The Anatomy of My Seed Starting Setup

I just upgraded my seed starting setup for this year, and I’m super excited to tell you about it!

Four years ago, when I was planting my first garden, I tried starting seeds in pots on a windowsill. But because I didn’t have a window that got 14 hours of direct light, my plants were spindly and sad looking. Then, I went to a beginning gardening lecture at the Baker Creek Seed Bank, and learned how there are full-spectrum florescent blubs and heating mats that make starting seeds way easier. I was aware of grow lights (after all, I am from Santa Cruz and live in Sonoma County), but thought they were only for people growing pot, and you could only get them from those sketchy hydroponic stores.

starting under light

But the Seed Bank carried stand, a light, and heating mats that were especially made for vegetable starts, called JumpStart, made by Hydrofarm, along with the plastic seed trays and covers, and I bought it all up. The second season I bought a second stand & light system, which are also carried at Harmony and Friedmans. I love my lights, but the stands are a bit clumsy and take up a lot of space.

janky seed starting setup
previously used janky seed starting setup

Whenever I needed to start seeds, I’d have to forfeit my kitchen table, or concoct some super janky space so I could set up the system. Such as two chairs, for example, or dedicate a kitchen counter. None of which my 1000ish square foot homes have ever been able to easily give up. Relinquishing them to the garage or some other remote space wasn’t possible- I knew if they were out of sight, they would be out of mind and I’d forget to water them.

Enter, (drum roll please)…..my new setup!

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I got a 5 shelf wire unit from Target, and put it in the kitchen between the sliding door and the kitchen table. I created three spaces for seeding trays by spacing 4 of the shelves 18” apart. I abandoned the stands that came with my lights, and instead used S-hooks and chain to anchor the light to the shelf above it, which gives me the option to adjust the height of the light to accommodate for the increasing height of growing plants. I wanted to have a third light, but I couldn’t find it sold separately from the stand at either Friedmans or Harmony, so to avoid having to troll the grow shops, ordered one off Amazon this morning. I have heat mats on two of my shelves, but will leave the 3rd without to accommodate seeds that need cooler soil, or for seedlings once they are “grown up” and transplanted into 4″ pots.

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Ideally, seedlings need 14-18 hours of light, with the remaining hours in darkness. Because no matter how much I love to garden, I’m not waking up at 5am to turn on my grow lights, so I have them set up on a timer. Because I don’t have a plug near my rack (epic fail, I should have thought about this when the kitchen was being remodeled) from the timer I then have an extension cord with a power strip attached with the lights plugged in. The heat mats don’t need to be on a timer, but should be on at all times while the seeds are germination, so I have both of those hooked up to another extension cord plugged into the wall. (Disclaimer:  I’m assuming this setup isn’t 100% safe, so if you do the same thing and you blow something up, don’t blame me). To get a handle on the cords, I have them fastened to the rack with zip-ties.

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I’ve also put together a container with a Sharpie, my plant labels (cut up mini blinds that I salvaged from a dumpster) and a chopstick that I use to poke down seeds, so everything is handy when I’m seeding. A spray bottle filled with water that I use to keep the soil damp also has a spot. The soil I use for seeding, and my collection of 6-packs, 4” pots, and flat trays live outside on the porch. I keep a towel nearby so I can set it down on the kitchen table as a work surface to keep things clean.

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Once all my plants have moved outside, I’ll move the rack into the garage, or hopefully one day, the garden shed. Obviously, it’s a bit awkward in the middle of my dining area, but I’m glad to have my table open! I’ve capitalized on it being there, and added some hooks and hung up the rain jackets. I’ve also got a tray of potatoes on the very top tier, to let sprout before planting out in March. I started off my seeding season today, and planted peas and lettuce. I’m feeling positive about my new setup, and feel it will be a good gardening year!

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10 thoughts on “The Anatomy of My Seed Starting Setup

  1. Nice to see how your system evolved over time. One thing when setting up my seed starting area that really frustrated me was how all the flat trays are flimsy plastic. This makes watering precarious and each year I have to throw out broken trays that wont hold water. Such a waste! I have yet to find an alternative that fits nicely on the heat pad.

    My lights have been moved around from living room to dining room… at least they are always a good conversation starter!

  2. Looks great! I’ve missed seeing you on Facebook. 🙂

    I was going to ask if you’re going to go overboard with the starts again this year. I’d rather buy/trade from you than a store. I especially liked the Bush Romas, the paste tomatoes (what varietal were those?), and were you the one with the striped zucchini? Anyway, let me know, we’re doing garden planning right now and our budget is REALLY small this year due to my illness.

    1. Thanks for the hello, Kirsten! I’ve been keeping fb interactions low- I found I’m a much happier person when I’m not bombarding myself with it. And yes, I’ll be starting a billion seeds again this year, and I’ll have lots extra. Pretty sure you got the costata zuchinni, which I think I have seeds for still, but I’ll have to check the tomatoes. I’ll be sure to let you know when I’ve got them ready 🙂

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