big rig: my circa 1989 seed-starter stand
YOU CAN BUY ONE IN A CATALOG, or you can make your own seed-starting rig as I did 20 years ago. It’s still growing strong. I promised the details in a comment the other day, and got reminded of my stray remark, so here they are:
In 1989, the stand cost $175 to build, including three shop-light hoods and the six tubes to fill them (one warm, one cool bulb in each unit). It took a handy friend five hours to create. Today it would cost more, but perhaps you have some of the materials, like leftover plywood from another job that you could piece together?
Scale the design down to accommodate, even making it just one level. And think about other bits to recycle: Perhaps the debris in your garage includes an old shop-light hood that can be called into action? Better yet: Have a castoff bookcase or shelving unit that could be remodeled into this kind of set-up?
My seed-starting stand is a big rig (I like writing that: big rig) and can hold six flats plus miscellaneous small pots all at once. To big for most rooms in the house, it’s meant for a basement or somewhere else it won’t be in the way. Ready-made rigs, light included, that hold just two trays run from $79 at Charley’s to $99 at Johnny’s (both are tabletop models) and up for freestanding. Those that hold anywhere near this much are harder to find, and in hundreds of dollars.
I scanned my plan from a 20-year-old photocopy, forgive me, which accompanied the story I wrote about it that first winter in Newsday newspaper (where they have a great garden writer these days, Jessica Damiano, if you haven’t met her). The stand, nearly 6 feet tall, 5 feet long and 2 feet wide at the lower shelf) is made from these materials:
- ¼-inch plywood (shelves)
- 2×2’s (top lengthwise member that also holds upper light hood; crosswise members to hold hoods above lower shelf; small blocks to prevent shelf slippage)
- 1×2’s (legs, shelf supports, cross braces between legs)
- 48-inch 2-bulb shop lights, plus bulbs (hood size may vary)
- screw-in eye hooks
- S-hooks (2 per hood)
- Polyurethane to seal and protect shelves
- Sheet-rock screws to screw it together; wood glue to reinforce joints
We beveled near the top of the 1×2 leg pieces and mortised 2 inches in from the ends of the top 2×2 brace, to really give the structure strength. That’s what’s detailed in the round “thought bubble” in the illustration.
Think of my design as merely directional, and go from there. It needn’t even be an A-frame; up to you. Plan proportions that fit multiples of the average size of a flat, with some wiggle room. The trays need to be right under the lights (which is why my bigger shelf is a double-wide, with two shop hoods). Nobody grows well sitting outside the direct light.
The feature you mustn’t skip, though: making the height of the lights adjustable (hence the chain and S-hooks). Read my seed-starting basics page before proceeding to learn why.
A timer would be a nice addition, set for 14 hours a day or thereabouts. Again: The seed-starting basics page has all the how-to detail (hopefully) that you’ll need, once you get a light setup of some kind in place.