Saturday, February 23, 2013

New, Improved Seedling Table

It’s a gloomy, grey, wet Saturday here in our neck of the woods, but spring days are right around the corner! I’ve spent the last few days improving on last year’s seeding table and then seeding most of the crops for this year’s garden. Here are some of the improvements/key features:

1) Wooden cage: I built a better “cage” over the table. If you recall lat year’s setup (you can take a look under the tab above) I ended up not using most of the vertical space on my wooden risers. This time around, I wanted greater flexibility with my t5 fixture (which does not have a chain because it is designed to sit on top of a fish tank) and greater stability. This was achieved by building a basic box and then screwing it into the top of the table (an old picnic style table). We protected the table using a folded plastic shower curtain, which is a cheap and simple way to keep water from seeping into the wood. Best of all, the lumber was just spare boards I had laying around. Who said it had to look overly fancy!

Between the chain and the shelf I built to hold the aquarium fixture, the lights can easily be lowered or raised from just a few inches above the seedlings to about 3 feet above them. Right now the light is about 9 inches from the cells.

View of the seedling table setup
2) Tinfoil baking pans. We use the dollar store tinfoil cake pans ($1 for a 2 pack) and place the peat moss cells on top. This has two advantages. First, it makes moving the trays to water or rotate for even lighting very easy. Second, you can water the seedlings by pouring the water into the tray. The cells will soak up the water as needed, keeping the soil inside moist and your seedlings happy. One other feature is that you can fit 12 of the large peat cells onto one sheet, or 24 of the smaller ones. It’s like they were made to order!

Plastic shower curtain and tinfoil trays
 3) Lighting: I bought one dual fluorescent fixture at Home Depot for about $10 and fitted it with the GE plant grow bulbs (about $5 each at the hardware store). These bulbs have a spectrum more conducive to plant growth than a typical fluorescent bulb (you’ll notice they appear redder in color than most fluorescents).

In addition, I have a dual t5ho aquarium light fixture for growing plants. Turns out it grows terrestrial plants just as well as aquatic ones! By itself it is probably enough light, but paired with the other fixture I can get consistent coverage over the entire table. Plus, the aquarium bulbs I use are each a different color temperature (one more bluish, one more like typical sunlight) giving a fuller spectrum. They are also very bright, as they are t5ho.

One final advantage is that the table is located in a well lit room with windows on all sides. This easily doubles the light the table receives, and in the morning the sun directly shines on it (when we get sun).

If I didn’t have the aquarium fixture, I would just buy two dual fluorescent fixtures. The first time I ever started seeds inside I just had the fluorescent one and a bright room, and it worked fine.

4) The box fan: This is a new addition. I have the lights on one timer. They come on at 7:00am and go off at 10:00pm. I also set a box fan at the end of the table on a TV tray, and set it up with its own timer to come on for 15 minutes at a time at random intervals during the day. This soft breeze will help the seedlings to develop stronger stems in preparation for our windy porch. It also seems to stimulate plant growth. I’m looking forward to seeing how much difference this makes in comparison to last year, when I didn’t use one.

Broccoli is the first crop to sprout for 2013!
 That’s a brief overview of the new table setup. As you can see, things are already starting to sprout! Before you know it we’ll be slicing a Black Krim, still warm from the summer sun….

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