Anatomy of a Seed Starting Set Up

I don't know about you, but I always feel super productive after a long weekend.  Maybe it's because I usually save some of the bigger projects around the house for long weekends, or maybe it's just the extra time to gain some ground on the never ending to-do list, but I always seem to come out of long weekends feeling rather accomplished.  On the agenda for this past Presidents' Day long weekend at our house: cleaning, painting, and organizing the basement.  And my reward for spending most of the weekend in the basement: finally getting my new seed starting set up in order.
While my set up from last year worked great, I was limited in the number of seedlings I could start and I didn't have much room to expand in that location.  Wanting to do more this year, I spent quite a bit of time considering what kind of updates I wanted to make to my set up.  I wanted something that would accommodate more seedlings, give me some flexibility in how it could be used from season to season, and be a little more aesthetically pleasing than my original improvised set up.

And while all of this was still just a possibility in my head, my husband went and surprised me with the best early Valentine's Day gift ever!  After getting the basement spruced up this past weekend, I finally had the time and space to get things set up.  Here's the run-down of the upgrades:
When I set out to update my seed starting set up, I knew that finding the right shelving unit was going to be key.  After pricing out everything from snap together shelves to lumber to build my own, I settled on a chrome wire unit that fit my size and design criteria perfectly.  The affordable five-shelf unit gives me four separate growing areas  (I could also set up a light above the very top shelf, but it's just a little out of reach for this 5'4" girl).  It is just slightly shy of 4' wide (the length of the light fixtures), which means I can easily fit 2 trays of seedlings under each light, or if I want to go really crazy, the shelves are deep enough that I could hang two lights next to each other and fit four trays across each shelf.

This particular unit also has adjustable feet, which was a really great surprise considering that nothing in our 1928 house is perfectly level.  With a few twists, I had a stable and level shelving unit, so not only is it highly unlikely that I'll hear the entire thing crash to the floor in the middle of the night, but the water will not pool at one end of the seed trays, either.
I specifically picked the wire design so I could easily hang the lights from the shelf above without having to drill holes or install hooks.  Using a couple of inexpensive 'S' hooks per light fixture, I can easily hang (and move) the lights without being locked into a fixed installation.  There is plenty of space in each shelf to move the lights up as the plants grow.  In the current configuration, I have room for plants that are 12" tall (hopefully they'll be in the garden by that point!), but I could also easily adjust the placement of the shelves with a few quick taps of a hammer if the need arises.

The light fixtures are basic, inexpensive shop lights with two T12 "cool white" florescent bulbs.  I prefer the style that hang from chains, for easy adjustment as the plants grow.
The only drawback to the wire design is the potential for significant heat-loss when using a heating mat.  To address this problem, I found a piece of scrap wood (a shelf from an old bookshelf) to place on the wire shelf when I need to use a heat mat.  The wood will insulate the heat mat and direct all the heat to the tray of seedlings, rather than allowing it to escape to the empty space below the wire shelf.
Finally, one of my pet peeves is unruly power cords, and with so many more lights and heat mats, I really wanted to keep things as clean and neat (and easy) as possible.  I attached a basic power strip to the side of the shelving unit with a couple of cable ties (right in the middle of the unit).  And in true fashion, have my lights plugged in, in order from top to bottom, with space to plug in the heat mats on the other side, as needed.  The power strip is connected to a timer, so I don't have to remember to turn it on and off every day, but I also can easily control which lights turn on and off by which lights are plugged in and switched on.  For the time being, I just need one light for my peppers, but in another few weeks, I anticipate having all four up and running.

And there you have it:  I'm all set up and ready to go.  Hooray for long weekends and productivity!

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