I live in a 786 square foot house that has no basement, only one and a half closets, and a lot of books. There is no place to set up an extensive seed starting operation. So, ever since we moved in, I’ve resorted to buying seedlings for all my warm season crops and direct sowing everything else. But this year I decided I wanted to start just a few of my own seedlings. I went to IKEA, bought an IVAR shelving unit, and set about converting it into a seed-starting station. Once the seed-starting season is over, we’ll use the shelving until to store garden supplies in our garage. Below you’ll find step-by-step instructions for building the station, plus some modifications I’d make if I was building this again (and had a bit more space).
* 1 bookcase with adjustable shelves, plus an open back and sides (such as an IKEA IVAR shelving unit. Mine is 30 inches x 12 inches x 48 inches)
* 2 22-inch under-cabinet florescent lights
* 4 7/8″ hooks
* 6 feet of small-link chain, such as #16 single jack chain, cut into 18-inch pieces
* 4 3/16″ by 1 1/2″ eyebolts and matching wing nuts
* 4 1″ S-shaped hooks
* Extension cord
* Automatic light timer
Start by modifying the light fixtures so you can hang them from the bookcase. Remove the light cover and bulb from the fixture. There should be two screw holes or slots in the base of the fixture. Insect one eyebolt into each hole, make sure the eye is on the outside of the fixture and the bolt is on the inside.
You don’t want the bolt to interfere with the lightbulb. So, place a wing nut on the bolt and screw it down a few times, making sure that the end of the bolt does not extend past the wing nut’s “wings”. Before you replace the lightbulb, pull the eyebolt through the hole until the wing nut is flush with the top of the fixture on the inside. This will mimic the position of the eyebolt when it is hanging and allow you to double check the clearance of the bulb. Put the lightbulb back into the fixture. If the bulb will not fit, unscrew the wing nut a few turns and try again. If bulb clearance is still an issue, use a standard nut and a thin washer instead of a wing nut to secure the bolt. Once the bulb is in place, replace the light cover. Repeat this process with the second fixture.
Now it is time to screw hooks into the bookcase so you can hang the light fixtures inside the case. This is easiest if you remove the top shelf from the bookcase. You want the fixtures to be centered in the bookcase and the hooks to be exactly above the bolts in the fixture. For a standard IVAR shelf (32 5/8″ by 11 3/4″), start in the upper right hand corner. Measure in 8 inches from the short side of the shelf and 3 or 4 inches (depending on your light fixture and where the bolts are) from the long side. Mark with a pencil and then screw a cup hook into place. Repeat at each corner. Once all the hooks are installed, place the shelf back into the bookcase. Note: The goal here is for the lights to be centered in the shelf and evenly spaced. If your shelf or light fixture is a different size, simply adjust the hook placement accordingly.
Hang a piece of chain from each hook. Attach an S-shaped hook to the bottom of each piece of chain. To hang the lights, hook, the S-shaped hook through the eyebolts. Plug the light fixtures into an extension cord and then plug the extension cord into an automatic light timer. Set the light timer to be on for 16 hours and off for 8 hours during the night (this ensures your seedlings get exactly the right amount of light).
* I think this seed-starting station would work best with a shop light fixture that has two bulbs in it. That way you would only have to fiddle with one fixture. I used two fixtures that are designed to be screwed in under cabinets because I couldn’t find a 2-bulb shop light fixture that would fit in my shelf and plug in (most of them were direct wire). 2-bulb fixtures that plug in are commonly available in a four foot length, so if you have the space, I’d definitely buy a bigger shelf and use that type of light fixture instead. Or, I’ve been told you can easily attach a plug to direct wire fixtures if you have some basic electrical skills (which I don’t have).
* I chose to have chains that were a little longer than I needed for flexibility. You could get away with 14-inch long chains.
* Most seed-starting trays are 21 inches long. Keep in mind with this set-up seedlings planted on the outer rim of the tray might not get enough light, because the bulbs in the fixtures are only 17 inches (even though the fixtures are 22 inches long).
* You could also hang lights from the middle shelf if you wanted to start more seedlings.