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the right lights for starting seeds  RSS feed

 
Posts: 11
Location: Mid Missouri north of the Ozarks
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Dear Permies Family....  I'm needing to re-think my whole seed-starting process. In the past, I've used florescent lights but only had the single blulb fixtures. These are completely insufficient. What do you all use? My husband wants to use the broad spectrum LED's but they are quite expensive...  ideas that you've used that were successful?
 
pollinator
Posts: 4339
Location: Anjou ,France
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I have always been a fan of that big free golden one out side - it's full spectrum from infra red up to ultra violet and instead of being designed for seeds , the seeds are designed for it :-)
Joking aside why do you need lights ?

David
 
Posts: 236
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I think david is on to something but if you want to use lights my experience is that multi bulb T5 fixtures work well, and also generate a fair amount of heat which can be nice. I've also heard great thngs about LEDs and if you plan on using them for years on end it will mean less bulb maintenance, less nasty bulbs, and lower electricity use. Also I see you are in Missouri so the extra heat from fluorescent ballasts might not be beneficial to you. But again consider david's thoughts on no lights, maybe make a cold frame, and you can always add a seedling heat mat if the temp is the issue.
 
gardener
Posts: 1620
Location: USDA Zone 8a
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A south facing window helps and you can use aluminum foil or a mirror to increase the sunlight.
 
gardener
Posts: 392
Location: Sierra Nevadas, CA 6400'
110
dog hugelkultur trees woodworking
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I've been using T5 fixtures (4' long with 2 bulbs) with good success for a while now. Seedlings don't benefit from full-spectrum led lights as much as mature flowering plants do. If you choose to go down the LED path, one thing to keep in mind with the LED grow lights is the actual wattage coming from the wall is the wattage you should be looking for. The "equivalent wattage" is a made up number. Watts is a measure of energy, and seedlings need energy. You should be looking for around 25-50 Watts per square foot.

Another thing to keep in mind is the containing area where you're growing your seedlings. Are the walls far away? Are the lights close to the seedlings? White/reflective walls that are close to your seedlings can help a lot, maybe even build a box. A good 30-40% of light comes from the edges, not the top.

As someone who lives in a cold-weather, mountainous, pine tree forest, I can sympathize with needing lights to get plants going. Late winter is just far too extreme to get plants started outside here, and the design of my house means I don't have a south facing window with direct sunlight.
 
gardener
Posts: 3465
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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I use standard 4 foot long fluorescent tubes with 6500K (daylight) bulbs.
 
Posts: 177
Location: ALASKA
5
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I've always used florescent lights. Four foot four bulb with the "daylight" bulbs in them.  Always have good seedlings this way. You can put aluminum foil under and on the sides to increase the reflection of the light.  It can help.  I've thought about changing over to LED, but they are a bit pricey for me right now.  My garden starts are always started off indoors early then moved to the greenhouse sometime in April when I can keep it heated reasonably well during the night then to the garden in late May.  My climate conditions dictate that some stuff is started quite early if I want a crop.  I have Tomato's going now and will start some of my other stuff next week.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1360
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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I had the best results sprouting my seeds on the verandah outside but with a heatmat underneath, it has to stay over zero at night of course.
 
Posts: 11
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I have been using CFL's of different styles, T4's and such for many years.  When the bulbs needed to be replaced a couple years ago I started buying and using LED'S.  The LED's are now affordable, reliable, work much better, use much less electricity, and more.  I still use CFL's for some purposes.  But LED's have become my first choice.  I have a plant nursery and do hybridizing ... so I have anywhere from a couple to 15 or more "grow lights" operating at any given time.  The savings on electricity is very notable for me.  I would much rather use the sun as well.  But I live in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin.  I use my green house as much as possible.  But the cost of heating it and insufficient sun for good plant growth is a major obstacle a few months out of the year.  So, even in the green house, I supplement the sun with a grow light and can grow crops that would not grow otherwise.  Things like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers ... stuff I would have to preserve, not eat or pay a store to have shipped here.  I have not had good luck with the "screw in style" of LED's ... so do not recommend those.  They work well ... but burn out to soon ... and that disgusts me for many reasons.  But the larger units that hang ... I have had good luck with.
 
Posts: 66
Location: Zone 4B, Maine, USA
11
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We are experimenting with grow LEDs for seed starting for the first time this year; we don't have a lot of daylight hours yet. The cost (and waste) of the tried-and-true fluorescent solution drove us to try something different. Here's what we're experimenting with:
https://www.amazon.com/GLIME-Waterproof-Flexible-Greenhouse-Hydroponics/dp/B077BS677N/

72W, 300 LEDs (5050 type) on 5m roll. 5:1 red:blue ratio. $30.

