Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Start Your Own Transplants with Grow Lights

 Even though it's cold outside, I've been gardening indoors for a couple of weeks.  My husband I made these lights many winters ago, and I use them every winter to grow seedlings.  I don't have a greenhouse, but these lights allow me to start my seedlings inside the house.
Seedlings grow inside my house
I sowed seed in these pots last Thursday.
To make grow lights, you will need lumber (figure out how much you will need based on your measurements), nails, and hooks from which you will hang the lights.  We got three fluorescent shop lights to provide adequate illumination across the width of the seedling flats.  I have never used the lights designed for plants, but my seedlings are growing too tall and leggy, so I have ordered some lights that have all the correct light waves needed by plants.
Kale seedlings strain to reach the lights

To replicate my frame, make a frame wide enough to hold a nursery flat, or with an interior width of about 22 ½ inches.  Make the frame long enough to accommodate the lights and four nursery flats; mine is about 4 feet, 3 inches long.  Add two posts on each end and a beam down the middle of the frame, and make two arms across the beam to hold the lights.  The arms are about 22 inches off the floor.  Screw the hooks in at the appropriate place on the arms, and hang the lights from the chains.  I use an old shower curtain under the grow lights to protect the floor from water, and I place the lights on a timer for 12 hours of light a day.

growlights 001

When I first plant the seeds, I hang the lights as low as possible; as the seedlings grow, I raise them so the lights are just above the foliage.  Fluorescent lights give off very little heat so they will not scorch the foliage as long as they are not actually touching it.    I use a heat mat, which is a waterproof pad that provides the seedlings with bottom heat to help them germinate quickly, under the seed trays if the weather outside is very cold.  It helped my heat loving plants grow well, but it made my cold-tolerant plants, like broccoli, grow too quickly.

Grow lights make the process of starting seeds easier because I don’t have to move my seedlings around the house as the sun moves to make sure they have adequate exposure to light, and because I don’t have to take them outside for sun until the weather is consistently warm.  Seedlings, like all baby creatures, appreciate consistent warmth, moisture, and food, and keeping the seedlings under grow lights helps them thrive.  If you don’t want to build your own grow light, look online for premade versions.

If you want premade grow lights, light bulbs, or other seed starting supplies, consider purchasing these products:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tomorrow Night We're Getting Some Real February Weather

...and I hope my garden survives.  It's supposed to get down into single digits tomorrow night.  Yesterday there was freezing rain and we had no electricity for 7 hours, and today the wind blew hard enough to slam car doors.  However, all my row covers remained in place thanks to clothespins, wire on top of the covers, and boards weighting down the sides.  I have baby broccoli plants under two layers of row cover.  I also have 14 pounds of potatoes planted a couple of inches deep.  I hope the plants survive this weather!

For my chickens, who live in a chicken tractor, I laid a combination of blankets and siding against the screened sides of the chicken tractor and weighed them down with sticks and stones.  Adult chickens cope with the cold well (at least any cold we have here in South Carolina), as long as they have shelter from the wind and the rain.  The wild birds survive, and chickens who live outside all the time can survive too.  People who live in cold climates have coats and blankets filled with down, and chickens have their own layer of down growing next to their bodies.  It's safer to allow them to cope with the cold than to put a heat lamp inside your chicken house--many people have lost both chickens and chicken house from fires begun by heat lamps.  It's hard to keep heat lamps safe from birds that can fly.  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

February in the Garden


We've had nice weather here in SC for the past couple of weeks, and  I've been busy turning in cover crops of clover, rye, and turnip greens to enrich the soil.


I've sowed seeds of spring vegetables under floating row covers.  I place the row cover over wire hoops I cut from wire used for chain-link fencing protect seedlings.  The cover protects the baby seedlings from wind, driving rain, and raises the air temperature a few degrees.  

Last weekend, the temperature was nearly 70 degrees and the sun shone all weekend.  I opened the windows in the house to give us fresh air, and I planted 14 pounds of potatoes.  To the left are potatoes I planted a week ago.  To the right, spinach and lettuce enjoy their blanket.


This will be my tomato patch.  Instead of turning in the entire row of cover crop, I dug individual holes for the tomatoes and turned in the crop in that area only.  By the time I'm ready to plant the tomatoes, the cover crop under the soil will have decomposed and enriched the soil.  This location got a lot of traffic from my chickens over the winter, so I hope it will have plenty of nutrients for healthy tomatoes.  The heat should kill the Austrian Winter Peas and rye and will make a mulch.


I love working in the garden in the winter.  Instead of being disgustingly sweaty in equally gross clothes, as I am in the summer, I can wear decent clothes and look like those photos of gardeners I see in gardening magazines that must live in cooler climates.  You know, there they are trellising the tomatoes and picking beans, and they appear ready for an LL Bean cover shot.  Not that I ever look ready for a magazine shoot, (ha!) but when I trellis tomatoes and pick beans I'm covered with dirt, insect bites, and sweat.  At least in the winter I could, theoretically, go directly to the grocery store, without a shower, from the garden.