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Seed starting


Joined: May 09, 2008
Posts: 40
I am planning on starting my own seeds this year, but I have any sunny windows to setup a table in. I am planning on setting up a table in the basement, but I need a light. I don't really want to spend a ton of money on some sort of fancy setup. Has anyone tried using normal residential light bulbs for starting seeds? There is a hydroponic shop here in town, and the guy there didn't really have anything cheap enough for me needs, but recommended I look for a light that was rated at 6500 kelvin.

I've never seen lights rated in kelvin before. I was thinking about just trying the highest rated lumen light I could find, but I figured I would see if anyone could suggest anything here.

Joined: Jan 17, 2010
Posts: 31
Normal residential light bulbs, either incandescent of flourescent or compact flourescent, really don't produce much of their light in the color spectrum range that seedlings 'prefer' for vegetative growth ( i.e. your 6500k rating ).  You can obviously make up for this by using higher wattage standard lights, but this is energy inefficient and can actually create heat problems for fragile seedlings.

The least expensive option is to purchase 'grow light' versions of incandescent, flourescent or compact flourescent bulbs and install them in a bargain basement light fixture.  Of these, straight and compact flourescent 'grow light' tubes are specifically available in a 5500-6500 k color spectrum bulb - but at a significantly higher price than standard 2700k-3500 k household tubes.  But Amazon and other online retailers have these 'grow lite' tubes available pretty inexpensively.  However, be aware that the inexpensive T12 ( 1.25" diameter) flourescent tubes are being 'outlawed' by the US gov't in favor of more expensive but more efficient T8 ( 1" dia ) and T5 ( 5/8" dia ) flourscent tube styles ... meaning that although you can buy a T12 grow light setup very cheap right now ( that's the reason T12's are being blown out at big discounts ) you may not be able to find replacement bulbs a couple of years down the road.  Perhaps that is a non-issue if you only plan on running T12 grow lights a couple of months per year during seed starting season.

if you want flourescent grow bulbs that are specifically rated for 6500 k color spectrum to do the best job with seedlings, these are also available at T12 blowout prices right now from pet supply stores ( they're normally used for aquariums )

However, depending on how many seedlings you plan on starting, and depending on whether or not you're going to have to buy new fixtures along with new grow bulbs, you may want to consider a relatively new 'high tech' option ... LED grow lights.  I use three 'all blue' 225 LED arrays to start my seedlings over a 'table' area of about 6ft by 2ft.

The drawback to going the LED route of course is that, with the T12 blowout opportunities currently available, the purchase cost of LED's is probably double or triple !  But the 'normal' pricing for 'grow bulbs' in the compact flourescent, T8 or T5 sizes with matching new fixtures is actually fairly comparable to the price of LED's in terms of equal light output ( and the LED's are still more energy efficient).

In terms of efficiency, my three * 14 watt LED array puts out more light at 6500 k than a two tube 48"  2*40 watt flourescent grow light fixture ( when new at least ).  This means peanuts for seed starting use only, but can become significant re electric bill savings / payback in applications where the grow lights are being used throughout the year.

Note that regardless of the type of grow lights you choose, it will be necessary to periodically adjust the height of the light fixtures to match the growing seedlings.  My LED fixtures come with hanging straps and weigh next to nothing thus making readjustment very easy ... although adjusting a 4ft flourescent fixture hung on chains isn't very difficult either.

And again no matter what type of grow lights you choose, you'll also probably want to invest in a cheap plug-in 24 hour timer to automatically switch your grow lights on for 15 hours and off for 9 hours every day.  These are dirt cheap via Lowes / Home Depot etc.

Paul Cereghino

Joined: Jan 11, 2010
Posts: 855
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
Supplement natural light if possible.  Plus, consider a fan both for air circulation (disease) and to strengthen stems (seedling exercise.)

Paul Cereghino- Stewardship Institute
Maritime Temperate Coniferous Rainforest - Mild Wet Winter, Dry Summer
Jeff Mathias

Joined: Feb 19, 2009
Posts: 124
Location: Westport, CA Zone 8-9; Off grid on 20 acres of redwood forest and floodplain with a seasonal creek.
Hi David,

I imagine this isn't really helpful but; with the exception of a very few seeds, if you are just starting seeds not growing them on then only heat is necessary not light. I have had great results starting seeds with the plastic bag method using colloidal silver.


"Study books and observe nature. When the two don't agree, throw out the books" -William A Albrecht
"You cannot reason a man out of a position he has not reasoned himself into." - Benjamin Franklin
Pat Black

Joined: Dec 20, 2009
Posts: 123
Location: Northern New Mexico, USA
I have started literally millions of seedlings under nothing more than standard 40 watt cool white florescent bulbs from the hardware store in the cheapest 2-bulb 4-foot shop light fixtures I can find. I use 4 bulbs (2 fixtures) to cover 4 standard 1020 flats. =160 watts. For the vegetative stage, the cool white is fine. You can also approximate full spectrum by mixing cool white and warm white bulbs, but it is not needed for just transplants. You want the bulbs only a couple of inches away from the leaves. When I am pushing things along, I put the seedlings on 18-24 hours of light. When I am less rushed, I run them as little as 10 hours a day.

