Grow Lights

IMG_7239For several years I have been trying to decide whether to buy indoor growing lights for seed starting. The reasons that I didn’t want to buy them included not wanting to purchase stuff in general because of the energy and resources used in manufacturing and shipping goods, as well as the use of energy to run the lights. The reason I did want them is because my sad little seedlings kept stretching out too far and dying. Last year I had good success with outdoor “winter sowing” in milk jugs and salad containers as well as using the cold frame for seedlings and bringing them indoors at night initially. But I always want to start more seeds than I have room for, and bringing things in and out is too labor intensive.  

My friend Rebecca had suggested that using indoor lights to start perennials would be a more eco-friendly approach than growing annuals as the energy used to start them would have more utility over multiple years of the plants’ lives rather than a single season and I found that persuasive. However, my perception of the whole thing being complicated and another project that would require a lot of time I didn’t have to research how to do it, kept me from making any decision.


With seed-starting season coming soon, I faced the dilemma again. Looking into my priorities about gardening I finally decided that getting my kids excited about growing some of our own food is super important to me and overall worth an investment of fossil fuels that would hopefully be a net gain in the big picture. So, when a couple of after-school activities got cancelled today I seized the opportunity and took the kids down to a local hydroponics supply store where I knew they sold good lights.

At the store, I was at first concerned because none of the light fixtures were manufactured domestically or in a country with good labor or environmental standards. But I was really thrilled when the clerk offered to sell me some of his second-hand fixtures, so I bought four of those and some top-quality lightbulbs and headed home. In the car, I tried to explain to my kids about the uses of the equipment that was displayed at the store including really big light fixtures that held eight bulbs. I told them how a lot of people use these to grow plants hidden indoors because there are laws against growing that kind of plant, but those people are willing to break the law because they want the plants for medicine. My son, who at 8 years old can list medicinal uses of more plants than most adults in our country, agreed with me it was pretty silly to outlaw the growing of a plant.

IMG_7254When we got home, we tested out the bulbs, rushed through dinner, and then cleared out the Legos and books from a metal shelf in Jordan’s room. Then we looked around the house for a good place to move the shelf. Jordan decided to put the setup in front of a window in the living room where we’d be able to see our seedlings easily and not forget to water them. We carried the shelf downstairs, found some string and tied the lights onto the shelf, then plugged them in and turned them on. High fives all around-we thought it looked really cool and was far easier than we’d expected!

IMG_2026We brought over our sad, stretched out seedlings from the kitchen window and set them up under the lights. It kind of felt like the plants were happy to feel the light on them. Jordan called his dad over to check it out, and Chuck came over and suggested we wrap aluminum foil all around to reflect the light inward. Jordan enthusiastically ran to get the foil, tape, and scissors, and started covering the back and sides of the shelf. We had to break for homework before we could finish, but we were very happy with the progress! Chuck said he thinks he knows where we have a couple of timers we can use so the lights turn on and off automatically. I’m really excited about starting some sprouts and some salad greens in the next couple of days!

Do you use grow lights for seed starting? Do you have any advice to share about how to use the lights? If you have anything to add, or just want to share your own experience with seed starting, please post a comment below.



4 thoughts on “Grow Lights

  1. Wow, it looks like you have an awesome little growing station there Marija! I was thinking of starting some seedlings very soon myself, but I didn’t realize there were so many growing issues with them. I was thinking of just setting them up by the sliding glass doors in the back. Will I have long little sprouts that will die if I do that?

    Sent from my iPad



    1. Thanks, Rob! I don’t want to discourage you from trying. If you have a sunny south-facing window you will be able to get some things started. I don’t remember if your back window are facing north but if they are, I would suggest trying the window in your front room. My windows are shaded by trees and the hill so even when I moved things around to sunny spots they didn’t get enough light. They had a weak start and even the ones that didn’t die from “dampening off” or other problems didn’t transfer well to outside and either remained stunted in growth or died once out in the garden. Its good to try though, if you have time, because every attempt is an opportunity to learn, and there are always seedlings available to purchase as a backup if it doesn’t work out.


  2. We tried grow lights one year but the seedlings were still leggy. I’m not sure what we did wrong. Maybe we didn’t have the lights close enough? One tip – make a plan for when the seedlings are taller than the space between them and the lights. We had tables and a kind of pulley system set up for the lights over them.


    1. Hi Shalonne! I have read that the lights need to be very close, but from the guy at the store I learned that there are different quality of lights, as some are brighter or have different spectrums. I bought the most expensive ones so I hope it pays off! We just used string which we will make shorter as the plants get taller. I am not sure how to deal with the different rates of growth of different kinds of plants though. I hope to do a lot of experiments with moving things out to the cold frames once they reach a certain height and see how many of them can handle that.


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