One benefit of all that snow we had this winter is that I decided to take spring into my own hands. Using my salad green containers that were destined for the recycling bin, I started some seeds indoors for the school garden.
I tried this last June, and those plants turned out well, so I was dismayed to observe that my mid-March seedlings were shaping up to be stringy and pathetic. I consulted my magic Google box and learned that a north-facing window with approximately five hours of weak sun per day is not enough light to produce robust seedlings. They just keep growing taller and taller and taller trying to find more light that never comes. You green-thumbed readers probably already knew that, but I have to learn these things for myself, apparently.
I tried to give the seedlings a pep talk, something to the effect of “if you need more light, why don’t you grow more leaves?” Then I watched as the nearest seedling miraculously grew six inches right before my eyes, then 12 more as it twined itself up in my direction and, in a final burst of energy, slapped me hard across the face with one of its yellowing, paddle-shaped leaves before flopping over in defeat.
Wow, photosynthesis really packs a punch!
To redeem myself, I did some research on supplemental lighting systems and, lo and behold, I discovered what we already knew: that I’m too cheap to shell out that kind of cash for a head start on the season. Then I came across this excellent tutorial on how to build a four-foot-long adjustable grow light out of PVC piping and a standard fluorescent shop light using only a drill and a hacksaw. I drilled the holes and cut the PVC, and then the kids helped me assemble the piping and fittings. It reminded me a little bit of the tinker toys of my youth, except the end result was both functional and perfectly presentable. Then I shoved the rest of my half-dead seedlings under the light and waited.
Within just a few days, the plants started to perk up, and then they just took off growing multiple sets of big leaves that were destined to weigh down their long, wiry stems. But the seedlings that had the benefit of beginning their charmed lives under this homemade grow light from the start look like something you’d find at a garden center. Now I have dozens and dozens of plants ready to go into the garden: kale, collard greens, swiss chard, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, parsley. They just need to spend a little time outside getting used to the wind and the sun (not to mention weaning them off my faux opera falsetto they’ve been forced to endure because drastic times called for drastic measures).
The whole setup cost less than $50, including the automatic timer that turns the lamp on at 6:00 am and off again at 10:00 pm. I was so excited about it that I went out and bought the materials to build a second one.