Anatomy of a Grow-op



I know what you’re thinking… and it’s not what you think. I grow stuff….nothing illegal!  This year it will be the first time I can go wild, and plant anything I want. After all, I have space to burn(in the garden, that is). So I’m going to share a little post on how I do it.

Before I get anything set up, I will order my catalogs and browse my seedy sites. I refer to my gardening books and write out the seeding dates in my Hort Task Notes (similar to what I share here). I have a little clementine box I painted up and divide all my seeds chronologically by seeding dates. It’s kind of silly, but it works for me. In a more industrial setting, I might have a nice cabinet or wooden storage box to organize everything. But I’m not that insane yet.

I gather my materials. I like Sunshine mix. I used it in school, it’s a nice price and lasts me quite a while. It’s a soilless mix, so there is no risk for fungus/insect pests, however, tiny sprouts of clover do happen on some occasions, which for the novice, gives you excitement, till you realize it’s not a legit sprout. But have always had great success growing in Sunshine. I also tend to wash and reuse my cell packs. I don’t like coco pucks/expandable pots, it’s just my personal preference. I’m sure they work fine. But reusing cell packs is free, so I use those, until they rip or split.

You can see the plastic sheeting for the capillary mat, heat mat, and light setup (which is raised and lowered as needed)

When it’s nearly time (usually the day before), we will pull out the germination table. My grow op is pretty crude and simplistic, and already I  discovered that it was not big enough for my aforementioned whimsy of “infinite grow space outside.” I had a 2nd one built yesterday.  My table is made of plastic pallets that something got shipped in on at Dayjob. I took it home, as it was a junk pallet. Some 2x4s were inserted into the corners for legs and then we put a sheet of plastic over the top. This is the plastic sheet that facilitates the capillary mat when I leave for my trip, so I don’t trouble people too much about watering my seedlings. The plastic sheet came with the capillary mat.

Seeds appreciate (and often require) bottom heat. I achieve this with heat mats I purchased from any old Mackenzie seed rack or garden center. It does the job. I plug these into my surge protector. They will be on constantly until I have no more seeds to germinate. They can’t get wet around the wiring though, so I use trays that have no drainage holes on top of them. I am careful when watering so there is never any residual water waterlogging the roots. All seeding trays that are using heat always have a dome over them. I have a nice little dome that has vent holes that can be adjusted. These can be helpful, but aren’t always necessary. Just be careful  with your watering if you don’t have them.

The Light I use is kind of industrial. I got it from someone who nabbed it from a closing Zellers. It takes 4 48” T12 bulbs. I use Plant & Aquarium bulbs, made by Phillips. If you read many pre-made light kits, you will find the bulbs included have a color temperature value of 6500K or so, so if you can’t find an agro bulb, you can probably use something around 6400+K  (such as Daylight deluxe type bulbs). I have this hooked up to a timer. For now, I keep it at 12hrs. I might diminish this as the days get longer. A lot of sun comes in those windows. Typically, it’s good to have the height adjustable, and raise the light as the plants grow, so plants don’t get too leggy. I had to raise mine. The peppers started to curl as soon as I removed them from the propagator, and they quickly recovered once I raised it by a few chain links.

Setup 2.0 as of Friday. Now we have a propagation side and a growing on side.

I will keep my packs in the propagator until I see 75%-100% germination per pack. I then pull them out and put them in open air on the table. Depending on the plant you are germinating, heat might not even be necessary. I did some kale recently and it germinated fine in a little propagator in the windowsill.

On the table so far: Tomatoes (Amish paste, Sunshine Yellow, Golden Cherry, Green Grape, Pineapple, etc), Broccoli, Cauliflower, Peppers, Cobaea (Cup and Saucer), Impatiens, Cuttings for African violets, Jade, Christmas Cactus, and a little Jacaranda I am training for a bonsai.

I water my seedlings with a VERY fine rose attached to a water bottle. These things are great! You can get them at Lee Valley. Check them daily for water needs. Pick them up, see if they seem light in weight.

Once the overnight temperatures are predictable and fair in the greenhouse, I’ll move them out there. This is completely new for me, having never had a greenhouse before.

Aside from seeding, you’ll find an assortment of other things on the table. I’ve done christmas cactus, spider plants, african violets and Jade. To save space, I put my Stargazer Lily bulbs in the Mini Crystal, in a covered tray, as we have set the temperature low to 10 degrees celcius.

That’s my method. It isn’t an end-all method, but it works for me, and it contains things I’ve collected over the years. One day, I’d really like a real propagator, if I get a more intensely professional operation.

And in case you missed the links above, I got both the bottle-top waterers and the capillary mat kit from Lee Valley tools. They have some great stuff, it’s like a toys r us for gardeners (and woodworkers).

Next week I’ll share some things going on for early April in the garden. Right now there is a little snow down, but the week looks promising for some gardening. I still haven’t been doing any hack-backs or cleanup from march due to the amount of snow burying everything.


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