Wild Gourd Farm

Organic Gardening in St. Louis City

Tag Archives: grow light

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!


Seedling Update

pepper seedlings

Pepper seedlings under grow lights

broccoli seedlings

Broccoli seedlings outside in shade

tomato seedlings

Tomato seedlings, up-potted, kept under grow light


Tomato seedlings, up-potted, kept outside in half hoop house


Tomato seedling, planted in the ground today! Definitely early, but we were so excited about the 80°F weather. We'll see how they do...

Seedling Update


Onions under grow light, February 16

Same onions (left) and broccoli (right), March 4

Assorted peppers, February 28

Peppers, March 1

Peppers, March 4

Tomatoes, Febrary 27

Tomatoes, March 4

Second batch of tomatoes, March 4

Much, much more to come!

Seedling Update

Most of our seeds have germinated and we’ve started transplanting them into larger pots as they outgrow the seed trays. We have four different types of tomato plants (pictured above) and broccoli under the grow lights we made.  Some of out tomato seedlings are in pots in our hoop house, too (which has been getting up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit). We have nasturtium, squash, jalepeño, tomatillo, basil, and chamomile  in our south-facing windows, and we have two types of organic sweet potatoes sprouting in water.  Looks like we’ll have a good jump start on spring planting!

Frugal Friday #2: Grow Light Fixture

Today we made another grow light for our seedlings. Store-bought grow lights are pretty expensive, so after doing some research and combining a few ideas, here’s what we came up with.

We started with the cheapest double-sided light fixture from the hardware store. The wires had to be routed up through the top of the fixture, with the threaded knob facing up.  We cut the female end off an extension cord so we could splice the wires together.

For the hood, we used 6″ diameter aluminum duct work/dryer vent, cut down to a 2 foot length. (We actually scored this for free; the hardware store was out of this particular size, and a customer nearby overheard and gave us a piece he happened to have in his truck.)  Threaded rods were drilled through each end for stability.

We exposed the wires of the extension cord and stripped the plastic off to expose the wire. Wire strippers are best for this job, but we used a box knife with great care.

We drilled a hole in the center of the aluminum hood and the center of the white plastic cap that came with the fixture, which allowed us to use it as a nut. The wires were threaded up through the top of the hood and the fixture was secured by tightening the plastic nut.  We then connected all three wires from the extension cord to the corresponding wires of the light fixture. As you can see below, yellow wire  nuts were used to make a tight connection and for safety.We wrapped the wires with electrical tape from the white plastic nut all the way up past the yellow wire nuts.

We used the threaded rods to hold the aluminum hood in the right shape. We planned to use nuts to secure the rods in place, but cutting the rods to size with bolt cutters left the ends uneven so nuts couldn’t be used. Instead, we used electrical tape on either side to prevent the hood from sliding.

This is our finished product. We will hang the fixture by attaching chain to the threaded rods on all four corners. We use compact florescent bulbs for energy efficiency, with low heat and high light output.

We’ll use this fixture for  more seedlings to be started this weekend!