Starting from Seed with a Grow Light: Part 1

Fall 2014 planting

Fall 2014 planting

Last year, we put in an 8′ x 8′ raised garden bed, with the hopes of increasing our self-reliance by growing a majority of our own vegetables.  Not having a clue as to where to start, I scoured the internet for ideas and finally settled on the raised bed, planted in accordance with ecological gardening principles.  Read more about ecological gardening principles here.  I purchased most seedlings from the nursery, and the spring and fall 2014 planting seasons were marginally successful (at least not bad for a first-time gardener!).  Start-up costs were reasonable, but certainly an investment of no small proportion.  And that was in part due to buying seedlings instead of starting from seed.  So now that I’ve got a little gardening experience under my belt, and I mean a very little, I’ve decided to reduce long-term planting costs by starting from seed.

Why start from seed

Starting from seed provides greater variety and more control over plants than shopping in most local nurseries.  There are boundless seed catalogs available online where you can select plants that meet your criteria such as organic, heirloom, etc. and are just right for the growing conditions in your area.  And a packet of seeds to grow several plants costs far less than buying those plants as seedlings from the nursery.  To top it off, you don’t even have to drive those messy, dirty little plants home in your car because you know they always tip over or are too wet!

Why I bought a grow light
Seed placement

Placing a seed

I’ve tried starting seeds before, but it hasn’t worked out.  So far, I just haven’t been good at it.  In part it’s due to the fact that there is only one, tiny spot in my house that gets enough sun.  It’s about 2′ x 2′ and awkward to reach, so watering is a chore.  I do however, have a guest room (and very rarely a guest) with enough space to accommodate a grow station.  Since I dream of being a master gardener someday, I decided to take the plunge and purchase equipment guaranteed to improve my success rate (keeping fingers crossed).  And since the set-up is portable, it’ll ensure I can start seedlings no matter where I live, because this rental house is NOT my final destination!


I purchased most of these items from my local hydroponics store because I wanted them and I wanted them right then!  And I like to support local business, especially when they have great customer service.

Grow Light – Sun Blaze T5 High Output Fluorescent Lighting Fixture, 2-Feet, 2 Lamps

Seed Tray with Growing Medium – Root Riot 25 Cube Tray (Qty 2)

Heat Mat – Super Sprouter Seedling Heat Mat

Light Timer – Dual Outlet Grounded Light Timer

Shelving – @Home Depot

Grow light set-up

Grow light set-up

A word about cost – there are so many choices that you can find solutions to fit nearly every budget!  I spent a little more than I needed to, but I got what I needed and was able to support a small, local business.  If budget is important to you, then research, research, research!  Here’s the system I might have chosen if I were a bit more budget conscious (and able to wait patiently for the goods to arrive).

What I’m planting

I’m starting organic seeds that I found at the local Home Depot because they were available immediately, I’m just starting out and am invested more in the learning process than the harvest at this point, and I haven’t researched online seed companies yet. With a little help from this planting guide, I was able to plan what to start first, and when to start it for my area (Zone 10). Here’s what’s going into the garden this year, from seed:

red bell pepper
sweet pepper
cherry tomato
san marzano tomato
purple tomatillo
pinto beans*
sugar pod 2 snow pea
dark star zucchini
marketmore cucumber

Look for Part 2 of this article where I share lessons learned from this experiment!

*Last year my honey was using some decades old pinto beans that had been used as pie weights and baked numerous times for sling-shot practice.  Lo and behold, a single pinto bean plant grew in the dirt between the raised garden bed and back wall.  Any seed that was that determined to grow deserves a chance in my book, so I saved the seeds and will be planting those seeds this year, just to see what happens.  We don’t intend to eat the pinto beans.  But if the crop turns out, we will pass them along to another gardener.

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