Skip to content

Mary Lowther column: My Mickey Mouse winter growing setup

Online one will cost around $200 plus tax
Sunflower seeds planted under this grow light should produce enough seedlings to harvest in a week or so. (Mary Lowther photo)

By Mary Lowther

Why bother setting up grow lights and filling a flat with rich soil and seeds, prepared to continue feeding plants all winter? The heating pad my flat of seeds sits on costs money to run, as does the fluorescent light overhead, but the return of tasty, nutritious food is worth it, David says. I hate paying for any more electricity than I have to, but I must admit that fresh greens in winter are probably worth the expense.

According to several sources, winter sun doesn’t emit enough energy through our windows to properly feed plants so grow lights are recommended. Also, our house gets pretty cold overnight and might kill whatever I’m growing, so I’m using a heating pad that I hope doesn’t draw too much electricity. Gardening author Steve Solomon highly recommends using a 315 W ceramic metal halide (CMH) grow light because, emitting light at 96 per cent of the solar spectrum, this light supersedes all the others and it uses so little electricity that it will pay for itself after six months. Given that online one will cost around $200 plus tax, this is quite an investment that I’m not ready to make yet.

Therefore I set up an admittedly Mickey Mouse affair that works and incurred no more cost than the use of electricity. I mixed the potting soil, using one third garden soil, one third compost and one third vermiculite because that’s what I had on hand, but I could have used coir. To this mix I added one cup of organic fertilizer, spread it into the tray, moistened the soil and sowed sunflower seeds over it, burying them a bit. Under the tray I spread the heating pad designed for flats of seedlings, then I covered the tray with plastic until the seeds started sprouting, then removed it. A light sleeping bag wraps around the whole affair to help keep the warmth within.

After the first harvest of greens, I’ll spray homemade compost tea on it and get a second harvest. If this works well I’ll chop up the root mass and sow lettuce and spinach next, but I won’t try tomatoes because apparently these fluorescent lights don’t emit enough of the sun’s spectrum to grow fruit.

That would have to wait until the day I decide to spend the money on an expensive grow light.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.