Monday, February 10, 2014

Gardening: Let there be light!! (Please!)

OK, as reported before, got the first spring seeds started back in the middle of January. Well the spinach and broccoli sprouted pretty quickly, within 4 days. The tomatoes took a bit longer, more like 6 to 8 days for the Cherokee Purple and the Yellow Pear, and a whopping 11 days for the Flordade. For the most part things are going pretty well, right? Well - not so right. We have very limited 'inside' space so the seed flat was relegated to the top of the refrigerator which actually lives out in the barn.

Leggy broccoli that can't even stand up on its own
The barn isn't heated but temperature isn't a concern out there since it is well insulated and doesn't drop below 50 degrees and it's even warmer on top of the fridge. Light - well that's a different story. In fact there are no windows in the barn at all so the only light comes from some shop-lights some 14' above the floor that are only on when one or the other of us is actually out there.

The Cherokee Purple tomatoes seem to be doing alright though
Long story short (I know - too late to make it short. . .) before I could get a handle on the light situation the broccoli and spinach were shooting for the sky trying to find the sun. They shot up so high so fast they can't stand up straight anymore!

The only other place we have that is both somewhat protected from low temperatures and has a window is the countertop in my van. Except that window is heavily tinted and all I managed to succeed in doing was get the plants to lean one way or the other, depending on which way I turned the seed tray.

The obvious solution, and one I should have taken care of first, is a grow-box. A fancy way of saying some shelves with lights.

The shelf issue was solved by emptying one of our many rolling shelving units of the crap that was important when I put it there yet hasn't been touched since; you know what I'm talking about, everybody's got crap like that. The light situation wasn't so easy, or inexpensive. Long ago I replaced some of the T12 shop lights in the barn with more efficient T8 fixtures so I hunted around for those old fixtures but must have given them away. So I hiked on over to one of the big-box stores and found a 48", 4 lamp T8 fixture that would do the job. Of course it came with no lamps and I was down to a single spare back at the barn so I bought a case of 6500 kelvin lamps, and while I was hunting them down came across some tube protectors so picked up 4 of those as well.

My sparsely populated seed grower with the front moving
blanket folded up on top for access
Light fixture in hand I adjusted the shelf spacing so I had two slots just high enough to slide the light fixture in (I'm planning on adding the second when I outgrow the first one.) and below each of those, a taller space to slide seed trays into. As an extra bonus, I have one more shelf above the top light fixture that just happens to be at the right height for standing and working on my computer. (I spent the last 7 years of my working career at a stand-up desk because I found I was on the go so much during the day sitting down just didn't make much sense and I still like to stand when working on the computer.)

Rather than get fancy with adjustable shelves or lights, I'll just set the seed tray on some blocks to get it closer to the light until the plants get taller then I'll remove the blocks. And to finish the whole thing off I draped it with some of the moving blankets I use when building delicate furniture.

Shelving unit:           Free since I already had it.
Moving Blankets:     Ditto
Light fixture:            $49.98
Lamps:                     $ 3.33 each   $13.32 total
Tube guards:            $ 3.68 each   $14.72 total (Yeah, I know, maybe not such a good idea.)

Total cost:               $78.02 (Man oh man! that first tomato is going to be really expensive!!)

The Beef-Steak Tomatoes will be thinned to one per cell
once the true-leaves are out
The original, and leggy broccoli and spinach center left and
the new batch of each on the right
It's been in use for a couple weeks now and seems to be doing the job just fine. They're still going, sort of, but I'm not sure if the first batch of broccoli and spinach is going to make it in the long run so I started a fresh batch of each right at the end of January. I also gave up on the Flordade since of the 9 seeds I planted only one sprouted but it is really puny and not going to win any strong-man contests.  (Update, a second, in the same pot as the first of course, finally sprouted 22 days after it was put in the ground!!)  In their place I started some traditional Beef-Steaks, which sprouted, 9 for 9, in three days.

This new batch of broccoli, grown under lights, looks
much better than the original batch grown in the dark
While all this was going on I got some onion sets in the ground too. Not actually in the ground but in one of the Grow-Boxes I bought in a moment of weakness. These things have a water reservoir in the bottom and are supposed to be self watering. We'll see if they actually work since the potting mix, which is what the instruction say is the only thing to be used in them, seems to stay awful wet.
Onion sets in the Grow-Box. It never gets down to 20 degrees
around here so they are safe outside without protection.

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