DIY Seed Starter Shelves

Two years ago I began starting my vegetable plants by seed. This has significantly cut my gardening costs even while increasing the number of plants each year, so there is no going back to buying seedlings from the home and garden center.

This first year I kept the seed trays outside. I kept them on the shelves of some old rolling TV carts (the ones they used in public schools when I was little) and I rolled them into the sun each morning and back under the carport each night. We live in Louisiana and we had an unusually mild winter, so most of the seedlings did okay. 

Last year I decided to keep them all inside as it was an unusually cold winter. It was an impromptu set up to say the least. I put a vinyl tablecloth over the dining room table and covered the whole thing with six packs in flood trays to catch the water. Then I positioned every lamp in the house between the flood trays to get as much light to them as possible. After not using the dining room or any lamps for two months, we had a little better success with the seedlings, but still not phenomenal. 

This year I decided to bite the bullet and invest the money in actually build a seed starting system that gives the seeds everything they need for the strongest start possible. I look forward to seeing how this new set up affects the yields once the vegetables start coming in. 

All things considered it wasn't a very expensive endeavor. I used some plastic stackable shelves that I had in the greenhouse, so the frame was already there. If you don't have shelves already and don't want to buy a new set, you can always create a custom frame out of 2x4's. Since this is going in the spare room that has carpet, I put down a vinyl tablecloth for easy clean up in case there are any leaks.

I then bought three hanging fluorescent work light fixtures for $12 a piece and six daylight fluorescent bulbs for $5 a piece. The fixtures already came with chains, but I had to add S hooks. Instead of running back to the hardware store, I just made my own out of a metal clothes hanger. I hung the lights as low as they will go to start off with and plugged them all in to a power strip so that I can turn them all on and off at the same time. Now all I need are the plants!

I bought these barbeque trays from the dollar store last year to use as flood trays, and they work great, especially for the price! I can fit 5 six packs on each one, and this allows me to water the plants from the bottom rather than the top.

I used seed starting mix to put in the six packs. The Jiffy Organic is awesome and not very expensive (about $5 per bag). For the six packs, I used some old ones that I had kept from last year and disinfected them.

Lower the lights all the way so that they are close to the plants! And I'm not sure if you can see in the picture, but I label each six pack with a plastic knife and a Sharpie. For some reason I always have the knives left in those mixed boxes of plastic utensils and they work perfect for this!

This set up has worked so amazingly, I just have to share the progress! I will show you the progress of just one of the six packs to give you an idea- I planted the Roma tomato seeds on Jan. 10, and the first ones sprouted after only 6 days. Here is the growth over the first few weeks.

Jan. 18

Jan. 19

Jan. 21

Jan. 28

By Jan. 31 I had to transplant them into 4 inch pots after only 3 weeks! At this point, I am hoping the weather warms up soon or I'm afraid I'll have a full container garden inside my house!