Ok, so the cranes and the groundhog were both wrong, and Spring is still nowhere to be seen. The 20° to 30°F weather, lingering snow, and grey skies have made it hard to find motivation to get our seeds started, but now is the time. To be honest the equipment and methods we use for starting seeds are probably the least sustainable aspect of our garden. When I learned the importance of saving open pollinated seed a few years ago, starting our own plants suddenly became a priority. It was important to me to be successful at this new enterprise, so I gravitated toward the packaged solutions easily available at the store. We use a name brand seed starting mix which includes slow release fertilizers. This is the one place where our claim to use no chemical fertilizers simply does not hold up. We are also using plastic trays and cell packs, fluorescent lighting, as well as electric heat and fans. I have plans to try other methods as we go, but for now this works. Lets face it, the argument against chemical fertilizers was never that they don't work. Right now my biggest challenge is having enough finished compost in the Fall, and getting it screened and packaged before it is frozen in the winter. We do wash and re use the trays and pots as many times as we can.
I built the seed starting benches last spring. They are designed to take advantage of the windows in our sun room, placing a row of trays in front of each pane thereby getting the maximum amount of natural light. The bench pictured above is built out of 2x2" lumber and 1/2" plywood. It is very sturdy, but also fairly heavy. I re designed the unit and the result is the one pictured below. It is made out of 1x2" lumber and a combination of 3/8" and 1/4" plywood. Still plenty strong for the purpose, but much lighter. Both units have an incandescent light bulb in the box in the bottom that provides bottom heat to the lower four trays.
The lighting is T-5 florescent full spectrum bulbs. The fixtures are set back away from the windows so they do not shade the plants from the Sun. Every few days I turn the trays so the plants stay straight as they tend to bend toward the stronger light source which can be either the window or the bulbs depending on the day. For watering I use a 1 gallon pump sprayer. It takes a bit of time to water each cell that way, but it is a very controlled way to deliver the water where it's needed as the cells don't always dry up at the same rate, and it does a great job of oxygenating and degassing the water as it's delivered.
My next post will be detailed plans on how to build the lightweight version of our seed starting bench.