Turning on the Lights

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On winter days like today, with soft white fresh snow falling, many of us start daydreaming about the seeds we will sow in a few months, and perhaps start planning out our key sowing dates, as well as ordering various supplies for starting our seeds.

Starting Seeds Indoors

Starting seeds indoors is something I’ve been doing for a few years now for warm season vegetables (tomatoes, hot peppers, and some herbs), and every year, I like to try new varieties or heirlooms. I’ve been successful with using my greenhouse to grow my seeds indoors, along with using appropriate supplies and soil mixes, and providing care (watering, monitoring, etc.) without the use of grow lights, however, this year, I think I’m ready to take the plunge and experiment with supplemental lighting.

Types of Lights

This post will not explain what you need, what type of lights you should get, or any of that, because I will be in the midst of researching and starting with just testing out one system of lights above some trays of seeds in a couple months in my greenhouse, however, I can tell you why I feel I should turn on the lights over my trays of seedlings for the first time this year.

Because it will improve the results – I think…

With a greenhouse, you have lots of advantages, such as space, heat, and “natural” sunlight. However, many winter days are cloudy and cold, with not much sunlight at all in the months of February and March (March is usually about when I start my warm season vegetable seeds). Cloudy days limit growing progress, but it won’t stop progress. I have been able to grow my seedlings fairly well but it does slow things down not having sufficient sunlight every day.

Heating Mats, Nursery Pots, Soil Mixes, and Labels…

I thought, because I’ve invested so much already by investing in using the heat mats for seedling trays and everything else, not to mention the cost to heat a greenhouse, why keep on spending? But, in the world of gardening, you always seem to be getting another item to improve your growing processes. I decided I would purchase one of the fluorescent lights sets to hang over the trays during germination and help the plants once they start to grow. My thought is I will only use the lights when the days are cloudy. On sunny days, I’ll allow the sun to warm up the greenhouse and provide the natural sunlight for the plants.

Seeing Lights in Greenhouses

I remember walking into a very large nursery up north once, and they had lights all hanging above, and thinking, hmmm, they use supplemental lights. From what I’ve been reading, the lights should be placed about 3-6″ above the seedling trays once they germinate, but you have to watch you don’t burn anything when you move them this close to the trays. I will be doing so and monitoring how the plants look. There are signs to pay attention to if the lights are too close, which I will know, because I’m accustom to monitoring plants.

Baskets of Herbs I Grew without Supplemental Lights

Are Lights Needed to Succeed?

Some people will argue that you most definitely need artificial supplemental lights to succeed with growing seedlings indoors, but I’ve always argued that is not 100% true. I’ll let you know what I think after my first season trial with supplemental lights for my seedlings. But, I have done it without supplemental lights for years, so you can do it, but using the lights will improve the seedlings health overall. I’ve used heat mats to help keep the soil warm in the greenhouse, and adding lights may give the seedlings an extra boost. It may take them from normal to champion status. Kind of like training an athlete. Improving each time.

Types of Lights

There are fancier and more modern light options out there beyond the fluorescent types, but I’ve decided I will take baby steps this year. I want simplicity, ease of hanging them, plug in style to an outlet, and give the lights a try. I’ve just ordered the system, and some more nursery pots because I know I’ll go thru them light crazy. Then I decided I need more labels, and the supplies list begins!

Light to Germinate

Most of the seeds I grow require light to germinate (some seeds require darkness), and they need light to grow well once they have germinated in order to grow strongly. Using a greenhouse really helps of course, and/or using the fluorescent lights will improve the results – but if you use both a greenhouse and supplemental lights – it should be awesome, I hope. As long as all other factors are done appropriately along the way, such as using good seedling mix, accurate timing of starting seeds before the frost dates, and monitoring. I usually check my seedlings every day once they germinate.

Plants Produce Their Own Food

Plants use light to produce their own food. If light is not available after they germinate, they are slower growing, they may be stretchy looking from reaching for sunlight, but once natural sunlight is provided on sunny days, if they experienced a day or two of clouds, they tend to rebound very quickly in a greenhouse setting. Plus a greenhouse gets very warm on sunny days! Once I use the new supplemental lights on the cloudy days, I should see them be stronger than ever before. Stay tuned as I share my progress.

Cathy Testa
containercathy at gmail.com
Broad Brook, CT
Zone 6b Area

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