Though the skies are overcast and we are still regularly threatened with snow, this is the time of the year when the thoughts of gardeners turn to seed starting. Starting your own fruit, flower and vegetable plants from seed lets you explore a wider world of cultivars and varieties that aren’t available from local greenhouses or nurseries. After all, these businesses have to sell what they grow to the general public so they can’t afford to devote a lot of shelf space to rarities. But once you venture into starting your own plants from seed, you can indulge your horticultural fancies to your heart’s content.

Those with lots of south facing windows and deep sills may be able to start seeds in those windows, but most of us need some artificial lighting help in order to be successful. For years I regularly lusted after seed starting light tables like the ones marketed by Gardeners Supply (below). Unfortunately, its $649.00 price tag has always made it and others like it beyond my reach.

Seed Starting Light Table

However, as the old saying goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” About ten years ago, I came up with a relatively low cost alternative you might like to try.

My seed starting light table begins with a set of chrome wire shelving that is four feet long, 54 inches high and 18 inches deep like this one on the right. 856607004008lg I found this particular set of shelves at lowes.com on the internet for $100, but sometimes you can find the same type of shelves on sale at your local big box store (LBBS). For convenience sake, I also added a set of castors to make moving the table around easier.

Shop Light
The artificial light for my plant table is provided by six of the cheapest florescent shop lights I could find, the kind that you hang with chain from a hook in the ceiling. Again, here’s a picture of one type available at your LBBS for $9.93 each. Six of these light fixtures adds another $59.58 to the price of the light table.

Buying regular 4’ fluorescent light bulbs by the twelve-pack saves money, and it’s been my experience that the regular fluorescent bulbs work just as well as the so-called “gro-light” bulbs. If you buy a twelve-pack of 4’ bulbs, that’s another $36.98.

The last two components of the light table link everything else together. A six outlet power strip is a minimum to plug in all of your shop light fixtures. You can find these for as little as $3.74 at, you guessed it, your LBBS. Power Strip 2


Digital TimerFinally, to turn the lights on and off, you’ll need a three-prong timer like the digital timer I bought to run my light table this year from Amazon.com. You can do without the timer if you’re always home and meticulous about turning the power strip on and off, but I know my limitations so I have a timer which set me back another $18.73.

You’ll need some miscellaneous items like six 12” lengths of chain so that you can raise and lower the light fixtures to be close to your seedlings and six additional “S” hooks to hang the lights. I’m estimating that this miscellaneous category is another $5.00.

So, for about $225 (or less depending on whether or not you find things on sale or you already have shop lights around the house), you can set up a seed starting light table of your own like mine.
That’s a savings of $424 over the fancy model from Gardeners Supply!

Completed Seed Starting Shelves

Here are a couple of close-ups of how I zip tied the power strip to one of the shelving posts and of how the the shop lights are connected to the shelves via the chains and “S” hooks.

Power Strip Hanging Lights

This spring, I put my shelves to use early on starting perennial and annual flowers. The blue-eyed grass (not a grass but a native iris), pink soapwort, and nicotiana (flowering tobacco) are already coming up (I’m sooooo excited!), and this weekend I’ll be planting up several varieties of cauliflower. I admit that getting a great plant table at a huge savings just warms the cockles of my stingy little heart, but watching those little green seedlings peeping out of the soil is the real payoff!

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