Like I mentioned in a previous post about starting seeds indoors, light is an important part of growing plants generally, but especially of starting quality plants indoors. Even if we think the room is bright and sunny, chances are it isn’t always bright and sunny, or it’s just not at a high enough intensity to grow sturdy plants. When seedlings are struggling to get the light they need the stems become long and spindly and the plant over all is just not as strong as it could – or should – be.
So how do you fix the light problem? An easy solution would be to just hang some shop lights over your plants, leave ’em on for 12 hours a day, and done. But if you’re not wanting to drill holes in your wall and/or ceiling to hang lights from, never fear – there is another option.
A few years (and by few, more like 8 years) back I attended a native plant propagation workshop put on by my local extension, master gardener, and native plant society groups. As part of the workshop, we were given the plans for making an indoor light garden frame so that we could go home, build the indoor light setup, and grow beautiful native plants. Well, being a diligent student and all, I did just that. It’s really a pretty easy process (I only needed my dad’s help a few times as I recall….he might recall differently, but he’s not telling the story), and it worked wonderfully. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what happened to that light frame; moving away from home and back a couple times results in not really knowing what happens to stuff that gets left behind. Luckily for you, though, my dad knew exactly where the instructions were, so here you go:
Materials Needed for the PVC Frame:
3/4″ schedule 40 PVC pipe, about 29 feet total split into the following sizes:
- 4, 4 ft lengths
- 4, 20 in lengths
- 8, 4 in lengths
- 4, 10 in lengths
- 12 T’s
- 4 L’s
4 hooks or screw eyes
Materials Needed for the Lights:
2, 4 ft shop light fixtures
4 shop light flourescent bulbs (cool white, warm, or full-spectrum)
Surge-protector power strip
Heavy duty electrical timer (3-prong)
Tools Needed for Assembly:
PVC cutters or hacksaw
Electric drill and drill bits
Directions for assembly of PVC Light Frame:
1. Cut PVC segments to correct lengths.
2. Drill pilot holes for hooks at the ends of the 4 ft segments 1 inch in from the edges. Be sure that the holes line up so both will be at the bottom of the pipe. Insert the screw eyes or hooks into the pilot holes.
3. Being careful not to jam the pieces too tightly together, attach the connectors to the segments and assemble as seen in the figure above.
4. Install fluorescent tubes into shop light fixtures.
5. Attach chains to the light fixtures and hang from the screw eyes or hooks. These can be adjusted as needed, depending on plant height. You’ll want to keep the lights 2-3 inches above the plants.
6. Plug the light fixture cords into the power strip, and plug the outlet cord into the heavy-duty timer which should be plugged into the nearest electrical outlet. Set the timer for a 12-16 hour light period when seeds are sprouting. (When I made this before, I didn’t include the timer – I just had to remember to turn the lights on when I woke up and off when I went to bed, which worked just fine for me.)
There you have it! A fairly easy solution to one of the major problems with starting plants indoors.
Source: Maggie Wolf, 2007, USU Extension, Utah Native Plant Propagation Workshop