All Things Gardening forum: Starting Seeds Indoors Under Fluorescent Lights

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Name: David Laderoute
Zone 5B/6 - NW MO (Zone 5b)
Ignoring Zones altogether
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DavidLMO
Oct 22, 2015 10:33 PM CST
I am in Zone 5B Northwest Missouri and grow in my basement from December - April. The normal temperature is 60 - 65 degrees and humidity 40 - 45.

I have ran into several posts here where people wonder about growing under Fluorescent (Abbreviated below as fluor) lights when they grow out of window sill space. Aside from watering, lighting is the biggest downfall of growing from seed indoors. And the biggest lighting problem is not enough which results in leggy plants. (One trick to help prevent legginess is to run an oscillating fan towards your seed trays.)

This post summarizes what has worked for me. I start between 500 - 2000 or more plants from seed each year in my basement. In my grow area, there is one South window 2 ' x 4' which provides just a bit of light. My entire regular grow area is about 12 ' x 20 '. Other areas are available for storage.

Now one can spend a lot of money on lighting systems, but I am just going to address relatively cheap setups. For that you can start with a standard 2 bulb 48 " "shop" light. (If you need the width - you can go with a 4 bulb unit.) Replace the bulbs if your unit comes with them and use them in your basement or shop. They are ineffective - yes I have tried them. I do not buy the absolute cheapest fixture. If there are 3 prices available, I buy the middle one. The cheapest will be least efficient and will "break" soonest cause it has the cheapest ballast - the guts of a flour. light.

In general you also do not really need fancy grow or plant light bulbs. If you want though to shell out the added bucks - go for it. They do provide better light, but for the average person just wanting to start a couple of seed trays or so, it may not worth it. A grow/plant type bulb can be 2 or more x the price of "natural" or 3 - 4 x the price of cool or warm bulbs. Based on my experiments, natural light bulbs provide almost as good results as grow or plant bulbs.

I have tried about everything that is available and in combination. Do not use plain cheap bulbs. You will get no joy and they do not last. (In fact though a bulb may be "rated" at xxxx hours - you will likely never see that. If you get 50 % of xxxx consider yourself lucky.) From my experience, using just cool or just warm is not as effective as using one of each. But now days, I use bulbs called "natural". They work better for me than using a combo of cool & warm. They are also referred to as full spectrum.

Whether you use T-5 or T-12 is just a matter of size and choice. I have stayed mostly with T-12 since that is what I have most of. Smiling I have fixtures that are 5 or more years old. While fixtures will "wear out" over time, the bigger problem is the ballast going out. If you are handy, you can replace them. While I am handy, I simply replace the entire unit.

Buy some small cheap chain and some S hooks. Light weight rope or twine can also be used. Attach your lights to ceiling or shelves as best works. On my top shelves, my lights hang from the ceiling where I attached to rafters with eye hooks. However you set things up, you want to be able to adjust the height of the flour. fixture above your seed trays. When you first start the seeds, the light bulbs should only be a couple of inches above the seed tray. As germination occurs, start adjusting the lights up but maintain a few inches above the plants. Once germination occurs and the seedlings are an inch or so - Check what you are growing. Some things require the bulbs to be closer or farther.

You can get a timer and run the lights on/off. I typically just run mine 12 on and 12 off.
A multiple outlet box will be useful too so that a timer can turn everything on and off at the same time.

I typically am running 8 - 16 fixtures. Less in Dec & Jan and most by March. I start moving things outdoors to my "pretend" greenhouse in Mid to late April. We typically cannot be considered frost free until about Mothers day.

You can go whole hog and literally spend several hundreds even thousands of dollars on lighting. Today, there are many choices and numerous options. I don't use LEDs or any other fancy new tech lighting.

Obviously there are many other things needed depending on how fancy you want to get and how much control you want. Lighting is just one important factor.

