Even though it is snowing outside, I know spring is on its way because I have flats of tiny seedlings in my living room poking their little green leaves towards the light. Matt helped me make a fancy new seedling set-up this year, partly, I suspect, so I wouldn’t take over the sunroom again, which became his office last year.
The lights we’ve been using were T-12 fluorescent fixtures with full-spectrum bulbs, but my seedlings were still a bit leggy. We decided to upgrade to T-8 fixtures, which not only put out a stronger light, but are also more efficient. Wow! What a difference! Plants use red and blue light. However, red light promotes flowering while blue light promotes compact, bushy growth, which is what you want for seedling growth. The higher the Kelvin number, the more blue it is, so, when choosing the bulbs for your fixture, get ones that have a Kelvin rating of 3600K-5500K. To our eyes, the lights look very bright white, not actually blue. My old “full spectrum” lights look very red next to them.
We bought the largest wire metal rack they had, which fits 4 flats perfectly on one shelf with one 4-foot fixture above it. If we filled all 5 shelves, we could have 20 flats, which is far more than we need right now, but I was surprised at how fast the first 3 shelves filled up! We plugged the lights into an extension cord on a timer so that our seedlings get the requisite 16 hours per day. Plants need at least 6 hours of darkness per day so they can rest, so don’t dismiss the timer! Then we wrapped the whole thing in space blankets to reflect the light back to the plants and to save our eyes from the bright light.
We will start moving seedlings out to the greenhouse at the end of March, when temperatures in there become more stable and there getting to be more daylight. It isn’t until the end of April that we start getting 16 hours of daylight, so some of them will stay under the lights a bit longer for the extra boost they need to get going. Depending on how much space I have in the greenhouse, I may move the lights out there so that I am supplementing the natural light instead of replacing it.
If you like to start your own seedlings at home, I highly recommend investing in a simple light set-up. Even one light can help you fill your garden with your own healthy plants! The money you save from not having to buy your starts more than offsets the cost of the fixture in just one season, but will last for years.