Starting Seeds Indoors Pt 2: Lighting

In my last post, Starting Seeds Indoors Pt 1: When?, I covered what plants are best to start indoors and when.

But now, how do we start seeds indoors?

In this post I will cover lighting. It took a lot of research to figure out what type of lighting I wanted to use. I found some false information on the internet, which caused me to purchase lights and bulbs that I ended up returning. All the info online was confusing and made me think it was more complicated than it really is.

Rule #1. Use Grow Lights

Even the most sunny window alone cannot provide enough light that seedlings need. If you grow them indoors for any length of time, they’re going to get very leggy because they’re trying to reach for more sunlight.

If you’re only starting seeds to only let them sprout (only letting their seedleafs form) and then plan to put them outside right away, then you may get away with a very sunny window.

Takeaway: To start plants inside, you need grow lights!

Seeds after planting just 10 days! Tomatoes, fennel, thyme, bunching onions

Rule #2. Type of Light Matters

We all know there is a cool and warm end of the spectrum. We probably know this when we go shopping for light bulbs!

Plants utilize the cool and warm ends of the spectrum differently. Cool or blue waves are used by plants to grow. Warm or red waves are used by plants in order to flower.

To just grow plants for transplants, we only need the blue end of the spectrum (4000K color temperature). If you wanted the plants to flower, you would need full spectrum lights, which have a balance of cool and warm lightwaves.

You don’t need full spectrum bulbs or even special grow lights for seed starting.

Takeaway: To start seeds, you only need cool white light

Rule #3. Light Fixtures

I did a lot of shopping around. I considered cost, ease of use, size, and the kind of light it supplied.

My best recommendation is a 4′ shop light you can purchase at a home improvement store.

The shop light has more even light distribution over a tray of plants. You can certainly use a regular single florescent light bulb if it fits your needs! Do not use incandescent since they give too much heat, which we don’t want on the plants.

At this time, a regular 4′ florescent shop light is around $16 at Lowes. You will find them in sizes that hold either a T5 (5/8″ diameter lightbulb) or T8 (tube size 8/8″ or 1″ lightbulb). Either one works just the same, it just depends what you prefer as far as lightbulb size.

One thing to remember about florescent bulbs, over time they will dim. At a certain point, you’ll need to replace them before the bulb even goes out.

Save Energy

On the market these days are LED shop lights. This is what I purchased for around $22 each at a home improvement store (Lowes). Also available on Amazon. I chose these because they are very lightweight, put off enough light for what I need, inexpensive comparatively, use less energy, and I won’t have to worry about replacing bulbs. They also have hanging chains and an on/off switch.

Please note that regular florescent shop light fixtures cannot be fitted with LED tube light bulbs. From my understanding, the light fixture would have to be rewired in order to use a LED bulb in it.

Takeaway: Use 4′ LED cool white shop lights

Other Light Fixtures

You can find shorter light fixtures meant for aquariums or reptiles that can be fitted with full spectrum lightbulbs. I didn’t think they’d work for what I needed.

There are also all kinds of grow light fixtures on the market too. They’re also going to probably be full spectrum lights, which again isn’t needed for starting seeds.

However, there are some grow light kits out there, which may be a good option if you want an instant setup!

Rule 4: How to Set Up Lighting

Your setup should revolve around the grow lights you’ll be using. If you’re starting more than one tray of plants and using the shop lights, I recommend using a wire shelving rack. I already owned one and decided to use it, even though it is only 3′ wide. The 4′ lights fit on the rack just fine.

The wire shelving racks can be found at big box stores and online. You’ll find them in a variety of widths, depths, height, and number of shelves. They’re fairly inexpensive, can be taken apart when not in use, and take up much less room than spreading trays out on a table.

This one is on castors, which is a huge help! It can easily be moved out of the way or to clean around.

One reason I purchased the LED lights is because they’re very lightweight. The wire shelf isn’t very heavy and I didn’t want the heavy lights to weigh the thing down. The shop lights I purchased came with chains and S hooks so I just hooked the lights onto the rack!

I have seen people make light stands out of PVC piping or wood. This would work well if you were only using 1 grow light on a table. The wire shelf rack works well if you want to hang 3 or 4 lights.

There are also grow light systems out there which have the light and stand sold as a kit, such as this one from Jump Start.

Takeaway: Wire shelving racks work great!

Plugging in the Lights

I simply plugged the lights into a surge protector so I could just flip one switch. The directions said not to use timer devices with the lights. I had planned to use a timer, but decided not to since I didn’t want to take a chance with electricity. I have seen surge protectors with timers built in.

Where

I would still set your plants near a sunny window if possible. However, with the lights, you can set this up in a dark room or even basement!

“I’ve got grow lights…… on a cloudy day”

Rule 5: How Much Light?

Begin using the lights as soon as you plant the seeds. This will help them germinate better. Let the lights run at least 12 hours each day. This is when a timer is handy if you want to sleep in, or go to bed early.

I have heard of people leaving on lights all the time, but I feel like plants need some darkness to sleep, just like us!

Takeaway: Keep lights on 12 hours

You can see how dark it is without the grow lights on!

