A newly-shelved seed table awaits its plastic enclosure. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Planting seeds indoors in winter to get a jump start

I start many plants inside in a dedicated seed table

By Mary Lowther

I start many plants inside in a dedicated seed table for several reasons: our summers are too short to bring some crops to fruition, slugs et al spring up unbidden to eat every last seedling planted out during the tail end of winter, and I have more control over growing conditions indoors.

I built a wooden tier of shelves to hold trays of seeds and attached hooks to the undersides of the shelves to hold chains attached to fluorescent light fixtures. I plug each fixture into a multi-socket bar with an on/off switch and a cord that plugs into a timer. This timer plugs into an extension cord that plugs into a socket in the house. The timer can be set to start and stop the electrical supply to the lights any time I choose, as long as no one else unplugs it, but I’m not mentioning any names.

I made new shelves this year that are four feet wide, built to accommodate four foot fluorescent light fixtures that I attached chains to at their ends. These chains hang from hooks under the shelves that the flats of seedlings sit on, allowing me to move the lights up or down, keeping the lights just above the seedlings so they never touch the lights. When the lights are kept at most, two inches above the seedlings, the plants won’t grow leggy trying to reach the light.

I’ve got a heating pad that I’ve never used. It seemed like a good idea when I bought it, but when I started reading up on heating pads I learned that seedlings that are molly-coddled in warm, ideal conditions face a more difficult transition when they are transplanted outside. Maybe I should dredge it out this year and try it for myself.

In previous years I covered each individual seed tray with a length of Remay, tucking in the edges to keep out ubiquitous maws, not the least of which are cabbage moths that emerge in early spring and refuse to keep still for my fly swatter. Cabbage moths lay eggs that quickly hatch into voracious caterpillars that consume every cruciferous plant in their paths and then hungrily eye other seedlings. It’s time consuming to remove the Remay pieces every time I want to water the flat, plus the filmy material catches on corners of the flats, but I’m no carpenter, so after sussing out the intricacies of enclosing the unit with mesh, I gave up, telling myself that Remay isn’t so hard to work with after all.

Six mil clear plastic wraps the whole system to keep in the heat from the lights, but I’m not happy with the Gordion Knot I’ve produced when opening and closing the front every morning and evening to prevent overheating in the day and cooling off overnight. So I’m back to Mickey Mousing the enclosure again, wishing that girls had been allowed to take shop when I was in school.

Maybe I should take a short course in carpentry.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

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