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Friday, January 27, 2012

KNOL: Building Indoor Grow Lights for Seed Starting (In Pictures)

Transfered for storage from Google Knols.

Growing vegetables and flowers indoors is not difficult. You need space and light. You can create your own growing station by using standard fluorescent fictures purchased at any home improvement store. You can use the fluorescent bulbs sold in these stores. There is no need to pay top dollar for grow lights systems or special grow light bulbs. For under $75, you can get a station set up.

Building Indoor Grow Lights for Seed Starting (In Pictures)

By Gary Pilarchik LCSW-C
Visit my blog for new gardening ideas at The Rusted Vegetable Garden
Every gardener desires more space. I recently had my basement finished, did the drywall myself, and had a grow-light closet built. It was under my stairs before construction and I had quite a bit of room. Though demoted to a closet, I love it. I needed to build a third level of lights. After transplanting my plants, as always, I have a ton of plants and the warm weather is late. This Knol shows you how to build a basic and highly functional grow station. It is very easy to build.

Step One: Select A Space

This is how my closet looked before I started the third level of lights. There are two levels below it.  I use foil to reflect light back into the seed trays. The third level is going in that empty space.
You need to select a space and build a shelf like I did below or put in an old table. Once you identify the location of you grow station you need a place where you seed trays will sit. Anything works. People even buy the plastic shelving units at home improvement centers for their grow stations.

Step Two: Secure Boards For the Fluorescent Light Fixtures

I added four boards as seen below. The two boards in the middle will support lights and the others will support the drywall surface top. Now drywall isn't the best choice because it can get water damaged if there is a whole lot of excess water. Why did I use it? I have a lot left over from finishing my basement. The timbers are left over too. How you space the levels is up to you. You want enough space to work.
In this space I will need two fluorescent fixtures to light the whole area. If you are building your station on a shelving unit or on a table that is 1/2 the size of the space I am using, you will only need to hang one fluorescent fixture. If you use a shelving unit, you will attach your lights to the shelf above it. The distantance between my lights is 12 to 15 inches. I can adjust them if needed.



Step Three: Buying the Fluorescent Light Fixtures

That is the basic fixture I use. It is from a home improvement center. The fixture does not come with tubes and it is inexpensive. I purchased the brightest basic fluorescent tubes in the same store. They also weren't expensive and I DON'T recommend buying tubes that are for growing plants. You know why? You just get charged double or triple for the same tubes. Just by the brightest lumen output basic fluorescent tube out there. I've done it that way for years. I have only replaced two tubes so far.

Step Four: Hanging the Fluorescent Lights

One fixture goes on the back middle timber. It is supported by tomato jute/string. I put loops on the end of the jute and can easily adjust the light height by attaching different loop levels to the hook in the fixture. Most of the lights come with chains and hooks. I seemed to have misplaced mine. You will be able to move your fixture up and down as the plants grow. Here is a basic distance for the light to the plants.
2-4 inches before the seeds germinate
4-6 inches just after a week of plant growth
6 inches or more as the plants grow larger
You typically want about 2 inches between the plant and the bulb based on my experience.

The next light goes in the front middle timber. This space requires two lights. The variance in brightness is due some to the bulbs but mostly to me using or not using the flash on my camera. I am a gardener, not a photographer.

Step FIve: Use Foil to Reflect Light Back In

I put foil down with the reflective side up. My seed trays will get pushed back and the area in foil won't be fully covered by the trays. I want the light to be bounced up and around. You can also see a foil flap way in the back and on the right side. Anywhere the light goes, redirect it back to the plants with foil. Please use the reflective side. There are two fixtures in the picture below. You just can't see the one behind it.

I also have a front flap of foil attached. The growing area is now nicely wrapped in foil, mostly for maximizing light but it does help with warmth a bit too. You can see how bright the seed growing station is. It provides plenty of light without the expensvie cost of grow stations.


Step Six: Various Levels of Growing Lights/Timers

The upgraded closet. I put a new shelf on the top too, to store my supplies. You can see different stages of plant growth. The bottom has seedlings in cups. The 2nd level has trays with seedling up and about and the third level is holding my tomatoes I just started a few days ago. You can start all your vegetable and flowers seeds indoors by building a basic system like this. It works. You don't need anything fancy.
I also recommend getting some light timers. It saves you the hassle of having to turn the station on and off. I typically set my timers for 10-12 hours. You can set it and forget it. You will also need some extension cords. The fluorescent lights come with 3 prongs on their plugs. You need adapters or cords the accommodate the plugs. Good Luck!



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