Sunday, February 26, 2012

When the Men Are Away, the Women Will... Build a Grow Room?

Shelves, trays, lights, bulbs, and seedling mix.
The original shelf and all the stuff stored there.
Got my grow room set up yesterday, just like everything else it was more challenging than I expected.  The 2' light fixtures I bought were for wiring into a house and didn't have cords, plus they needed assembly which I didn't know until I opened the boxes.  So after returning them I was forced to visit two hardware stores and a Home Depot to find something that would work.  So here's a quick tip: undercabinet lights, shop lights, and aquarium lights are your best bets for fixtures.  Strip lights wire into a home and don't have cords.  Undercabinet lights are primarily less than 2' long, shop lights are 4' and longer, and aquarium lights are in between.  Since you pay close to the same amount for a 2' light as a 4' light it's more cost efficient to have a 4' space and buy one shop light (which are cheap) than to buy two 2' lights (or in my case two 18" lights).  Aquarium lights tend to be more spendy since they are rather specialized, the other advantage of shop lights is that they often come with chains to hang them.  Sadly, my space was not wide enough to fit a shop light so I had to resort to a less efficient system.

 When selecting flourescent bulbs be sure to buy the correct length, circumference, and light color.  While a standard soft white bulb will work to sprout seeds, they will become leggy fast searching for actual sunlight.  Flourescents come in varying circumferences (T12, T8, T5) and you should check the size on the fixture you choose and buy a bulb of the correct size to fit it.  My fixtures require 18" T8 bulbs.

Examples of different bulbs that would work for plant growth.
Once you find the correct size you need to select a light color as close to that of sunlight as possible.  Daylight, Full Spectrum, Wide Spectrum, Plant and Aquarium, Natural Light, or Natural Daylight are some of the names for the bulbs you need.  If you are unsure of whether a bulb will work for your starts you can check the label on the package.  Look for the "Color Temperature" on the label, it should be a number between about 5000K and 6000K.  A number higher than that will cross into the white light category and may not be adequate, while a lower number will become closer to red light and again won't serve your purpose.

Once I solved my light fixture problem I set up my shelf, moved all my junk onto it, then plugged in the power strip.  It took a bit of arranging to get the lights hanging correctly. Then I wrapped tin foil over the cardboard from the shelving box and hung it over the back of the shelf.  Finally, I planted some seeds, I will probably plant more today, but was surprised to find I could fit 29 pots of different sizes into one tray.  I may not need more than that!

Below are more pictures showing the grow room space.

The shelf all assembled, lights hung, you can't really see the tin foil but it's against the wall reflecting the light forward.  I also set my thermometer w/min max on top to watch the temps here and in the green house more easily.

Examples of reusing last year's pots, and of phone book page origami pots.

21 of my pots filled and ready to go.  I had to stop and make more paper pots.

Plastic dome over top.  Seeded, watered and under the lights.  Ready to sprout!

I could have fit 3 trays under these lights but by the time I was done last night I was not prepared to plant that many seeds.  Plus I think I'll need another bag of seedling mix first.  Be sure to keep lights positioned just above the tops of the plants, no more than 4" above them to encourage short, robust growth and deter legginess.  You can move the lights up as needed or move the plants down, whatever is easier.  Lastly I wanted to mention that while researching on plant lights I found out that plants require and grow better with both light and dark times each day, so be sure to turn your plant lights off at night and back on in the mornings, if you are too forgetful for that then set a light timer to do it for you.  Having dark time is nearly as important to plant health as having sunlight.  Good luck!

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