Going top shelf with seed flats

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Besides our foray into homemade potting soil, we took one other big step this year to improve the lives of our garden seedlings. We now have a very official-looking shelf system to hold our flats.

Used to be, we’d plant about three flats with the first round of seeds, then crowd them under a single fluorescent light fixture suspended between two barstools in the kitchen. This arrangement always became even less elegant a few weeks later when it was time to plant more stuff. The one light wasn’t enough for all the seedlings (the ones on the outside would grow on a slant, reaching for the light) and we’d constantly be stepping around the horizontally-spreading collection of flats. Watering them created a small lake on the floor.

So, we treated ourselves to a set of steel mesh shelves, which can comfortably hold eight seed flats. Mr. Green Scene also bought and rigged up some used fluorescent light fixtures so that there can be one hanging above every shelf. When it’s time to water, it’s much easier to pick up each flat to bring it to the bathroom. And suddenly, we’re feeling muy professional.

But wait! It gets better. Some crops, like tomatoes and peppers, germinate much better in warm soil. This is why gardening catalogs sell heat mats to go under the flats…and we would have spent $50-100 to buy enough.

Recipe for homemade heat mats: a layer of rigid foam insulation on the bottom, a set of incandescent rope lights coiled in the middle, and a sheet of metal flashing on the top. The lights make heat, which warms the metal, which warms the soil. We had most of the materials on hand as scrap, so the whole thing cost $15.

There’s nothing quite like happy little seedlings!

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