Ol’ 67 there is my “mail slot” where the postman delivers my seed orders. It is not mounted in my door, rather it is perched on and frozen into the snow bank, hopefully out of reach of the plows which tore it off the post you see to the left. Fortunately all my seeds are safely inside and seed planning and planting is underway. Last week I planted my Ambition shallot seeds. It’s going to be Ambition this year because Saffron was out of stock/discontinued and then Conservor. Apparently 2014 was a bad year for shallot seed growers while I had a great year. And that is all the allium seeds I have to deal with now because the rest of my onions are transplants coming from Dixondale Farms in April.
In past years I have used a Hydrofarm plant light to start seeds. It is a single, 4 foot/120 cm T5 bulb in a reflector mounted on a support with cords to adjust the lamp height. I used it the past two years but the single bulb is really inadequate to cover the width of the two 1020 trays that fit under it. It would be OK for a single row of pots but not for a tray filled with flats or soil blocks. It was a nuisance to have to rotate and shift trays so plants at the edges of the tray would not get too leggy, and I was limited in the amount of plants I could have under the light. So this season I decided to invest in something more effective and with more capacity.
Most of the commercially available plant racks in the size I was considering were in the $600-1000 USD range and I am far too cheap to indulge in those. So I decided to assemble my own. Rachel of Growing a Good Life had a post on her setup and I set out to do something similar. My goal was not to go as inexpensive as I could but to build something with some quality to it that works well. The basic idea is to acquire a shelving unit and hang lighting units under each shelf. A 36 inch wide shelf unit would best fit my space but the lights come in 2 foot/60 cm and 4 foot/120 com sizes. So I purchased a 4 foot/120 cm bakers rack. I looked locally but could not find the size and features I wanted, so I bought it from Amazon. The unit above is an Alera wire shelving unit with casters and black anthracite finish, about $85. It is high quality construction and the finish is a metallic charcoal color and really attractive. The shelves are 18 inches/46 cm deep so if I had to I can easily arrange four of the 1020 trays you see perpendicular to the shelves without risk of them tipping.
I wanted good lighting and looked at shop lights available locally. Most were T8 units. A little online research revealed I probably wanted a T5 setup, so I again went to Amazon. I purchased two Apollo Horticulture four-bulb light fixtures. They are compact (only 2 inches deep) with a dimpled reflector and come with four 54 watt high output F54T5HO bulbs. The T5 bulbs are smaller and higher efficiency than the typical T8 shop light. The T5 bulb has a lifetime of about 20,000 hours and only loses about 5-6% light output towards the end of its life. My fixtures were shipped with bulbs having the 6400 °K phosphor which is best for vegetative growth. Each fixture has dual electronic ballasts and dual switches, so lights can be turned on in banks of two. Each has an outlet on the end so they can be daisy-chained. I got these for about $95 each plus shipping, more expensive than cheap shop lights but far superior in performance. So far I am pleased with these lights.
Next I had to figure a way to suspend the lights below the shelves and adjust the height to accommodate plant growth. It turns out there are lots of options available for exactly this purpose so I did not have to rig something. I chose to buy the Apollo Horticulture 1/8 inch rope hangers, which feature a metal gear and ratchet for durability. These were $12 per pair and work very well. So I now have a seed starting rack with 2 shelves plus a third for storing supplies. It can handle 1-8 1020 trays, rolls around easily, and cost about $320 to buy. I also rationalized that I could use it to grow salad greens and herbs during the winter to justify the cost. So far, I am pleased and the wife has not freaked out over the size of the unit, so on to 2015 and a great gardening season.