Correct germination temperature makes a huge difference in seed starting.

Timing is critical to producing a start of the optimal size for transplanting. For example, a 4 -5 week tomato plant in a 4" pot is a great transplant. For squash or melons, a 2 - 3 week plant is good.

paul wheaton

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 17402
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
Well ....  I know that this is the "organic practices" forum and not the permaculture forum ... but it is the permaculture forums site, so I'm just going to throw this out there and then shut up:

The mighty sepp holzer no longer transplants anything.  He starts everything outside.  It the Austrian Alps.  And, he says, his plants do better this way.

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Joined: May 03, 2009
Posts: 461
Location: Inland Central Florida, USA
I'll agree that plants generally do better planted direct but for certain plants in certain climates, the only real option is transplanting.

Perhaps look into planting methods that would allow you to direct seed and use a season extender to protect the seedling in ground.

I know sometimes for me, the only way I'm gonna have the plants survive is if I can plant advanced seedlings (otherwise the other half will tend to weed and isn't all that good at knowing what is a weed and what is a desired plant.)  I do attempt to stop him from weeding but I guess some habits are too strong to break easily.

So, I like to direct seed but sometimes conditions are just not that easy for that.  (Especially if it is a seed or plant I don't know well yet, I like to start some in pots so I can learn to recognize the seedling.)

Anyway, as to the lighting for starting seeds, it will depend on where you are (your climate or location are not noted so I don't know where you are.)  If you can plant out quickly after starting the seeds, you don't need too much light.  If you are going to be growing the seedlings indoors for longer, you need better light.  Having the light close to the seedlings and a fan going can help be sure the seedlings are stocky and sturdy.  If the light is too far away or not bright enough the seedlings will get leggy and weak.


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
I made a redneck green house with a rectangle of straw bales and a pick up bed topper.  The seedlings lived on tables inside the bales, and I put the topper on at night and took it off in the day to expose them to sun and breezes.  This worked in my climate because I wasn't attempting to start things super duper early in the year, and we have fairly warm early spring days even though it still freezes at night until May. 

The only reason I can think to start seedlings early in an artificial environment is to get a slightly earlier harvest from certain crops.  I'll start a few things this year for a slightly earlier harvest, and direct seed everything else.  But I generally agree with what Paul said.  Not really worth it over the course of a whole season.  I know people who NEVER direct seed (they claim that animals will eat the seeds?) and that to me is creation of needless work. 
suomi--Nicola Lloyd

Joined: Aug 19, 2009
Posts: 50
Location: Finland
Yep sepp holzer has some really good things to say, however you do have to adapt to your own particular climate.
For example We cant plant much untill  end of may -begining of june, its usual to have snow till then. I agree that is better to plant direct into the soil and we do that with some stuff but there are also a number of plants we do start off inside.
Our summer is short here, June-end of August!  we do have the long days which makes a massive difference but when september arrives well thats about it really! so we are always looking for ways to lenghten our season and you have to be qute imaginative.
I love reading Sepp and mountains of other permaculture books but no one seems to cover our short summer,long winter living!  Maybe we will just have to write our own book!
(oops sorry if this has gone slightly off topic! ops

Joined: May 03, 2009
Posts: 461
Location: Inland Central Florida, USA
suomi, where are you located (just generally, we don't need an address)?  You could add it to your profile so people can have an idea of where you are asking or giving advice from.

Yea, we must always adapt the books and advice since most of the books were written from a particular climate/soil viewpoint.  My climate is often quite topsyturvy to the way most of the books are written.  About half of the garden veggies are winter crops here and I can only find a hand full of things that will actually grow through summer here.

I often find I need to start tomato seeds in protected locations so that the plant will be able to start producing fruit before it gets too hot in the summer (our summer usually doesn't have cool enough night time temps for good flower or fruit set.)  I think I'm actually having better luck growing those though winter in the greenhouse here than I've ever had growing them during the "normal" seasons.
suomi--Nicola Lloyd

Joined: Aug 19, 2009
Posts: 50
Location: Finland
Hi TCLynx
Im actually living in Finland! near a town called Savonlinna about 60klm from the Russian border.
Our summers are short but everything explodes into life, we have long days 22hrs daylight, now the flip side is our winters are pretty long and cold. Winter arrives around Octcber and is here till.... could be end of may or June!
So as you can imagine the are a few challenges!  but a challenge feeds the imagination and we have to be creative, but its a great place to live
subject: Seed starting