In addition to my fluorescent lights, I also have 2 - 500 Watt Metal Halide warehouse lights
Humidifier
Dehumidifier
3 oscillating fans
Small resistance heater unit
4 standard seed tray sized heat mats
Controller for heat mats
Two timers

And an understanding wife who is also a plant lover. nodding
Seeking Feng Shui with my plants since 1976
[Last edited by DavidLMO - Nov 8, 2015 10:52 PM (+)]
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Name: Mary
Glendale, Arizona (Zone 9b)
Region: Arizona Cat Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Plumerias Seed Starter Vegetable Grower
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Azgarden
Oct 22, 2015 11:22 PM CST
Thank You! David. This is very informative and timely. Just got my little 4' two light set up today and your post answered some questions for me. I had no idea how close the lights should be to the seed tray. My husband is not as obsessed with plants as me, but totally supports MY addiction! Thanks again. I tip my hat to you.
Name: David Laderoute
Zone 5B/6 - NW MO (Zone 5b)
Ignoring Zones altogether
Seed Starter Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Level 1
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DavidLMO
Oct 22, 2015 11:45 PM CST
You are Welcome!

Be aware that if you use standard trays with plastic dome tops keep the light a bit away from the dome. I quit using domes a few years ago and now have better luck. And if you use domes, remove them or open them up for an hour or so each day. My experience is they cause far too much moisture retention and damping off.

Best of luck with your new obsession. I been growing from seed for over 30 years and plant any and every seed I get my hands on.
Seeking Feng Shui with my plants since 1976
Name: Mary
Glendale, Arizona (Zone 9b)
Region: Arizona Cat Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Plumerias Seed Starter Vegetable Grower
Composter Hummingbirder
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Azgarden
Oct 23, 2015 10:34 AM CST
Thanks David. We don't have a basement so this setup will be in the house and there should be plenty of air circulation. Had wondered about those domes and dangers of damping off of seedlings with too much trapped moisture. Know what you mean about growing just about anything. I'm just curious to see how things grow even if they aren't particularly useful or beautiful....those are pluses!

On a side note...read you are growing cactus. Have you thought of planting "jumping cactus"? Seriously, we have them here in the desert. Smiling
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
Charter ATP Member Celebrating Gardening: 2015 I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped beta test the first seed swap Region: United States of America Region: Michigan
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Weedwhacker
Oct 23, 2015 4:43 PM CST
I always use the domes on my flats until the seeds germinate, then remove them.
"Blessed is he who has learned to laugh at himself, for he shall never cease to be entertained."
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Name: Mary
Glendale, Arizona (Zone 9b)
Region: Arizona Cat Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Plumerias Seed Starter Vegetable Grower
Composter Hummingbirder
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Azgarden
Oct 23, 2015 5:40 PM CST
Sandy, that makes sense.
Name: David Laderoute
Zone 5B/6 - NW MO (Zone 5b)
Ignoring Zones altogether
Seed Starter Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Level 1
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DavidLMO
Oct 23, 2015 7:04 PM CST
Azgarden said: I'm just curious to see how things grow even if they aren't particularly useful or beautiful....those are pluses!

On a side note...read you are growing cactus. Have you thought of planting "jumping cactus"? Seriously, we have them here in the desert. Smiling


Yeah - right now I am growing the following After Dinner items:

Pineapple (from top - tried seeds - one came up and passed on after a few weeks)
Mango
Avocado
Lemon
Clementine

Just planted Pomegranate seeds today and hope to start lime soon

Don't know "jumping cactus". After reading about it, don't think I want one either. nodding
Seeking Feng Shui with my plants since 1976
[Last edited by DavidLMO - Nov 8, 2015 10:55 PM (+)]
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Name: David Laderoute
Zone 5B/6 - NW MO (Zone 5b)
Ignoring Zones altogether
Seed Starter Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Level 1
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DavidLMO
Oct 23, 2015 7:12 PM CST
Weedwhacker said:I always use the domes on my flats until the seeds germinate, then remove them.


I used to always as well. Damping off was a problem for me so I stopped. I know the benefits and I too left them on but got used to not using them and hardly ever now have a problem with damping off. But about the same time I started using Hydrogen Peroxide solution on a regular basis.

