grow light box

Snow and subzero temperatures always give me a bad case of spring fever. It was during one of those January daydreams of tomato plants that I decided I needed a better system for starting my seeds. In the past, I’ve started seeds in our bedroom window, and although they would come up just fine, the seedlings soon became spindly. I needed a different system but I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money. So with a little research, some supplies we had at home, a couple of purchases, and technical assistance from my husband, I have a grow-light box.


hole in grow box


I lined a 14 gallon plastic tub with aluminum foil (using duct tape to affix it) and then cut a hole in the lid big enough to insert an 8.5” clamp light. Getting the correct light bulb is essential. It should be 100 watts, 1600 lumens, and 5000 K (which is about the brightness of daylight).

basil seedling

Although it’s way too early to start tomato seeds, I wanted to try out the box. I started a couple of basil seeds which should do well later in my window as mature plants. I also added to the box a couple of hyacinth bulbs that I’m forcing. I didn’t do anything special; just left the grow-light on for about 14 hours a day. As you can see, the plants are doing great!

hyacinth in grow box

If you’re interested in making your own grow-light box, please check out an excellent YouTube video by The Rusted Garden, “How to Build a Cheap Grow-Light Box for Seed Starting.”  It’s such a fun project to do when the snow is blowing outside.

snow barrel 2/2/15


Seed Inoculant

Seed Inoculant Package

The weather finally cooperated enough for me to plant our beans this week.  I planted three varieties:  Jade (green bean), Peregion and Bumble Bee, both dry bush beans.  Trying new plant varieties is one of my gardening pleasures and Peregion and Bumble Bee are both new to me.  Peregion is a small, mocha colored bean and Bumble Bee is as large as a Lima and is mostly white with a splotch of brown. Both are very pretty.

The directions on the packages of the dry beans suggested using an inoculant to increase their yield.  An inoculant is often used on legumes such as peas, beans, lentils, and clover seeds to add a bacteria that forms on their roots.  This bacteria helps the plants convert nitrogen from the air into fertilizer which in turn increases yields. This is the bag of inoculant I purchased at our local hardware store. This small packet is enough to treat 8 lbs of seed.  I had less than a pound of seed to treat, so I had plenty.

Seed Inoculant Powder

I put a small amount of the powdery inoculant in a plastic bowl and added just enough non-chlorinated water to make a slurry. I added my seed and mixed it. I wore gloves when I planted the seed.

Seed & Slurry

I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for a good yield!

What Can You Do?

snow 2013

I looked out the window yesterday, March 25th, and all I saw was snow.  This time last year our garden was already disked and lettuce was in the ground.  The calendar says it’s time to plant.  So what did I do?  I planted…indoors. I started Better Boy and cherry tomatoes, sweet green peppers, jalapeno peppers, and tomatillos.  It sounds like I’m ready for salsa, doesn’t it?

indoor seed starting

I filled peat pots with seed starting mix and placed them in yogurt containers to keep my spills to a minimum.  I used warm water to moisten the soil mix and loosely covered them with a plastic sheet before I set them in our sunny bedroom window.

It wasn’t quite like digging in the soil, but it was still quite satisfying to plant those little seeds and dream of this summer’s fresh salsa.

Newspaper Seed Pots for the Origami-Challenged

In honor of Earth Week, I’m posting how origami-challenged people like me can make seed starting pots from newspapers without using tape or staples.

Only three items are needed:

  • Newspapers
  • 8 oz tomato sauce can (or any can of similar size with no tapered end)
  • 8 oz plastic yogurt containers


  1. Pull out a two-page section of the newspaper (regular newspaper, not glossy or slick paper)
  2. Fold the paper lengthwise.
  3. Fold the paper lengthwise again.
  4. Place tomato sauce can on the paper about 1 ½ inches from the bottom edge.
  5. Roll the newspaper tightly around the can.
  6. Fold the edges over the end of the can.
  7. Place the can over the yogurt container and slip the paper off the can and into the container.

Fill the container with soil and you’re ready to plant.

Of course, the yogurt container is not biodegradable, so it must be slipped off when transplanting seedlings into the soil. But the paper is biodegradable and works just like a peat pot.

As you can tell, I’m a fan of yogurt containers because they prevent a lot of water and soil mishaps and are easy means of transporting the seedlings.

It’s time for me to start my zucchini and watermelon seeds. Looks like I have some pots ready to go!

Happy Earth Week!

Hardening Plants

Some of the tomato, broccoli, and basil plants that I had started from seed are now a couple of inches tall.  It’s time to start the hardening process, their acclimation to the outdoors.  This is my plan for hardening them:

  • Every day for at least a week, I set them outside.  The first day it’s only for about 4 hours. I leave them outdoors longer each day.
  • In the beginning, I try to keep them protected from the wind.

Some people will harden their plants for two weeks, but I’m afraid I’m too impatient to do that.  My plants will have a week to toughen up.

Hardening is not difficult, just time-consuming, and it’s very helpful (perhaps even essential?) in getting your plants off to a good start in your garden.