We are also going to using mylar sheets to keep the light in the seedling shelves. Should be interesting to see what happens!
 
Posts: 8
Location: Winchester, IL (West Central)
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Hello, I built a new seed starting system this year and so far it's working great. I've used a wood frame with a 4 foot shop light and sunny windows in the past, but I acquired an adjustable shelf and 5 more shop lights for free this winter. I bought adjustable light hangers for very cheap from amazon (lord forgive me, but they're so easy) and I've expanded my seedling capacity tenfold. For the shop lights, I use one "daylight" 6500K bulb and one regular bulb, these are T12 48inch. I read that it doesn't really matter, but using both a "red" and a "blue" bulb provides a wider spectrum of light. I purchased a heating pad this year, and I'm amazed how much faster my seeds are sprouting. I had broccoli sprouting within a day! I keep a light on this area with my wood frame light so my seedlings don't start stretching out to find the sun. Hopefully next year I can get turn the 60+ windows I've collected into a respectable greenhouse! Good luck!

 
Posts: 4
Location: Bagdad, Ky
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I have a baker's rack with ordinary shop lights mounted underneath each shelf on small chains so the light height can be adjusted. I also have plastic floor runners lining the shelves so water doesn't leak down on the lights. Each shop light has one warm and one cool bulb bought off the shelf at Lowes. There are two shop lights under each shelf. I've been using this for several years and has been successful every year. Oh, and I use a timer - on at 7 AM, off at 7PM. One more thing - I have the baker's rack just a few feet from my wood stove.
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Baker's rack
 
pollinator
Posts: 245
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Many years ago I got frustrated with trying to balance the need for some extra light for seedlings and the benefit of using as much natural light as possible. Our solution was to use a pulley system that allows me to quickly raise the lights during sunny periods and drop them for extra light early in the morning and in the evening. The lights are on a timer that comes on from 5 am to 10 am and again from 4 pm to 9 pm. On really cloudy days, I sometimes opt to hit the over-ride switch to keep the lights on. This year my spouse splurged and bought some of the LED grow lights and re-wired the fluorescent fixture to accept them. I've been pleased and impressed by them, but I admit I don't have an old fluorescent fixture to do a comparative study of the two systems with approximately identical plants.

With light being my limiting factor for growing outdoors plus the need to have plants large enough that the slugs don't eat things in a single bite, I find starting plants indoors and then transplanting them is less frustrating than direct seeding for most veggies.
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With the light raised, the sun is not blocked by the fixture.
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I used plastic containers and spacers to get the plants close to the light in it's lowered position. I use a slip knot to keep it higher if I've got taller plants than the "default position".
 
Posts: 23
Location: Southern Alberta
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My experience:
-florescent lights seem to be good for starts.  I use grow bulbs, have heard using a warm white and a cool white bulb works fine
-florescents produce a fair amount of heat and have caused overheating problems when used in an enclosed cabinet
-stacking them can provide the warmth needed rather than having to use warming pads.  I have had problems with overheating with an enclosed stack.
-you can have a little more selection of light spectrum  using LEDs
-being able to adjust the height of the lamps above the plants is a must to prevent them becoming too leggy
-the LED lights can be hard on the eyes and somewhat blinding.  There are special glasses you can use to avoid damage from too much exposure
-LED lights are more focused than florescent so I would tend to go with LED if you are using an open rack in front of a window, florescent with the lining below if enclosed.
-hydroponic shops sell a white one side, silver the other plastic that can be used to "wrap" your grow areas to keep the light and moisture in
-next year I think I will go with a florescent 2 tube fixture and an LED fixture in each 2x4 bay, stacked 3 high, seeds on top where its warmest and migrating the trays downward as they grow

my 2cents worth.
 
Posts: 295
Location: SW PA USA zone 6a altitude 1188ft
18
trees
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Last year I used fluorescent fixtures from the big box store for the first time, no heat mats. I was very unhappy with the results. In the past I had just planted in doubled foam coffee cups on the south facing window sill with a furnace heat vent under it. I was unhappy with the results with the lights. Seeds took forever to sprout and grew slowly.  Some seeds took a month or more to sprout. I replanted some items and then a long time later a lot of the seeds finally sprouted. I blamed it on the heat generated by the lights going up and pulling cold air over the trays? I used a lot of new seeds, most of the same variety I'd been planting from seed saved from the previous year.

