Seed-starting shelves

Materials: OMAR shelving unit (I used 36 1/4″ high, but you could use the taller one), 2 standard “shop fixtures” (48″ long), 4 40-watt T-12 fluorescent light bulbs, 1 timer for the lights, 4 small metal S-hooks (or substitute), 1 two-plugs-to-one converter, 1 extension cord, several large pieces of cardboard (can be from OMAR box), 2 25-foot boxes aluminum foil, clear tape, masking tape, heavy plastic carpet protector (from an office supply store)

Description: I wanted to start seeds in my apartment for transplanting into my garden but I don’t have an extra closet to dedicate to seed starting. I purchased the 36 1/4-inch (92 cm) high OMAR shelving unit and set it up against a wall in my bedroom. Why the OMAR? Because the shelves are wire, the height of the light fixtures can easily be adjusted as they are hooked onto the OMAR with S-hooks. Ideally, the grow lights are an inch or two away from the seedlings. I can unhook the chain, place the hook in another link, and rehang the light. I also like the OMAR’s nonflammable metal construction, and its ventilation.

1. Put down carpet protector. Be aware that in the U.S., the shop fixtures are 48-inches but the OMAR is only 36 1/4 inches; therefore, the lights will extend beyond the shelving. However, the light intensity diminishes at the ends so you’re not losing much light.

2. Put OMAR in place close to the wall.

3. Hang shop fixtures. One shop fixture I purchased was sold with two short chains, so that it could be hung from a ceiling. I assembled the fixture, installed two light bulbs, attached S-hooks to the chains and hung the fixture from the upper shelf of the OMAR. No problem. Later I bought the second shop fixture and discovered that it was meant to be installed flush to the ceiling and didn’t have the chains. So I hung it from the lower shelf using the woven neck cords that come with convention badge holders. (In other words, look for a shop fixture that is sold with chains.)

4. Cut the cardboard and line it with aluminum foil. This takes 2-3 hours. You can use the OMAR box, and attach other pieces with masking tape. Just remember that if you will be bending the cardboard, be sure it is oriented so that the bend follows the corrugation. The photo shows my setup version 2. It has four pieces of cardboard: one on the top (with four holes for the uprights, one behind the unit, one in front of the unit, and one on the left side. Each one has aluminum foil on the inside, attached with clear tape, and each piece’s edges are covered and sealed with masking tape. The overhangs are not strictly necessary. Leaving some gaps is good for the ventilation. The most important consideration in designing the cardboard coverings is that the front piece must be easily removable without tearing the fragile aluminum coating inside, as I check on the seedlings almost daily.

5. Install the light bulbs if you haven’t already. The light cords are plugged into the two-plugs-to-one-converter, which is plugged into a timer, which is plugged into an extension cord, which is plugged into the wall. The lights are on about 18 hours a day. During slow planting seasons, I unplug one cord from the timer and use just one shelf.

6. Put your seed trays on the shelves, and plug in the timer. Done!

Because the hot lights dry out the surface of the soil, I sprout the seeds in covered trays, or loosely covered with plastic, in another room or on the floor. Once the seedlings have emerged, I put them under the lights.

Total cost of the system: about $150 US: $45 US for the shelves, $40 for the two shop fixtures, $20 for the four bulbs, $10 for the timer. The other items I already had. Floor protection would be another $25.

It’s easy to dismantle and move. I can put boxes on top of the shelves as the top panel doesn’t move. The outside of the cardboard front panel can be decorated with fabric or press-on paper (another project!) Should I ever give up gardening, the shelves and light fixtures can be easily reused.

~ City Gardener, Los Angeles, CA