If using a dome and you have no probs I would keep using it :-)

I have a problem with over watering. I acknowledge it. :-)

Seeking Feng Shui with my plants since 1976
Name: Mary
Glendale, Arizona (Zone 9b)
Region: Arizona Cat Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Plumerias Seed Starter Vegetable Grower
Composter Hummingbirder
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Azgarden
Oct 23, 2015 8:38 PM CST
How do you use the hydrogen peroxide solution and in what proportions?
Name: David Laderoute
Zone 5B/6 - NW MO (Zone 5b)
Ignoring Zones altogether
Seed Starter Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Level 1
Image
DavidLMO
Oct 23, 2015 9:31 PM CST
Everything you always wanted to know:

http://www.using-hydrogen-peroxide.com/gardening-with-hydrog...
Seeking Feng Shui with my plants since 1976
Name: Mary
Glendale, Arizona (Zone 9b)
Region: Arizona Cat Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Plumerias Seed Starter Vegetable Grower
Composter Hummingbirder
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Azgarden
Oct 23, 2015 9:39 PM CST
Thank You! David
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
Charter ATP Member Celebrating Gardening: 2015 I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped beta test the first seed swap Region: United States of America Region: Michigan
Seed Starter Vegetable Grower Birds Butterflies Dog Lover Cat Lover
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Weedwhacker
Oct 24, 2015 7:11 AM CST
DavidLMO said:

I have a problem with over watering. I acknowledge it. :-)



I'm more like the great under-waterer ! Hilarious!

My houseplants have become accustomed to long periods of "drought"... Whistling

"Blessed is he who has learned to laugh at himself, for he shall never cease to be entertained."
- John Powell / Cubits.org - A Universe of Communities
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Name: Karen
Cincinnati, Oh (Zone 6a)
Forum moderator I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Cut Flowers Winter Sowing Charter ATP Member Seed Starter
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kqcrna
Oct 27, 2015 6:12 PM CST
Weedwhacker said:I always use the domes on my flats until the seeds germinate, then remove them.


Me too. I never have a problem with damping off, but I also sterilize the potting mix for indoor seed starting (but not for wintersown seeds.)

Karen

OH (Zone 5a)
Hostas
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Pandora
Nov 7, 2015 9:32 AM CST
I use milled sphagnum peat moss to avoid damping off. After seeds are planted just sprinkle a little over the soil. Don't breathe it in for Pete's sake (pun intended) don't sneeze, it will be all over your room. Rolling on the floor laughing

A small bag lasts me about 10 years.
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
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drdawg
Nov 7, 2015 11:23 AM CST
Milled sphagnum moss is what I use in my custom-mix of potting/garden soil. Milled sphagnum is not the same as peat moss though. I have a feeling you are actually using peat, since it is an acidic material and has a lot of powder-type material. Peat takes hundreds of years to form and is "dead" material. The milled sphagnum is neutral, ground from fresh, live material, and doesn't have much air-borne material. You might want to check out this article published last year. http://garden.org/ideas/view/drdawg/1972/
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
OH (Zone 5a)
Hostas
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Pandora
Nov 7, 2015 12:53 PM CST
Oops, I checked the package and its not peat. Should have known better I live near some of best peat bogs in Ohio.

It's milled sphagnum moss.
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
Image
drdawg
Nov 7, 2015 2:33 PM CST
Thumbs up
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: David Laderoute
Zone 5B/6 - NW MO (Zone 5b)
Ignoring Zones altogether
Seed Starter Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Level 1
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DavidLMO
Nov 7, 2015 8:57 PM CST
Well Ken - my poor head is spinning - I went and read your article from last year. Confused

I just know that in my poor little town here, I have to order the milled stuff - not regularly available anyplace. Just like Pine Bark Fines. I order 7 bags of that which I get in March (down to my last 1/2 bag now) from a regular nursery owned by a friend. Love the stuff. And I use it much more that sphagnum peat - 9 times out of 10. I mix both for my blueberries.

For seed starting I use the prepackaged stuff.
Seeking Feng Shui with my plants since 1976
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
Image
drdawg
Nov 7, 2015 9:01 PM CST
I hope there were not too many errors there, David. I don't mean to spin heads. Sighing!
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: David Laderoute
Zone 5B/6 - NW MO (Zone 5b)
Ignoring Zones altogether
Seed Starter Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Level 1
Image
DavidLMO
Nov 7, 2015 10:24 PM CST
Oh no - not at all and nothing like that. Green Grin! (The write up was spot on.) When the topic at cocktail parties moves to various types of moss (sheet, stranded, milled, peat vs non-peat et cerera it makes my head spin. Especially, if someone asks me to explain the differences. Big Grin

Hehe I just use what I have handy. Of course, that is why no two containers of my soil mixes are ever exactly the same. Heh
Seeking Feng Shui with my plants since 1976

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