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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Building a Seed Starting Rack at Foxgreen Farms

Rack Basics

A decent indoor seed starting place is important.  You may have tried a few different things including using a sunny window.  That may work if you have the ideal place.  After building this rack you will have the control over the length of daylight, humidity and have a large area to both start seeds and continually grow salad greens inside!
Similar racks cost $1000 or more and work great.  This will cost you around $200.

We Begin

I chose a metal rack.  The cost was slightly higher than a comparably sized plastic rack/shelving unit. I like the durability, added functionality and cleanness metal offers.  This one was manufactured in china and was of very good quality.  It was also very easy to assemble without any tools.  Total cost so far......$59.99

Assemble the Rack

Here is the rack assembled.  The shelves were placed at the recommended heights.  These are very adjustable however and feel free put them at equal distances from top to bottom.  


Unpack the Fluorescent Lights

Should you use fluorescent  lights?  LED? Metal halide?  There are advantages to each and some disadvantages.  Trust me, fluorescent lights are the way to go.   The fixtures and plant/aquarium bulbs are inexpensive and operate at a very low temperature.  LED's are expensive and metal halide are not efficient and operate at a high temperature.  The metal halides require cooling fans in fact.  This is not a safe choice inside your home. 

Using these T12 48" fixtures will, when all are turned on will draw 160-320 watts.   The wattage range is because you can use just one bulb or choose to use 2 per fixture.  I am testing both to see if there is a big difference in plant health.  This design, as you will see, allows you to adjust the height of the fixtures which should eliminate the need for using two bulbs anyway.  

There are more efficient T8 and even T5 fixtures available. For this application, I suggest avoiding them.  Yes they are more efficient, but what you are looking for is energy available to the plants and T12 is the best for that.   Running cost total so far..........$155.95

Bulbs

Purchase a pack of 6 bulbs.  This will let you have 2 fixtures with double bulbs installed and 2 fixtures with single bulbs installed.  Of course you can put one bulb in each and have a couple of spares.  Buying 6 also reduces the cost per bulb. I am using GE Lighting, Plant and Aquarium bulbs.  
Note:  The rack pictured is 35" wide.  The fixtures are 48".  Bulbs throw off less energy at the ends so this arrangement will cast an even amount of light across the 3 trays on each shelf.  The link below for a shelf is for a 48" wide shelf.  It will accommodate 4 more trays than the one I built.  You should rotate the trays if using a 48" wide shelf to even the energy received by your seedlings.

Assemble The Grow Lights

Pull the end tabs out from the lighting fixture.  They are shipped with a piece of tape to prevent them from dropping into the fixture.  Sometimes they slip too deep anyway.  Don't worry, you can still get them and pull them up.  Turn the fixture and shake or take a piece of tape or a screwdriver to carefully align the tab in the hole.  


Hanging chains are shipped with the fixtures.  Remove excess chain by using some needle nose pliers and bending open the 5th link.  This leaves the hook and 4 links intact.



Cut and melt the end of some thin, clothesline type rope.  Thread through the 4th link and knot to prevent the rope from coming unattached to the chain.

 

Attach the hooks to the fixtures like this. 


Thread the rope from the light up across the center of the shelf, back to the opposite chain link and secure to the shelf above the light.  You can now adjust the light height easily.

After installing all the lights, wrap your rack with crystal clear plastic sheeting.  Leave an opening in the front so you can access your trays and regulate the humidity.  Now carefully insert bulbs.  Running cost total with 6 bulbs added.....$214.66.  With plastic...$239.98

I used a scrap piece of PVC pipe at the top to serve as a stiff rod which was a bit wider than the shelving to hang the plastic.  This made it easier to wrap the rack and extended the width to equal the width of the light fixtures. 



Finished!

The rack as pictured and constructed will cost you $239 if you buy the parts through the ebay links at the end of the article.  Maybe you have a plastic shelf you could re-purpose and not have to buy a new one?  Do 3 shelves instead of 4?  Add another fixture and suspend it from the ceiling to have 5 shelves?  There are lots of ways to vary this design.  Tip: When using a plastic shelf, screw some fine threaded drywall screws into the ends of the shelves to run the ropes and hang the shelves.  Another screw or two can be used to make a tie-off spot for the end of the ropes.  I had some crystal clear window sheeting left over from another project and used that.  I think a couple of clear shower curtains would do the trick and be cheaper if you are buying the plastic new.  

Bulgarian Leek seedlings

5 Shelf Metal Rack  $59.99
Lithonia T12 48" Fluorescent Lights  4 at $23.99 ea
Clear Plastic Sheeting (shower curtain) 2 at $12.66
6 48" Aquarium and Plant Bulbs $58.71
Total = $239.98

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