Let There be Light

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Learn how to use a grow light and create a simple grow tent for your seedlings.

I almost titled this, “You Grow Girl!”, because sometimes, even I surprise myself.  Last spring was my first time attempting to start all the seedlings we needed for our garden; in the past, we bought seedlings through local FFA (Future Farmers of America) fundraisers or from our local farm store.  

Until we moved here, to our homestead that came with a small greenhouse, we’d never had enough space to start seeds and to be honest, it really does require some forethought, organization and time management skills, which have been rather lacking since I had to stop working a few years ago.

Our first grow light setup in our greenhouse.

The seeds I planted last week in eggshells have germinated; I repotted them and they are residing under the grow light out in the greenhouse.  While this isn’t my first time starting seeds or using a greenhouse or grow light, I’m still learning and that’s GREAT! I don’t know about you, but I LOVE learning new things and strengthing my current skill base.

Our grow light is just a “shop light” we found in the barn. We bought “full spectrum” fluorescent bulbs for it and been leaving it on 24 hours a day. So far the only problem seems to be around 3 am when the chickens wake enough to see the light emanating from the greenhouse and their little sleep addled brains think it’s the sun.  I guess there might be a disadvantage with having the greenhouse so close to their coop after all.

You might remember from elementary school, “photosynthesis” is the process by which plants absorb the sun’s light, turning it into energy to grow roots and leaves.  Like we talked about in a previous post, seedlings need a lot of light, otherwise, in their effort to get closer to the sun/light, their cells will elongate, making their stems leggy and ultimately weak.  There are two color spectrums of light plants use:

  • Blue is closest to the sun’s spectrum and is what seedlings need.
  • Red is used for plants flowering and setting fruit.

We may talk about red in a later post or you can do some research on your own. For now, we will focus on all things blue…and green.

While natural sunlight is ideal, it’s not always possible this time of year when we are still only getting about 12 hours of sunlight. Fluorescent lights are great – not only do they provide the needed light, but they also put out very little heat, reducing the risk of scorching the tender seedling.  They can be purchased in light spectrums that closely match the sun’s, many replicating at least 94% of the solar spectrum. Look for bulbs that are 4200K or better – these have a blue hue that is similar to the sun.

Most plants are “day-long”, meaning they require 14-18 hours of sunlight (oops… guess 24hrs really is a bit much after all) and like us (and the chickens), they require a good 8 hours of “rest” for optimum health.  You can purchase timers for around $10 or you can schedule plug-in/unplug duties into your already busy day.  Personally, I like the idea of automating as much as I can.

Our greenhouse at night. Far too much light was escaping and not benefiting the seedlings.

I considered “rescheduling” our greenhouse lighting, however, it may still interfere with the chicken’s sleep.  Doing some research, I think I may have found a solution – a grow tent!  And, it looks easy enough for me to do on my own!  (So… that was written PRIOR to actually starting the project – it really is a two person project and preferably those two people need six arms. Oh! And at least one of those people should also be a mind reader.  You’ve been duly warned, uhm… yeah, let’s get on with the tutorial…)

Supplies used to make our grow tent.

Here’s what you will need. 

I purchased a package of these mylar emergency blankets through Amazon a few years ago.  They ended up being less than $1.00 a piece.

Since this project ended up taking both Mr. Misty and I to complete, there aren’t any photos of the process. It’s easy, just a bit awkward… especially when the design idea is in one person’s head and the other person isn’t a mind reader (sorry, Mr. Misty!).

First, I measured the area I wanted to place the tent.  In this case, I needed it to fit under the top shelf in the greenhouse.

Some advice – pick your box carefully.  I thought it might be smart to upcycle a very large appliance box, but the size was very… VERY… awkward and we ended up needing to make three cuts.

Mr. Misty reposition the grow light after we installed the grow tent – seriously, what would I do without this man?

We left the flaps on the largest piece.  The top flap serve as the top of the tent and the bottom flap will help reflect additional light.  We cut the remaining piece in half which gave us sides for our tent.  We then sprayed each piece with adhesive and carefully applied the mylar material.  We then attached the sides to the back piece with heavy duty tape and installed it in the greenhouse.

There you go!  A three-sided grow tent!  At some point, we may make it four-sided by placing a front on the box.  Before we do that, I want to make sure it doesn’t get overly warm which might injure the tender seedlings.

Do you use a grow light?  Do you have any tips you can share?

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