Height of the Lights

When you’re starting your seeds, you’ll have the humidity domes over top of them until they germinate. So, you can have your lights higher above the seedlings at that time.

Once the seeds germinate and you take off the humidity dome, you want to lower the lights to just a few inches above the plants. The S hooks on the lights made this adjustment really easy.

Takeaway: Adjust the height of the lights depending on what stage your plants are in

Lastly

You may have seen a fan in one of my photos! Once my seedlings started to get bigger, I turned on this fan for a few hours during the day. The wind will make them stronger and be better prepared to adjust to the outdoors. This one simply clips onto the wire shelf. Just be careful not to let the seedlings dry out.

Watch for part 3!

Starting Seeds Indoors Pt 1: What & When?

Knowing when to start seeds indoors can be quite confusing! Simply keep this in mind.

Starting plants from seed indoors breaks down to 2 factors:

  1. The typical frost free date in your area.
  2. The plant you want to start from seed.

Here in Kentucky, our first frost free date is supposed to be April 15th. But remember it snowed in May 2018?

My advice, would be to go by the predicted frost free date in your area, but have a plan if it gets cold again. If it gets warmer earlier than this, just consider it a bonus!

First, make a list of the plants you want to start by seed. Some plants will perform better if you start them indoors. Other plants will do better if sown outdoors. Some are just easier to buy transplants.

Important Tip

Ask yourself these questions when deciding how to grow each plant.

When to Plant Outdoors

Use your frost free date only as an anchor point to go by. Some plants need cooler temperatures. Others need much warmer temperatures. My advice would be to acquire some type of chart to know when it’s best to plant outdoors.

I have Clyde’s Garden Planner which is easy and convenient to use. I keep it in the bins where I store my seeds. The chart also lists the plant’s optimal soil temperature, which is essential to know. This handy tool is inexpensive and can be purchased from Clyde’s website or on Baker Creek Heirloom.

Soil Temperature

You want to know your soil temperature, which is the best indicator telling you when to plant seeds outdoors. You can purchase a soil thermometer, or I use a meat thermometer. This one can be used as a soil or compost thermometer with its 20″ stem.

Simply take a reading where you want to plant that particular seed. It doesn’t hurt to take a reading each day for a few days to make sure the temperature is consistent. I also keep this in my seed storing bin.

40* is good enough to plant peas!

Some of my experiences

Pepper plants are slow to mature, and would require starting indoors very early. I don’t eat a lot of peppers and usually only grow 2 plants. It is worth it to me to purchase 2 plants in April for $5 instead of trying to grow them from seed.

Onions store well over winter and so I go through a lot of them. Onions also take a very long time to mature from seed. I also wouldn’t have room to start 50 plants. It is worth it to me to purchase a bundle of 50 onion transplants from an onion grower for $11 instead of trying to grow them from seed.

On the other hand, tomatoes are very easy to grow from seed quickly. I also want to grow select varieties, which are much easier to find by ordering a seed packet. However, tomatoes can take a while to produce fruit, so I want to get them off to an earlier start. It’s a lot cheaper and doesn’t take much effort to start my tomatoes by seed indoors in order to get them going early.

Lastly, lettuce is easy to grow and likes the colder spring weather. So, I can choose to start some indoors to get a really early start. I can also direct sow some later outdoors too. I like to grow lettuce in successions, so I can harvest it at intervals.

Clyde’s Garden Planner. Clyde sent me this planner for free to try. I think it’s a handy tool, so I offered to write a blog post and include it.

An Item You May Need: Soil Thermometer

March Garden Chores

Weather in March can be quite unpredictable! It’s like going on vacation as a kid and asking, “Are we there yet?!”

For gardening in March, you want to be nimble and quick for certain tasks, but patient with others. Don’t be fooled by abnormal warm days. Start too soon, and work/expense may be lost due to weather. Don’t be fooled by spouts of cold weather or snow. Act too late, and certain garden tasks may be more difficult, or get the garden behind.

Perhaps some of these tasks will need to wait until April, but it’s time to at least begin some of these.

  • Wait for several days of 50 degree weather before cleaning up the garden. Many pollinators are triggered to get moving after several days of consistently warm weather. If the garden gets cleaned up too early, the pollinators mistakenly get cleaned up too!
  • If you’re a vegetable gardener and like to start seeds indoors, it’s time to get prepared. Purchase seeds, order transplants (like onions or potatoes), seed starting trays and soil, grow lights, etc. You want to start seeds no more than 4-6 weeks before planting outdoors.
  • Plant edible peas and sweet pea flowers. If it gets very cold after planting, cover the seedlings to retain heat in the soil. Peas like the cold weather!
  • Spread poppy seeds outdoors in the garden. They need the freeze/warm cycle to germinate.
  • Push back plant debris in areas where there are early spring flowers or bulbs. This will allow the soil to warm up faster and sunlight to reach the plants.
  • Cut down last year’s growth on grasses. Grasses begin to green out relatively early. You want to avoid cutting the new growth, so cut down the brown stalks before the plants begin growing again.
  • Prune down old raspberry and blackberry canes.
  • Cut down old stalks of early plants, like the Autumn Joy sedums. They will be easier to clean up at this point.
  • Plan tending to plants that need dividing or transplanting. This is best done in spring when there’s more rain, cooler temps, and the plants are actively growing.
  • Clean out any old nests in bird houses. The birds are anxious to have their clutches!
  • Test the lawn mower. At least in my area I can tell the grass is already beginning to grow. Nothing is worse than having to get the lawn mower fixed in spring or having to purchase one last minute. A growing lawn has no remorse!