I only grow heirlooms anymore. I had been getting late blight and the year before last thought some of my seedlings began suffering while still in the coffee cups. So I replaced my seeds with bought seeds. So it could have poor germination from old seeds or from seeds unaccustomed to sprouting in my environment, zone 6.

So this year I am planting seed saved from last years crops. Mostly beefsteak tomatoes. I've also acquired some new tomato varieties. So I'll be able to compare the new seeds to seed from my own savings.

I guess I agree with David, old sol shining on a south facing window is best. BUT it's possible the foam cup kept the seedlings warm. I'm going to plant some seedlings late and set them out late. I'm going to experiment with getting some tomatoes to produce later in the season, so that I may get a better crop in the fall. I'll plant those in the coffee cups.
 
Posts: 1
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I use flouresent lights as well. I’ve tried a few different types and they all seem to be pretty much the same.

One thing that I would like to share is the way I plant and water my seedlings. I love to use soil cubes on mesh trays for easy watering.  I put the soil cubes in a mesh tray and then into a normal tray. When they need to be watered, I pull the mesh tray out and place it in another tray with water, watering the hole tray at one time. When they seedlings are ready to plant, I never have to harden them off since the root are air pruned and quickly shoot into the garden soil once planted (never root bound).

I also place a clear lid over the seedling when first planted and keep them out of any light when germinating them. Crack the lid so not too much water builds up.

Soil blocker (this is the only size you need)
http://www.johnnyseeds.com/tools-supplies/seed-starting-supplies/soil-block-makers/hand-held-4-soil-blocker-9527.0.html

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Mesh tray, for watering
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Perma nest tray (never will replace)
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Tray of plants just coming up.
 
Posts: 55
Location: Valley City, ND.
3
greening the desert solar urban
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I salvaged the fluorescent bulb mounts from multiple fluorescent fixtures and used those with new LED "fluorescent sized" bulbs.  I simply mounted them to a 2 X 4 and they work great.

If you already have the fixtures or if you can get them as salvage, (Ask your local junk yard- people throw fluorescent fixtures away all the time, also post on craigslist, etc that you will take them.) you can do the same thing.  If you buy the kind of LED bulbs that don't need a ballast, you only need the mounts and you can toss the ballast.  In fact, where do you live?  If close enough, I got tons of these things I need to get rid of where I work.  I am in North Dakota, not far from Fargo. 

If anybody else wants them, let me know.  Be happy to get rid of them.

JR     
 
pollinator
Posts: 939
Location: Los Angeles, CA
135
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I try to start my seeds in January at the same time I get my new crop of baby chicks.

I set up my brooder inside the house and bring the new chicks home and put them into the box.  At the same time, I plant my seeds in the seed trays and place these ON TOP of the warm brooder.  In their first week of life, the brooder needs to be kept at 95 degrees, which is also a perfect temp for starting tomatoes, peppers, cabbage and all the other veggies I've got planted.  All that heat rises up and warms the bottoms of the seed trays, thus insulating the brooder while encouraging germination.

Two birds (pardon the pun) with one stone/heat lamp.

Seeds don't care if the heat comes from above or below, as they are buried in soil.  Once they've germinated, i move the seed tray out to a sunny location and put additional seed trays on top of the brooder.

Every subsequent week, the temperature in the brooder goes down my 5 degrees, so the window to use this strategy is only open for about 3 weeks, but it's amazing how much stuff you can get started in that short time frame, particularly if you've already planted the seeds and let them set in the moist soil for a couple of days prior the chicks arriving.

Works like a charm every year.

By the time the chicks are old enough to leave the brooder and got out to the chicken tractor, the plants have been transplanted into either larger pots or directly into the garden, and the brooder can be packed away into the garden shed till next year.
 
Posts: 329
Location: Michigan
15
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Whatever the reason for requiring lights, supplementing natural light is the best scenario. Use the good stuff if you are concerned about energy and environmental.

In this case natural light is not available. The system and home are pv offset (net zero home) We find this system to work well and the lights and electric fittings are watertight. This is a must have feature for vertical gardens unless construction, arrangement or fixture will provide.

About  60$ per tube but last longer and have full spectrum LEDs and option of spectrum. Super efficient. Drop in t8 replacement for bypassed ballast in fixtures. A cool tool.

http://www.valoya.com/l-series-led-grow-lights
http://www.valoya.com/bx-series-led-grow-lights

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This. Exactly this. This is what my therapist has been talking about. And now with a tiny ad:
What makes you excited about rocket ovens?
https://permies.com/t/90100/excited-rocket-ovens
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