I had a few days off for winter break from school (I'm a teacher), and my mother commented that she wanted to start setting up an area where she can start seedlings for the spring garden. Considering the next day was her birthday, and I had a shed full of wood scraps, I decided to build her one for her birthday. I surfed the internet a bit, looking for ideas of a structure but didn't find any that really fit our needs and our space.
We have two tables of slightly different heights with two pieces of plywood and MDF board, of different thicknesses so one large surface area is formed to hold the plant trays for the seedlings. We also have a pile of shop lights that we use for plant lights. At first, the lights are very close to the soil in the pots and as the plants grow in height, the lights needs to be raised. The ceiling in this room is 8 feet high, how can the lights be suspended and adjusted? The tomatoes, peppers, artichokes, eggplants, and others all need just the right amount of light. If I want to eat fresh veggies in the spring and summer I had better find a plan!
So my Dad and I sketched out a plan and headed off to our local home improvement store for some PVC. The basic idea was to create a box above the table with PVC pipes and connectors and a few pieces of wood onto which we can add screw hooks that we can hang the lights.
Step 1: Measure Your Table Surface and Cut Your PVC Pipe to Size
Make sure you measure your table carefully, and then cut your PVC. The total length of the base of your structure needs to include the length of your connectors as well as the pipe length. I choose to use one inch diameter pipe for its structural stability. If you use smaller diameter pipe you can use a small handheld pipe cutter, but this was too thick to cut that way so I used a hacksaw and a bit of sandpaper. Be sure to clamp the pipe onto a table to stabilize it while you are cutting.
Step 2: Assemble the PVC Structure
Using connectors, assemble the frame of the structure and set it on the table. At this point, nothing is holding the frame onto the table so walk carefully around the area for this stage.
Step 3: Cut Small Pieces of Wood to Support Frame
To secure the frame on to the table top, which is a piece of plywood sitting on top of the table larger than the actual table top, find a scrap piece of wood that fits inside the pipe just right. That means not too tight and not too loose.
Then go through your random screw box and find a set of screws that will go through the length of the piece of wood and go into the plywood about a half inch. I used two inch screws for this, so I cut the small pieces of wood to 1.5 inches long using a hand saw and bracket so they were cut square -- for this step, being square is very important!
Once I had cut eight of these wood pieces, I measured carefully from the edge of the board, and made an x on the end of the wood piece to find the center. I used a drill press to pre-drill a small hold for the screw to ensure the screw went through the wood straight. I used a clamp to drill the hole but didn't photograph the clamp for this step. Then I screwed the piece of wood into the board, and put the piece of pipe over top of the small piece of wood. Now if the cat wanders over to investigate the whole thing will not fall on him!
Step 4: Build the Wooden Top Structure
Now that the PVC frame is assembled and stabilized, its time to build the wooden structure from which the lights will be hung.
We have a shed with a large selection of scrap wood. We found some rather nice, already stained boards that we cut to size using a chop saw. We cut four to go across the short way, and two the long way. The lights will be hung on hooks that will be attached to the longer boards.
To attach each board, we clamped it in place, pre-drilled a hole, and then screwed the board onto the pipe.
Step 5: Measure and Attach the Hooks to Hang the Lights
When starting seeds to transplant to the garden in spring, its important for each plant to receive adequate light from the plant lights so the lights need to be placed close to each other to provide that lighting. Measure those distances carefully, pre-drill a hole and then screw in the hooks from which the lights will be hung.
We use chains to hang the lights from S hooks so that its easy to raise and lower the lights as needed by the plants.
Step 6: Hang the Lights
Sounds easy! But there are a lot of lights and they all need fluorescent tubes and they also all need to be plugged into an outlet. Use a handful of cable ties to manage the cable mess.
Step 7: Place the Plant Heaters and Plant Trays
Some plants require warmer temperatures to germinate, so several of the plant trays are placed on top of warming blankets. The plant trays are then placed on top of the warmers, and the pots of soil and seed will be placed on top of these. Make sure that there are not any holes in the bottom of the plant trays because water and electricity don't mix and those heating pads are expensive.
When plugging in the shop lights, be sure to use a proper drip loop. That means that the cord will come down from the light, then back up before it goes into the power strip. If water runs down the cord while you are watering the plants, it will run onto the floor and not into the outlet. Remember that comment about water and electricity not mixing? Also make sure that everything is plugged into a ground fault interrupt outlet, or buy a power strip with a build in GFI since there will be water near the outlet.
Step 8: Order the Seeds!
Now that the structure is ready, its time to select the seeds, place the order, buy the seed starting mix, find the pots, and then finally...
plant the seeds!!
Its still a little early for spring seed starting, but its never too early to grow some micro-greens for salads during the dreary winter months!
To keep all those seeds organized, it helps to sew a few storage bags out of coordinated material.