Seedling Beds Under Lights

I wanted to include some information on setting up the light stand we used in the ‘Pea Patch Training’ with some images.  This is the basic setup- I used copper pipes which can be salvaged or purchased. I wanted to be able to easily take apart this stand each year and put it away, and I have an affinity to copper so that was my material of choice. I’ve also set up growing stations under counter tops using hooks to hold the lights, attached to book shelf brackets, etc.  I will try to include a better photo or sketch when I get one to show the entire assembly of my ‘knock-down light stand’  which I’ve been using now for at least 6 seasons.

Please note that the lights are actually set much lower, just above the emerging seedlings so they don’t stretch too far to the light.

Partially set up and planted. Plastic wrap is over the planted area, to help hold in moisture, particularly important with heated seed beds as they will dry out rapidly. I use a water can with a nozzle for seedlings, or a spray bottle so I don’t disturb the seeds with watering. 

These are the seedling trays we made by hand last year from cedar planks. We put a simple dovetail joint in the corners and used screws, which along with using red cedar, means they will last a long time. Cedar is also very insulating so will help stabilize the soil temperature. They are also beautiful!

I can’t find the images of setting up the heating cables in the boxes, though when I find them I will insert them. Follow the directions that come with the heat cables, I used metal ‘hardware cloth’ to secure the cables using twist ties from garbage sacks. I also cut notches into the side of the wooden seedling boxes so the cable runs through three  boxes.

After placing the soil heat cables on about 1″ of soil, we fill the box to full. We made the boxes 3″ deep so the seedling have room to grow. Once the soil is moistened we can begin to plant our seeds. (more on that elsewhere). Once we plant the seeds, I like to cover the seed with some plastic food wrap to hold moisture until the seeds germinate, especially for the super fine seed that they say to just scatter on top and barely press in. I lift the plastic periodically to circulate air in there, and make sure mold isn’t developing, but usually with the heated soil from the heat cables that is not a problem.

I then place the lights and set up the electrical connections. You will need a multiple outlet cord (like for computers) to connect all the lights to one cord. That will be connected to a timer which plugs into the wall. This timer can be any light timer, as used in the house for house lights. The soil heat cable should be connected separately to the wall so the soil is heated all night, even when the lights are out. I start out with equal day lenght (as at Spring Equinox, and then continue to increase daylight to basically match what is going on outdoors, perhaps an hour or so longer to speed up growth and maturity. But don’t leave it on much more, it will confuse the plant. Some plants are sensitive to light and may react to unnatural lighting conditions (such as ‘bolt’ to seed early, instead of growing to full size).  

Gray cord is the soil heat cable; black cord is from the multiple outlet with the lights attached and connects to the timer which is directly plugged into the wall.

As the seeds germinate (which will happen remarkably fast with bottom heat, often within two or three days) remove the plastic (fold back to keep cover on seeds which haven’t germinated). Keep the light to just a few inches above plant growth. This can be a bit tricky as different plants have different sizes. Sometimes I drape tin foil over the whole thing, especially the sides to reflect light back down on the plants if I feel the plants are getting leggy. If you are near a window that can help a lot too.

Last year I grew out literally hundreds of plants from this set up, including dozens of tomato, pepper, and basil; broccoli, fennel, celery, cauliflower and more; and hundreds of lavender, hyssop, rue, sweet marjorum, foxglove, bluebells, lupine, poppy, larkspur, hollyhock, and many more I used to establish the herbal knot garden, cottage garden and perennial border along the picket fence; and many, many plants I gave away as well.

That is all for now… I will update this as I get more images that might be helpful.

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