Thyme Tea for Colds, Flu, Bronchitis, Strep

If you’re ill with a type of respiratory infection, try this herbal tea remedy.

This week, several counties in our area called off school because so many kids were sick. I’m ill myself for 2 weeks now with bronchitis.

The worst parts is the cough, especially when it comes to sleeping. Once I started drinking this herbal tea before bedtime, I’ve been able to sleep better.

Anytime I’m sick I go to my apothecary cabinet, which has herbal preparations I’ve made, like tinctures. I also have on hand dried herbs so I can make herbal teas. Herbal teas can easily be made with common culinary herbs, like thyme, which I grow in my garden.

I’m not sick too often, but when I am, I get to try all the herbal remedies I’ve made. This time around I’ve discovered the power of the herb, thyme.

It’s About Thyme

Thyme is a go-to herb when it comes to infections of the throat, bronchial tubes, and lungs.

This includes any uncomplicated illness like upper respiratory infection, colds, flu, bronchitis, strep throat, and sinus issues. Any more serious or chronic illness, check with a doctor first.

The English doctor Nicholas Culpeper from the Complete Herbal,

“It is a noble strengthener of the lungs…it purges the body of phlegm and it is an excellent remedy for shortness of breath…”.

The medicinal properties of thyme includes: antibacterial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, decongestant and relaxant.

Thyme works by helping clear mucus congestion, opening up the lungs and stimulating blood flow. It is a respiratory antiseptic, which gets rid of germs and therefore the symptoms they produce.

Thyme is also a great herb for digestive issues.

Thyme can simply be made as an herbal tea and it works wonderfully this way. It is so easy and actually tastes pleasant too! So much better than drugstore cough medicine.

Lemon+Honey+Thyme Tea

  • lemon wedge (1/4 of lemon)
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • honey (1tsp)
  • Infuse the thyme in hot water for 5 minutes.
  • Add lemon and honey to taste.
  • Drink 1-3 cups daily.

The best honey will be local and/or raw. Beware cheaper grocery store honey may not be honey at all, but rice syrup. Manuka honey is supposed to be an extra healing type of honey.

If you’re using fresh thyme, use 1 tablespoon.

After drinking the tea my lungs do feel like they’re more open and I feel like my cough has decreased since starting the tea regimen.

It actually tastes pretty good and tastes more lemony than it does thyme.

Thyme is a very safe herb and said to be safe for children and pregnant women (Grow It, Heal It. Hobbs & Gardner 2013.)

Disclaimer: Anytime it comes to your health, check with your doctor and decide what is best for you or your child.

Witch hazel

witchhazel2

On the list of winter flowering shrubs, is witch-hazel (Hamamelis sp.).

In the US we have two native witch hazels, Hamamelis virginiana and Hamamelis vernalis.

Virginiana starts flowering in October to November.

Vernalis flowers later starting in December. Vernalis also holds onto its leaves.

My witch hazel shown in the photo is vernalis. This photo was taken in the beginning of December while the flowers were at their peak. The flowers didn’t fade until mid January.

Vernalis is also known as Ozark Witch hazel. ‘Christmas Cheer’ is a H. vernalis cultivar.

Asian witch hazels flower later than native American species. They flower late winter and early spring.

There is a Japanese witch hazel, Hamamelis japonica, and Chinese witch hazel, Hamamelis hollis. Hamamelis x intermedia is a hybrid between the Japanese and Chinese witch hazel.

There are many cultivars and hybrids of these asian species of with-hazel such as ‘Arnold Promise’, ‘Old Copper’, ‘Aphrodite’, ‘Rubin’, ‘Orange Encore’.

Many of these were bred to flower late winter and early spring. They were also bred for an increase of fragrance, and for other bright colors of yellow, gold, and orange.

The native species of witch hazel, to me, would be the best choice.

However, any witch hazel species can provide nectar and pollen to pollinators when there is a flowerless landscape in fall, winter, and early spring.

This makes them a good choice for the wildlife garden.

Witch hazels also have a nice yellow fall leaf color. It has a smooth, gray colored bark.

Witch hazel Pollination

Since witch hazel flowers in colder months when there are few or no pollinators around, it has a harder time being pollinated.

When there are some warm late fall or early spring days, some pollinators may come out to pollinate them (likely native bees who can tolerate cooler temps than honeybees). There are likely no other flowers out, so the pollinators appreciate them.

There is a species of a winter owlet moth, that is active during cold nights, which has co-evolved with witch hazel. This is how witch hazel has an increased chance of being pollinated and setting seed. This moth has other food sources, so the moth isn’t dependent on witch hazel, but the witch hazel is more dependent on it.

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