Starting seeds indoors will typically require some type of supplemental plant lighting. Sunny windows are great – and sometimes that’s all you need to start your seeds indoors. But for some varieties of seeds, you will want a longer amount of daily light than the late winter and early spring sun can offer.
If you’ve done any pricing or looking around, you probably know that with grow lights, the sky really is the limit! You can buy expensive commercial setups, if you so desire. But that is completely unnecessary for home gardeners, unless they just want to do so. The good news is, you don’t have to purchase anything fancy to start your seeds. With just a few simple and inexpensive materials, you can start seeds at home with ease.
My Very Inexpensive DIY ($16) Lighting System
At my house, I have a very simple system for seed starting. Our house faces south, so I use one of my best windows as my “base” system of lighting. I put a card table (or two) in front of the window and put my seedlings on the table. Then, I pull up the shades during the day. Hanging over the top of the card table, I have a single heat lamp style fixture that I purchased at the hardware store for about $10. It was meant for keeping baby chicks warm, but instead of using a heating bulb, I use a simple fluorescent bulb. (The bulb cost $6 at the local hardware store.)
I plug in the bulb around 6 a.m. and then turn it off around 8 p.m. so that my plants get about 14 hours of light. During daylight hours, my seedlings get a mixture of pure sunlight from the window and additional light from the “grow light” above. When I start my seeds, they are about 8-12 inches away from the light. As my seedlings grow and mature, I raise the light higher and increase the distance between the bulb and the plants. I also rotate my trays of seeds each day so that every flat gets equal exposure to the additional supplemental lighting. Eventually, in a few weeks, sunlight will be all my plants need until they are ready to go outdoors to be “hardened off” and later transplanted.
My system is inexpensive and it works perfectly fine for all my tomato, pepper, eggplant, and herb plants that I like to start nice and early.
Shop lighting is another good option, especially if you have lots of seeds to start at once. At your local hardware or big-box store you can buy standard shop light fixtures pretty cheaply. The cost will depend on how long the shop lights are and how many bulbs they hold.
Decide how many you’d like to hang, and set them up above your tables. Again, you want to use fluorescent or full spectrum bulbs in the fixtures. They should go directly above your seedlings and be kept at about an 8 – 12 inch distance until you gradually raise the lights higher. Shop lights start around $15 each and the cost of the bulbs are about the same, depending on the length of the tube.
Whatever system you choose for supplemental lighting, even the fancy and expensive commercial ones included, you should put your plant lights on a timer if possible. A timer works better than your memory…at least for me! With a timer you can guarantee your seedlings are getting enough light daily on a consistent basis.