I don’t know if you’ve priced out the indoor grow light options online, but they’re crazy expensive. You can choose from single grow lamps to whole rack and light systems, from hobby options to professionally advanced, and I have to admit they look very appetizing to the dreaming gardener. But is it necessary to spend an arm and a leg to get started planting your favorite veggies indoors?
Nope. Not at all. And to those of us on a budget that’s good news!
First lets talk about what it is we’re really trying to accomplish here. Its March and the ground is still frozen (like it is here in Iowa) and unless you live in Texas the temps are still plunging well below that optimal 60 degrees most of our favorite veggies prefer (think tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers). Getting into the field or garden patch still isn’t an option for many of us. But the time is getting close, right? So close you can feel the itch, the desire, the loooonging to just plant something, to make something grow. Or maybe you want to experiment with some of those veggies that don’t grow well from direct seeding in the garden, like celery or Brussel sprouts, and you’re tired of paying four bucks or more per plant at Home Depot.
Sound like you?
Great! To germinate your seeds you’ll need a consistent source of sunlight and warm temps. If we can’t get those outside we’ll need to simulate them inside. That’s all we’re talking about here. Simulating sunlight and warm temps. In a nutshell that’s it.
So there’s no reason to go broke doing it, right?
To set up our indoor space, I was originally thinking about buying a metal rack similar to this one But then it dawned on me that we’ve got some old shelves down in the basement that I used to have in the wood shop but haven’t used in a long time. I decided to modify those and to save money instead. Upcylcling is a great thing, afterall. You can see in the picture above they’re just basic metal shelves. Nothing fancy. But you can use anything you have in the garage or shop.
If you can’t find any empty shelves to repurpose, make some! A couple of boards and mason blocks or bricks would work. Use what you have. Just make sure its sturdy and you’re not creating a fire hazard.
I did opt to buy a few LED shop lights. You can find cheap ones in many places, even at Goodwill or on Craigslist if you’re patient enough. I found these at Sam’s Club and they were the perfect length for my shelves. They were on sale for $24.81 each and I bought three of them. So I was into this project for a little under $75, but comparable to what I was initially looking to spend I feel that’s a fair bargain.
Do you need shoplights? It depends on how many seeds you want to plant inside, and how much space you need to cover. If you just have a few trays you could use a single heat lamp bulb like this one mounted in an inexpensive fixture. I’ve seen people use a regular desk lamp before for a single tray of seeds.
The Honeywell lights I purchased came with S hooks and chains for easy mounting. This made everything extremely simple. The shelves I used already had accessible holes to hang the chains from, and it was just a matter of adjusting the height of the light from the seed trays.
Again, safety is the key here, no matter how you’re setting up your lights. Keep your cords clear of moisture, and make sure your heat source isn’t too close to your plastic trays. You know the drill.
The LED lights don’t put out a lot of heat. For us this isn’t an issue, because my basement stays around 60 degrees. Fluorescent bulbs put out a little heat, but if you’re setting up your growing space out in the garage or in an unheated room, you might consider a lamp that puts off heat, like what you can find at the pet store for reptiles.
Eventually we want to expand our transplanting for the market garden to a solar heated greenhouse, but for right now this is working well enough on a smaller scale
And it’s really that simple, friends. Don’t let the price tag on some of the more elaborate growing systems keep you from trying your hand at starting your own transplants. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to be an efficient and effective gardener.
Since we’re talking about starting transplants indoors, let’s chat a little about how to plant those seeds. Starting your plants from seed, rather than buying box store transplants, will yield stronger, healthier and more vigorous plants. That means better quality produce. There are many ways to do this, but I’ve really come to love the Jiffy Peat Pellets They’re simple and the kids love them because they can get involved right at the kitchen table. You can get a kit like this that has everything you need, including pellets, tray and cover.
The peat pellets will come in hard little discs covered in biodegrabdable netting. You simply cover them with warm water until they rise (about 2 inches or so), peel back the netting on top, poke a hole and drop a couple of your favorite seeds. Place these in a southern facing window until the seeds sprout and then move the tray to your indoor growing space.
Fun for the whole family, and no matter how big or small your garden, starting your own seeds will go a long way in saving you money.
“Garden as though you will live forever…” William Kent