For the last few years, in the late winter months, our dining room table transforms into our seed starting area - or as we like to call it - our mini garden. We actually had it down to a
science, using a few inexpensive shop lights to grow our plants healthy and strong. The mini garden set-up unfortunately also rendered the dining area useless for the 6 to 8 weeks it took to germinate and grow all of the ornamental pepper and garden plants we use. Not to mention, some strange looks from company wondering what we were "growing" in there under the dim glow of flourescent lights :).
So, for this week's DIY segment - we thought we would design and build our very own lighted seed-starting rack. The rack will allow us to move the entire seed starting operation out of the dining room - and into an unused portion of our basement. It also allows us to double the seeds and plants we can start indoors in less space - from the 4 flats we could start on the table, to a full 8 flats.
We wanted it to be simple, strong, and of course, as always - cheap!
Using just nine simple 2 x 4 x 8 pieces of lumber, a single sheet of particle board and 4 inexpensive double-bulb shop lights - this can be made from scratch for around $50 to $70. Even less if you happen to have some old shop lights or scrap lumber laying around! It will accommodate up to 8 full size seed trays on the two growing shelves - and can grow up to 576 plants if using the 72 pack cell inserts. There is even shelf space at the bottom to store gardening supplies - or if you are really ambitious - another layer of plants! The best part of the project - it can be assembled with simple tools in less than an hour or two. In our case - we cut, built and assembled it in the time it took to watch the Houston Texans take our Cincinnati Bengals out of the playoffs! It's also strong and can double as a great storage shelf when not in use the rest of the year.Here is how we built it:
Materials List:(9) ea. 2 x4 x8's
(4) ea. Hanging Shop Lights
(1) 4' x 8' sheet of 1/2 strand board or plywood
(50) 3" screws
(8 to 12) 2" screw hooksTools Needed:Circular or Chop Saw
Tape MeassureHow We Built It: (We have included more pictures on our blog post)Start by cutting all of your pieces:You will need to cut the 2x4's into the following sizes:
4) ea. 6' long
6) ea. 4' long
6) ea. 2' longTaking the 4' x 8' sheet of plywood or strand board, cut three pieces, each 27" x 4' wide - these will become the shelves of the stand.The actual building process is a snap - especially if you have two people for an extra set of hands. We normally use construction adhesive when we build anything for extra durability - but we forewent that on this project in case we ever want to disassemble and relocate the shelves.Start by building your 4 rectangular shelf supports from the 4' and 2' pieces. Create a rectangle by placing two 2' boards flush at the ends of two 4' boards. Drive a single screw in the middle of each connection to create a solid rectangle. Repeat until you have all four rectangles assembled.Next, we will assemble the bottom shelf first. Take one of your 6 foot boards and place it flush on the end of the outside edge of where the 2' and 4' pieces meet. (see pictures) Then - making sure your 6' board is straight in the air at a 90 degree angle - we screw it in place with a total of 4 screws. We put 2 screws that sink into the 2' board and 2 more than sink into the 4' board. Repeat for the other 3 "legs" and you are on your way to your plant stand.Next - we screw in one more of the rectangles the same way - this one at the top - flush with the top of the 6' boards. Once you have this screwed in - your stand will start to become very stable.Now, we just simply repeat with the final two rectangles, screwing them in to form the bases for the growing shelves. For our set-up, we set our two shelves at 23" apart - this allows us plenty of room to adjust the lights up and down with chains as the plants grow, and lets our plants have plenty of room to grow big. As another option you could also evenly space the two middle shelves and actually grow on the bottom shelf as well for 3 growing areas. For us, two is more than plenty - and we will just use the bottom shelf as for storage items.Next, slide in the 3 27" x 4' shelf boards you have cut from the plywood or strand board to make your shelves. Simply drive a few screws into the support frame to secure.Once you have all of your shelves in, its time to hang your lights. Simple screw hooks work great here. A small pre-drilled hole will help you screw them in. We install 2 hooks on each side - spaced evenly on the 2 foot end bars. Most of the inexpensive shoplights at the big box stores will come with a small chain and S hook for the light - just install and your set. To make ours even easier to operate - we are going to install a small power strip on the side, allowing the lights to be turned on with a single flip of the switch.There you have it - an inexpensive seed-starting stand! If you want more information of starting seeds - you can see our article from a few weeks back - How To Easily Start Seeds IndoorsIf you would like to receive our weekly DIY and Gardening Posts – be sure to sign up to follow our blog via email, Twitter or Facebook in the right column.- Jim and Mary
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There is nothing quite like planning the garden to make you ready for spring to hurry up and get here! So this past week, as we watched December's snow melt and some warmer than average
temperatures tease us - Mary and I put the finishing touches on our 2013 garden plan.
Many old standby's remain in this year's plan. A healthy planting of Roma (24 ea.) and Celebrity (8 ea.) tomato plants that are the staples for our pasta and pizza sauce, salsa and ketchup that we make and can. Also back: hot banana, jalapeno, cayenne and Cajun Belle peppers that we use in our hot pepper grinds, powders, and of course Mary's famous hot pepper mustard.
New editions to the garden this year will be rows of head lettuce and cabbage, the multi-colored sweet mini peppers that are becoming popular, and a small row of popcorn.
We always leave a row empty for trying new plants we might find at a nursery or greenhouse. It seems like we are always coming home with at least one unplanned plant at every stop! It is, after all, how we stumbled upon the Cajun Belle a few years back, an amazing appetizer and salsa pepper. And last year it led to finding the Italian Roaster, a great tasting and grilling pepper. They both have become two of our recent favorites. If we can get our hands on a ghost pepper this year (one of the hottest peppers in the world) - we will definitely plant one - but then that just makes for some tense moments this fall when we have to try it!
As we do each year, we rotate the garden rows to use new areas for last year's plantings. Our peppers and tomatoes will move from the top rows down to the bottom section of raised beds, and our greens, potatoes and beans to the top. In addition to rotating the sections - we also flip the rows from where we planted them the last time they were in these beds - so it becomes 4 years before the same plant goes into the same space.
We will also be changing how we plant our cucumbers and zucchini this year - using the straw bale method. We will fill the two rows used to grow them with a line of straw bales. Then, we will dig out (3), 12" deep and 12" diameter circles in each bale and fill them with a rich topsoil/compost soil mix to plant the zucchini and cucumbers in. The plants can then grow above and off the ground, with the straw helping to hold their moisture in. The bales also provide a cascading support for the vines and hopefully, lots and lots of cucumbers and zucchini.
One new edition will be the installation of the 5' post and board fence all around the garden. Up until this year, we only had the fence along the front - more as a decoration than anything. But the deer have found our garden to their liking over the winter. Moreover, I think it might be the lush green cover crop of winter rye that they found under the snow that they love! Deer have never really bothered the garden too much in the past, but we figure fencing it will keep it that way!
When completed, we will also have the garden silo. It will hold tons of shredded leaves collected from last fall to use as mulch on garden plants and rows - and to add organic material to compost batches throughout the season. Along side of the silo will be the double compost bin and one of our 275 rain water collection tanks. The tank holds enough rainwater to water the garden for 20 days, and is filled from our rain collection tanks from the barn roof.
No matter what happens, one thing is for sure - we will have fun with the whole gardening process!
Happy gardening! - Jim and Mary
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