Seedlings Under Lights

Last spring a neighbor approached me saying, “You might want to know that your basement lights are being left on at night.” He was trying to be helpful…electricity is expensive, after all. But he didn’t realize that I have a Tower of Power in my basement…and I’m not talking about a rock group. I’m growing seedlings under lights.

When I explained this to my neighbor he wondered why I couldn’t put my plants next to a window. This would save me money, but even the sunniest windowsills don’t provide enough light to grow sturdy seedlings. Without a strong light source, young plants stretch upward. Leggy, spindly plants are weak, and may not make it when planted outdoors.

A greenhouse provides enough sunshine, but without one, it’s difficult to give young plants enough light to keep them short and stocky. Indoor lights are the answer, and you don’t have to get fancy.

The most inexpensive florescent fixtures are ideal. They are usually called “shop lights.” Each fixture holds two four foot bulbs. You can use special grow lights or regular florescent bulbs.

For home gardeners the key to success is not in the type of bulbs, but how far they hang above the plants. You must position the lights no further than three inches above the plants. This keeps the light strong enough to grow short, sturdy seedlings.

Naturally, you’ll have to raise the fixtures as the plants grow. I have mine on chains so I can easily adjust them, and I group plants together according their rate of growth. Two shop-light fixtures will illuminate four or five flats of seedlings.

We built a unit that holds four pairs of lights above four shelves of seedlings. We’re talking two-by-fours and plywood here, which is why it’s in the basement.

The lights should be on for fourteen hours a day; you have to convince the plants that it’s summer. Your neighbors may wonder why the room is a-glow, and we won’t talk about your electric bill…but your seedlings will be short and tower-of-power sturdy.

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