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If you grow plants from seed (or if you want to), you’re likely going to want to start a few of them indoors. And if you start your seeds indoors, something that will make your life so much easier (and make your seedlings bigger, stronger and healthier) is an indoor growing stand with grow lights.
While lights aren’t necessary for germinating seeds (just some warm, moist soil), a good light source is essential for growing seedlings. If you have big windows and get a lot of natural light, you may be able to get away with growing without artificial light. But grow lights will almost always be your best option for giving your seedlings a strong start.
Not only do they give off way more light than you could probably even get through a large window during seed-starting season in the late winter/early spring, but they help keep your plants warm without overheating them (another crucial part of seed starting).
You don’t really want to keep certain heat-loving seedlings near a drafty, cold window in the winter and early spring when they’re just starting out since if it gets too cold it could kill them.
Likewise, putting them near a heat source like a heating vent or wood stove can dry out your soil and too much and can be too hot for them. Grow lights offer the right balance of artificial light and warmth that comes as close as possible to natural sunlight.
Related: 3 Ways to Protect Your Plants From the Cold
One option, of course, is to buy an LED grow lights from your local garden store or order them online. But some of these can get pretty pricey, depending upon the size and scale of your growing needs. Plus, if a bulb burns out, you usually have to replace the entire light fixture.
Another option, however, is to buy standard fluorescent tube lights from any hardware store or order them online and use them as grow lights. They offer the same type of light that’s needed for indoor growing and work in much the same way, however you’ll need to mount them to some sort of stand or fixture on your own.
We built our own growing stand completely from scrap materials last year. It worked well for us at the time. It cost next to nothing to make (since it was made from scraps) and we made it fully adjustable so we could raise and lower the platform as the seedlings got bigger.
This doesn’t show the full capacity of our growing stand as we only have about 30 seedlings in this photo and this was taken after we had already expanded our growing platform, but when we began last year we had 48 seedlings in these little peat pots started under a single 4-foot fluorescent light.
But it was big and bulky, and I honestly didn’t really want it taking up space in our little rancher if I could avoid it.
So we decided to convert one of our metal shelving units into our grow light stand this year!
Honestly, I don’t know why we didn’t think of this last year. Well, maybe I did and realized I couldn’t have used our metal shelves last year because they were in our sunroom (which was really cold and didn’t warm up until late spring).
In either case, this year we wised up and converted our metal shelving units into our grow light stand. And it was sooo much simpler than building it all from scrap wood!
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How we made our indoor grow light stand
These shelving units are really affordable and you can usually get them at Costco, IKEA or Amazon. When you’re not seed starting, you can use them for storage. I use one of ours for all of our Mason jars and lids, bottles and growlers and our two canners, and I store our garden, BBQ and picnic stuff, pet supplies and first aid kit on the other. We keep them in our laundry room.
We’re able to get about 50-60 seedlings on each shelf and have two units with 4 shelves each, so we’re technically able to grow up to 400 seedlings on both these units. Of course, I need somewhere to put my Mason jars (especially in the spring as we’ve gone through lots of our preserved food by now!) And we also need to account for the extra growing space we’ll need as the seedlings grow (tomatoes especially often need to be transplanted into larger pots before they’re ready to be transplanted outdoors).
Here’s how we made it:
- Gathered our lights (we use one 4-foot T8 fluorescent light fixture with bulbs (obviously) per shelf)
- Attached the light fixtures to the underside of the shelves with some bailing wire (you can use any type of wire or zap-straps are a good idea too).
- Screwed in the bulbs (obviously)
- Attached some foil lining to help reflect the light and keep warmth in the growing area
We’ve got a growing stand capable of starting roughly 200 seedlings!
All in, our grow light stand probably cost us a couple hundred bucks, but since we already had both the shelving unit and the lights, it cost us nothing this year!
Last year we also used a light timer which made it really easy because we were able to have the lights turn on and off when we were still sleeping to maximize grow time, but our rabbit chewed through the cord (he lives outside now) so no light timer this year. But it’s in a much more accessible place than it was last year so it’s easy enough to just plug the lights in when we need to.
Of course you can always just buy a growing stand if you don’t want to make one yourself. This one is a good basic grow light but you’d have to supply the platform or put your seedlings on the floor. This grow light can be hung from your ceiling. Or check your local garden supply store (although based on my personal experience, the grow lights at many garden stores come with a pretty sizeable markup).
Related: How to Build a Quick and Easy DIY Hoop House
Choosing lights for indoor growing
One thing you should keep in mind when choosing grow lights is that you need to choose lights with the right colour temperature for what you’re growing.
When we made our original growing stand, we purchased “Soft Light” and “Daylight” fluorescent bulbs to add to our existing “Natural Light” bulb. When we researched the best type of bulb to use, “Natural Light” (or 5,000K) was touted as the best option because of its neutral hue on the light colour spectrum. However, adding the “Soft Light” (3,000K) and “Daylight” (6,500K) bulbs gives off a broader spectrum of light to enhance growing conditions, so we decided to use a combination of these lights when we expanded our growing stand from one to three lights.
The colour temperature of the lights matters for indoor growing as the different colours trigger different responses in plants. For example, lights that are more red in hue trigger flowering and lights that are more blue in colour trigger vegetative growth. The “Natural Lights” were a good first choice and happy medium as they fall in the neutral “middle” of the colour spectrum. The “Soft Light” bulbs are 3,000K (red) and the “Daylight” bulbs are 6,500K, making them a distinct blue light.
The lights you choose will ultimately depend on what types of plants you’re using them for, but assuming you’re growing mostly vegetables, you’ll probably want to lean more toward the blue end of the spectrum, whereas flowering plants will require more red light. If you’re not sure, I would recommend going for a 5,000K bulb since this is a happy medium.
You can also use LED grow lights. LED grow lights are becoming more popular as they contain the full spectrum of light colours in a single fixture, so they’re specifically tailored to growing plants. They also produce very little heat, which is better for growing as you won’t burn or dry out your plants.
In the end the choice is yours, and that’s the great part about making your own customizable indoor growing stand! That and the money you’ll save:)
What about you? Are you starting seeds indoors this year? What are your garden plans? Let me know in the comments below!
Oh, and don’t forget to download the Seed Starting Cheat Sheet from my FREE Resource Library and take the guesswork out of starting 10 common garden vegetables from seed so you can start growing your own organic food at home today!
Wishing you a strong head start on the growing season:)
Wow. It seems to be that lots of work to be done with this setup. How much do you estimate to make something like this?
All in it probably cost us about $200 with the 3 lights ($100 for one). The nice thing about this (and why we chose to build instead of buy a light-stand premade), is that it’s customizable, adjustable and expandable as our growing needs change and grow over the years. We couldn’t find a comparable stand for sale and anything that came close to having the features we wanted was way out of our price range. Also, we had a lot of the building materials on hand already so it made sense to put them to use, but the price I quoted includes the cost of all materials if you need to buy new. We are also in Canada, and my husband (who works for a building supply store) says th same lights ought to cost less in the U.S. so the cost may vary depending on where you live.
What size were your metal shelves? So many to choose from and I want one that will fit the lights just right. TIA.
Anna used shelving that was the same width as her lights – 4 ft wide in this case. This size (4 ft wide) is very common as far as I have seen.
So, I would look at the length of the lights you want to use and go from there.
Enjoy growing your veggies from seed- it is a lot of fun!