Friday, April 11, 2008

Use the Right Light for Seed-starting Success

Starting your own seeds is fun and empowering. It lets you enjoy a bigger choice of hard-to-find varieties, organic seedlings, earlier harvests and flowering, and much lower costs than buying at the store.

Some gardeners claim seeds start best in east windows; others say south, but the truth is no window is ideal. In most of North America, the angle of the winter sun is too low, and the days aren't long enough to promote good seedling growth. Seedlings grown on any windowsill become thin and leggy as they search for sufficient light.

You'll get much stronger seedlings if you'll grow them under lights, and taking the following simple steps will give you the full benefit of starting your seeds this way:
1. Always keep the seedlings very close to the lights—just an inch or two from touching the tubes.
2. Keep the lights on for about 16 hours per day. Plugging the lights into a timer to automatically turn them on and off is very helpful, and a timer only costs about $10.
Above: 48-that's how many seedlings we started to grow with this light stand that we set up in our indoor greenhouse.
Standard 48-inch shop light fixtures with a couple of regular fluorescent tubes are your best buy. (Incandescent bulbs do not work well for seed starting.) Shop lights are readily available at any hardware store, but they can be inconvenient to set up and take down each season. The adjustable greenhouse stand will make seed starting easier, and you can use them for houseplants when you aren't starting seeds.