It's that time of year again! Time to start thinking about what I want to plant on my patio. I'm fortunate to have an apartment with plenty of patio space, so last year I tried this and had very little success. The biggest problem was the incredible heat we had here in Mississippi in 2015 and on top of that I have to use pots which quickly dry up in the heat.
In 2015 I used a large produce crate and an expensive (leftover) aquarium light to start seeds, but I had really started the seeds way too late (April). In an effort to catch up and try to compete with my dad's backyard garden (I'm not fortunate to have my own home just yet!), I bought plants from the garden center. I had roma tomatoes, better boy tomatoes, bell peppers, summer squash, and cucumbers. They all grew well and fast until the crazy heat began. I might have gathered less than 3 tomatoes, 2 cucumbers, and only 2 itty bitty peppers. The harvest was horrible, but I can survive thanks to local grocery stores and something called Hamburger Helper.
It's 2016 and time to start again and I'm not going to procrastinate and start late this time. It's the beginning of February here (South, Central USA) and the perfect time to get a head start. It should start warming up more by March which is when these plants will need to go out on the patio. The first thing I'm going to do this year is build my seed starting station and start the seeds. Let's get see what I've come up with...
I spent quite a bit of time researching how to build my own seed starting station and almost purchased an already made setup for nearly $600 (USD)! I can do it a lot cheaper than that. I also need to utilize as little space as possible because I'm in an apartment. The answer was a 35" x 54" wire shelf. The design of this shelf makes it impossible for my pets to stand on and easy to hang shop lights with hooks. I also went with a black finish since this is in my living room. It has to look at least a bit decent. I purchased everything at two Lowe's locations (the bulbs ran out at one).
Here's the list of items I used:
1 x StyleSelections 4-Tier 350 lb (not it's weight) Shelving Unit (3 ft x 5 ft) with Black Finish
4 x UtiliTech 4 ft 2-Light Shop Light (Black, T8, #0420866, Make sure it has the wall plug logo on the back)
4 x GE 48 inch (4 ft) T8 6500k 2-Pack Fluorescent Bulbs
2 x Hillman S-Hooks (4 PCS) .120 x 1 IN Zinc
1 x UtiliTech Heavy-Duty Appliance Timer (Indoor, #0611422)
2 x Project Source Power Strip (6 Outlets, 2.5 ft, #0598996)
2 x Jiffy Seed Starter Greenhouse (50 plants)
1 x Jiffy Natural & Organic Seed Starting Mix (12 Quarts)
Putting it together:
Step #1: The first thing you want to do is build the shelf (follow the instructions). Decide early one how much room you want between shelves, as they're not easy to adjust later. I kept the most room for the bottom shelf so that if I decide to, taller plants will go there.
Step #2: Mount your power strips and do some simple wire management. Well, you don't have to neatly tie up your wires if you don't want to.
Step #3: Plug in the Digital Timer and leave it there for at least 30 minutes. You will probably notice the time is going 2 - 4x faster than it should, but that's normal when the battery is discharged or low. After 30 minutes of charging (per instructions) press the reset button on the timer and it should start behaving normally. After that time, it's time to set the time. I also set a single timer to turn on the lights at 7AM and off at 7PM. This is up to you, but 12 hours of light is going to be the minimum your plants probably need.
Step #4: Place the Jiffy Seed Starter trays with their lids in place on each shelf (to help determine light height). Install the bulbs in the light fixtures then mount 2 light fixtures per shelf and let them hang so that the bulbs are about half an inch above the Jiffy tray lids. This should give you about 3 or so inches above seedlings after they've come up and grown a few days. Use the S-Hooks with the chains the light fixtures came with to hang them. The S-Hooks also make it easy to adjust the height of the lights in the future. Make sure to plug the lights in and give them a good test run for a day, if any fixtures or bulbs or bad you'll know it before the store return policy is up! I say this now, because you're not going to use the lights until your seedlings come up.
Step #5: Take your Jiffy Seed Starting trays out and start filling them up with Seed Starting Mix. I watered mine down after filling them and then filled them again - it'll still sink down later on though. Don't pack the mix too much or it'll make it too hard for the seedlings to break through.
Step #6: Plant your seeds per package instructions. I put 3 - 4 seeds per pot (germination is never 100%). Don't plant them very deep, mine are just maybe under a quarter of an inch deep. Once you have them all covered, water everything gently, cover the trays, and put them under the lights.
You'll want to unplug your lights for the first several days until the seedlings come up. They don't need light until then.
TIP: To help your seedlings out, it might be a good idea to put a heating pad under each tray (one made for this purpose, not one made for your back aches). This is actually important if you're growing pepper seedlings as they seem to want that heat to germinate!
What I'm growing:
Last year, growing full sized tomatoes was a failure. I'm going to try a few types of cherry tomatoes this year. The peppers I grew last year were strong and healthy, but it was too late and too hot for me to get any harvest from them. For peppers I'm going to try one that did well last year and two others I'm interested in. I don't know of any seed sharing going on in my area and they seemed pricey online, so I bought my seeds at Lowe's where I tend to buy everything else. The price is still pretty crazy so be sure to check how many milligrams you're getting on the package. 200+ MG is best. Some of my packets were less than 80 MG and barely filled 2 - 3 seeds per pot in a 10 pot section. Tomatoes tend to germinate with a pretty good success rate, but in one pot only 1 out of 3 came up, so I suggest 3+ per pot.
Here's the list (The herbs in the picture aren't yet planted, still deciding):
Tomato: Supersweet 100 VF, Tomato: Juliet, Tomato: Red Cherry (Large), Pepper: Mild Jalapeno,
Pepper: Serrano Chili (Not Growing, Too Spicy), Pepper: California Wonder 300 TMR, Pepper: Grand Bell (Mixed Colors)
Here's the current growth of my babies:
The picture was taken just 6 days after planting, that's ahead of schedule! Some may look like they're leaning for light, but that's because I had not yet purchased additional fixtures until later that day. These are the tomatoes already up and growing. The peppers aren't quite out of the ground yet, but many of them half germinated on another shelf.