Wild Gourd Farm

Organic Gardening in St. Louis City

Seed Starting: New and Improved!

seedling trays under grow lightsWe’ve upgraded our seed-starting operation for this year. From our homemade grow light fixtures, we’ve graduated to four fluorescent shop lights hung on a 6′ x 3′ metal shelving unit. Right now we have about 1,000 seedlings under these lights in our basement; last year our set-up only allowed us to start about 300 at a time. 

2013_02_05_123It all started when we acquired this metal shelving unit and all the light fixtures from Eric’s grandfather, who passed away last year. He was a talented craftsman, and his resourcefulness inspired us to create this set up.

We hung each fluorescent light fixture to the underside of the shelves using chain and wire to suspend them. This will allow us to raise and lower the lights as needed. We also lined the back with foil to reflect light.

2013_02_16_126 2013_02_16_125

We started our seeds on February 9. We use the Jiffy seedling trays, which contain 72 cells for individual seedlings and come with greenhouse lids to help with germination. We’ve reused ours year after year. We speed up germination by putting some of the trays on heating pads made specifically for growing seedlings. We only have two of these pads, so we got creative. In the left photo, we put a milk crate upside down over a register and placed a seedling tray on top. The right photo shows a small side table with a wicker bottom shelf we placed over a register, which housed two full trays.

seedlingsThe majority of the tomatoes germinated within 1 week. We removed the lids and put the trays under lights once germinated. This photo was taken February 16.

2013_03_02_233For our onions this year, we planted our seeds in a tray without cells. Half of the tray is planted with red onion, the other half is green onion. We’ll buy slips for white or yellow onions, depending on what we can find locally.

2013_03_02_235These are some of our pepper seedlings. This year we’re growing jalapeno, banana peppers, an heirloom variety from Baker Creek called lipstick, Marconi, and chocolate bell. The peppers take a little longer to germinate than tomatoes.

2013_03_02_236We planted an entire tray with one of our favorite varieties of tomatoes from last year- Costoluto Genovese. If you look toward the right side of the photo, you can see a seedling that shot up faster and taller than its fellow seedlings; we’ll be documenting this plant’s progress throughout the year, and if it lives up to its explosive beginnings, we’ll make sure to save seeds for next year!

2013_03_02_241A sea of tomatoes… we planted a tray of Arkansas Travelers and a bush variety we’ve been saving seeds from for years. We also have two full trays of cherry tomato varieties, including our favorite yellow, as well as some sungold, purple, and red. In smaller quantities, we started heirloom varieties Millionaire and Pierce’s Pride from Baker Creek (given to us free last year), Black Giant, Black Pineapple, and White Wonder.

We plan to plant about 100 tomato and 50 pepper plants this season. We’ll be selling the rest in the St. Louis area. We’ll be up-potting these soon and will continue to document the progress!


8 responses to “Seed Starting: New and Improved!

  1. Monica Silva McArthur March 2, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    So happy to see this, as Tom and I are making our seed list this week, we could use all the tutorials you guys give out!
    On a side note, I make my own yogurt and have lots of excess Whey. I know its a great protein rich nutrient and I don’t like throwing it away but never get to use it. Would you guys be interested in using it-for your garden? It might sound weird, I know, just trying to get creative.

    • Becca March 3, 2013 at 4:29 pm

      Hooray for seed starting! Glad to be of some help, send any questions you have our way!

      As for whey, I’ve been collecting it, too. Haven’t used it in the garden yet, but I’d like to try this season. This sounds even weirder than your garden suggestion, but I’ve started using it for washing my hair… just mix in some baking soda, and it can be used instead of shampoo. You just don’t want to mix up too much and have it sitting in your warm bathroom too long- I’ve learned the hard way. The dogs also love it added to their kibble.

      Anyway, great to hear from you! Happy planting to you and your adorable family!

  2. Zhanara Scherer March 3, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    Wow – these look great! We’re at about the same here at Jeff’s Home Service. However, since we have the sunroom we use that instead of grow lights and save a little on the electric bill. We do keep the wood stove burning a little longer though – just to baby the seedlings!

    • Becca March 3, 2013 at 4:31 pm

      Thanks! Someday we’ll have a sunroom and a bigger greenhouse so we won’t have to use so much electricity, but for now we’re making it work. Great to hear from you! Hope all is well!

  3. Helen W. March 4, 2013 at 5:59 am

    Awesome photos; love seeing the progress. What a lot of work!!!! You are incredible…. Love, Mom


  4. grassrootsgreen March 5, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Home Eco has a seed starting mat in the resale department for $15. We’re going out of business.

    • Becca March 5, 2013 at 6:28 pm

      I heard you were going out of business, very sorry to hear it! We’ll be sure to stop by before your little gem is closed… Best of luck to you!

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