Seed Starting Setup

Given the fact that I have a small greenhouse, many people are surprised to find out I start almost all of my seeds indoors in our basement, under fluorescent lights. I use the greenhouse for growing the seedlings once they are up and growing, but most all of of them get their start indoors. The temperatures are just too variable in the greenhouse, and I find I get better germination results indoors where I can provide a more controlled environment.

starting seeds under fluorescent lights

starting seeds under fluorescent lights

Of course there are lots of different ways to start plants from seed, and no one way is right or even necessarily better than others. The way I go about it is largely based on personal preference. I do get questions from time to time about my seed starting techniques, as well as about equipment, lighting, and other seed starting essentials. I shared my Seed Starting 101 a couple of years ago, based upon talks I’ve given over the years, and it covers the basics for starting your own plants from seed.

lettuce seeds sprouting

lettuce seeds sprouting

I’ve used a lot of different light fixtures in the past, including ones I made myself. The one I’m using now I bought from Harris Seeds a few years back. It’s a rolling stand with adjustable light fixtures that holds up to 16 trays. It also came with a large size heating mat that goes on one shelf, heating up to 4 trays at once. I use the heating mat to start heat loving seeds like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. The stand was pricy, but it’s well made and should easily outlast me!

16 tray light stand

16 tray light stand

So far this year I have started seeds for parsley, lettuce and arugula. The lettuce was the first to sprout, as you can see in the earlier photo. The arugula wasn’t far behind it. The parsley seeds will take a week or two to come up, which is one reason they get an early start.  For the general timetable I follow every year check out my Seed Starting and Planting Schedule. I’ll be back with more updates on my seed starting activities as they happen.

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11 Responses to Seed Starting Setup

  1. Michelle says:

    That’s a very nice setup indeed. As you said, there is more than one method, and my method of late is to start the seeds on a heat mat sitting on the floor by the window. Once the seeds have germinated the seedlings go outdoors, sometimes they sit under my glass topped patio table, usually on top. The youngest seedlings come indoors at night for a little coddling, but once I know they are well on the way they stay outside. I used to use a small light setup like yours but gave up on it once I figured out the current system. I keep learning more ways to take the greatest advantage of the mild climate here.

  2. Margaret says:

    That has got to be the Rolls Royce of light stands…and here I was all excited when I got my 3 tier, 6 tray stand! The way things are going, I’ll probably have to expand on it at some point as even last year, there were a couple of weeks where room under the lights was getting a little tight.

  3. Daphne says:

    The link doesn’t work to your seed starting schedule. I love looking at other people’s schedules to see what they like doing.

    That is a really nice stand. I wasn’t willing to spend the money on something like that, so I just have shop lights with cool white bulbs over my seedlings. It works well and is cheap.

  4. Thomas says:

    Dave, I love your set up! Very impressive. I was thinking of starting some early spring greens this weekend but with 5 feet of snow outside and more on the way, I think I need to push my schedule back a little bit. I don’t foresee that we’ll be planting anything out anytime soon. Is that a hypertufa planter on the floor in the bottom picture? I tried my hand and making some a few weeks ago and it was so much fun.

    • Dave says:

      Thanks Thomas. Yes that is a hypertufa planter, with Schlumbergera cactus planted in it. A friend made it, and we got it ( and the cactus) when she didn’t want to move it to her new place. I’ve never made one myself, but it sounds like a fun project.

  5. Echo Wu says:


    How do you accommodate different heights of seedlings with the light – some grow faster and taller than others? Thanks! Even though we are still buried in snow with more to come this weekend, the act of getting seeds started seems to bring spring a bit closer.

    • Dave says:

      Good question! I try and keep plants of the same height together, and the light fixtures can be tilted both front to back and side to side. Before I had adjustable lights, I would use ‘spacers’ under the pots or flats to raise shorter plants up closer to the lights. I hope that helps, and I hope getting something growing helps make spring seem closer!

  6. mac says:

    Very nice setup, I push back my seed starting date this year so that I don’t have to deal with so many seedlings under grow light, once the seedlings are up and weather permitting I move them outside or to a sunny window inside the house.

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