I splurged a bit and opted for a slightly more expensive light. You could go with cool fluorescent lights or a combination of cool and warm, but I found an LED grow light made by Feit that offers both the warm and cool light wavelengths on a single unit that’s supposed to encourage stronger vegetative growth. At 24″ wide, it was the perfect length for my rack so I bought two. They can be linked together or flush mounted depending on how you configure your growing system. Mounting/hanging hardware is included.
Using “S” hooks and chain, I suspended the lights from the rack above. The distance between the racks will determine how much chain you’ll need but make sure you have enough to hover the lights just above the seed trays until things start happening. Once the sprouts emerge and begin to reach, the chain allows you to raise the lighting system. Your local hardware store should be able to cut a length of chain to your specs for a few bucks. I used my husband’s tin snips, but you could also use bolt cutters, to cut the chain into equal-length segments when you’re ready to hang the light.
Cookie sheets bought at the dollar store serve as shelf liners. Two fit perfectly on each shelf. My set-up may not look as put together as some of the more expensive systems, but who cares about aesthetics when you can grow your own for hundreds less? The seeds certainly don’t, they just need a place to do their thing!
What will you be growing from seed this year?