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Build Your Own Greenhouse Seed Starter

Packet of seeds being poured into the soil

If you want to start a garden one of the cheapest ways to do so is to start your own plants from seeds. You can go out and buy a mini-greenhouse kit, but why do it when you can make one from easy-to-find materials and supplies.

Building your own greenhouse is a really easy and cheap way to start flowers, vegetables, or herbs for spring planting. Planting seeds is a miracle in the making…drop one in soil and up comes food, flowers or herbs, what could be more exciting?

Why Start Plants from Seed?

  • Save money
  • Grow varieties you want
  • A way to enjoy gardening in the winter
  • It's fun for the whole family

Starting seeds is an easy way to get a head start on the kitchen garden. This seed starter greenhouse is easy to put together using materials that you may already have or can easily find.

This easy design has a frame that can be set up anywhere you have an electrical outlet. You could also use a sawhorse or hang the shop light from the ceiling by attaching long chains.

Material List for Seed Starter Greenhouse Frame:

Material List for Seed Starting Accessories:

  • (3) 28 quart plastic storage container with lids (Sterlite is one brand) – use 2 containers for the seed starter greenhouse and 1 container for soaking pans of seeds.
  • (2) 100 Christmas light string
  • (4) ½ aluminum disposable baking pans
  • (1) Bag of seed starter, grow mix or fine textured potting soil
  • (1) Thermometer
  • (1) Electric Timer
  • (3) Plastic clothes covers from dry cleaners or other type plastic to go over the top of greenhouse frame
  • Packages of seeds (your choice)

Building Your Greenhouse Frame in 5 Easy Steps

  1. With a PVC pipe cutter, or a small-toothed type hack saw, cut the 10 foot section into the following lengths: (1) 48", (2) 16" and (4) 6" pieces.
  2. Push a coupling onto one end of each of the four 6" pipes.
  3. Then connect a T-connector on both ends of the two 16" pipes. One end will connect to the 48" pipe at the top, and the other end will attach to the four 6" pipes (feet) at the bottom. A rubber mallet can be used to make sure the connections are snug. It should look like this when completed:

    Seed Starter Frame

  4. Remove shop light fixture from box, hook the chains through the holes at each end. Wrap the other end of the chain over the top of the frame and attach to any chain link. You may have to open the end chain link up a little to make it easier to hook and unhook, as you will have to adjust light fixture height now and then.

    Seed Starter Lights

  5. Insert one cool white and one warm white fluorescent tube in the shop light fixture. When you plug the shop light in one tube should look pink and other one blue. Now it is time to start preparing your greenhouse for seeds.

Complete the Greenhouse with the Seed Starting Accessories

  1. Lay the cover (lid) of the 28 qt container top side down.
  2. Place 100 light string on top (which will actually be the underside of cover).
  3. Put the 28 qt container on top of lights with two ½ size aluminum pans in each (or other containers of your choice).
  4. Have plastic ready to provide a cover.

    Completed Seed Starter

Making Your Seed Starter Greenhouse Operational

  1. With a large nail or sharp pencil poke drainage holes in bottom of the ½ size aluminum pans.
  2. Fill the pans with 3-4" inches of seed starter, grow mix or fine potting soil.
  3. Broadcast seeds on top of soil (don't worry if you have too many you can always thin later). Dividing the aluminum pans into halves or quarters is fine as long as you choose seeds that have similar germination times (this information is usually on the back of the seed packet).
  4. Sprinkle a light coating of soil mix on top –planting depth is generally 2-3 times the thickness of the seed. With a dry hand palm, or a small block of wood about the same size, lightly tamp the top layer. This ensures good soil contact with the seed.
  5. Label the seeds with masking tape or plant markers
  6. Place seeded aluminum pans in the third 28 qt. plastic container, filled part way with water to soak the seeds from the bottom. Should the mix dry out before seeds germinate, simply re-soak.
  7. Put a layer of dampened newspaper (blanket) on the top to keep seeds warm and moist (most seeds germinate in the dark but for those that need light like petunias use clear plastic).
  8. After putting the ½ size pans back in the 28 qt. plastic containers, set them on the cover with the light strings (plugged in) to provide consistent warmth for the seed germination.
  9. After a few days, check under the newspaper daily until you see some sprouts poking through.
  10. After you notice the sprouts, remove the newspaper altogether, unplug the light strings, make sure the plastic greenhouse cover is in place and turn on the shop light. For healthy sturdy seedlings the light should be within 2-4" of the top of the plants (the light intensity is strongest near the center of the lights so rotate the pans every now and then so seedlings are uniform and sturdy).
  11. Seedlings will need about 12 -14 hours of light per day. Set the timer. Use the thermometer to monitor temperatures. Try to keep temperature consistent with no more than a 10 degree drop at night. (i.e. 70/day, 60/night)
  12. Gently water seedlings from the top. Keep moist but don't over water. Overcrowding can lead to problems, so thin seedlings anytime after they have produced their first set of true leaves (these leaves come out after the little round cotyledon leaves - usually within a couple of weeks). Snip at the base rather than pulling out so neighboring roots are not disturbed.

Helpful Hints

  • For an added measure of protection and to provide humidity keep a spray bottle filled with Chamomile tea to mist seedlings.
  • You can thin the seedlings and leave in the pan until they move to the garden, or you can transplant seedlings into other containers and start additional seeds.
  • About 10 days before plants go into their final destination, slowly introduce them to the outdoor weather climate (hardening off process). Move plants to a shady, protected area out of direct wind like a covered porch for a couple of hours the first day, increasing the time and sun exposure each day until they are outside all day and night.

TSC Products That Can Be Used

Cindy Shapton
Gardening Expert for TSC
"Make Gardening fun or it will Become Work"

Asa Williams