Friday, March 13, 2015

Seed Starting, 2015

It's that time of year again! The sun is shining, days are longer, temperatures have been extremely mild in Chicagoland, and we're about eight weeks away from the "last frost" date for zone 5. All this means it's seed starting time!

This year I finally got around to upgrading my seed-starting system, which has consisted mostly of just a self-watering tray (itself an upgrade over peat pots) on my one large windowsill, sometimes with a wimpy desk lamp shining on it. The fact I have any successful vegetable seedlings is kind of miracle. So I went out and got a very simple T5 fluorescent lamp and supports that can be raised and lowered:
Broccoli, spinach, leeks, and five types of lettuce, hopefully appearing soon

It has a reflector so maybe the entire tray will get regular light, something that was decidedly not the result with the cone-shaped desk lamp perched precariously over the tray.

I got this set-up at Big Grow, an indoor growing and hydroponics store in Lake in the Hills. I've driven past it for years, knowing they probably carried materials that I would find useful, but I never got around to checking it out. I was pleasantly surprised! The guy working there was very helpful and translated my very un-helpful description ("uh, a stand with a fluorescent that I can move up and down over the seed tray, like an all-in-one-type-thing"), and brought me right to this little kit!

Also, the entire set-up was much less expensive than the fancy aero gardens and such that are available from Miracle Gro and Gardener's Supply. I've considered getting one of those, but their price tag well north of a hundred dollars would completely ruin any sort of financial benefit from growing my own vegetables. Listen, I grow herbs and vegetables for lots of reasons, the least important of which is monetary, but still...for a small garden like mine it's really hard to justify that kind of money on seed growing!

If all goes well—i.e., the weather stays decent, there's no damping-off disaster, etc.—I'll plant these cool-season veggies in the garden in mid to late April, then start some annual flowers, like cosmos and zinnias, before reliably warm weather in May!

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