I’ve been getting myself organized over the past few weeks – my basement growing area has been sorted out (after being a right mess for most of the winter), seeds have been ordered & received and I even have some green poking out of the soil:
Onion seedlings coming up - this year I'm only starting a small portion in February,
with the majority being seeded in March as part of a timing experiment
When I first started growing from seed, I didn't have a nice sunny spot for them (and still don't) so I did as most do - set up a 4' shop light. It didn't take long for space to run short under that one light but I made due. In the meantime, I coveted the 3-tier Floralight stand from Lee Valley - but with a $500+ price tag, it was not in the budget. I did keep an eye out and about 4 years ago, I was lucky enough to find one on Kijiji for $85. Forget about negotiating a better price - this was a steal! I snapped it right up and after a bit of elbow grease, the chrome sparkled and you would be hard pressed to tell that it was anything but new. The owner also gave me at least 2 dozen fluorescent tubes - bonus!
I couldn’t have done without my light stand in the past few years and it’s allowed me to grow practically everything from seed. Since I first purchased it, my garden has grown quite a lot, with many more raised beds and new ornamental borders. Last season I was able to squeeze all of my seedlings under the lights, but only just. By late April/early May, I had to do some shuffling and early hardening off in order to make it work.
Each level of the light stand has a 2-bulb 48” fluorescent fixture (known as a T12) and 2 large trays which accommodate two seedling trays, placed lengthwise. I can also squeeze a few more cell packs beside the seedling trays, but it's not ideal as the plants that are not directly underneath the 2 light fixture are short changed.
|Each level comfortably accommodates 2 seedling trays.|
There's extra room along the sides for a few more cell packs but
they generally suffer as they are outside of the fixtures ideal range.
This year, I decided it was time to upgrade the lights and solve both of my issues – namely, that (1) the light coverage was too narrow (i.e. they didn’t cover the entire shelf area) and (2) the tubes required frequent replacement due to decreased intensity.
After doing a bit of research, I chose a 4’ - 6 light T-5 fixture. Although nowhere near as expensive as LED’s would have been, it certainly wasn’t cheap either, costing over $200 in our Canadian dollars for the one 6-bulb fixture. It did, however, include the bulbs – which some fixtures do not – a huge plus since the bulbs alone would have set me back around $90.
Photo credit: Amazon.com
But there’s one more important bit that really sets them apart - T5’s maintain 90-95% of their intensity for the first 20,000 hours of use while T12’s are down to 75% after only 5,000 hours. What does that mean in practical terms? I generally run my lights 16 hours per day from around February to the end of June. Let’s add 30 days to that as I’ll also run them intermittently over the summer if I decided to do succession plantings of lettuce, chard, etc. So that’s 16 hours x 180 days = 2,880 hours per year. Using these numbers, I would be hitting 75% intensity on the T12’s after only 1.5 years. With the T5’s, I’m still getting at least 90% after 7 years. A huge difference, no?
|The light has two switches, one controls the two middle lights|
while the other controls the 4 bulbs on either end.
|This photo illustrates the problem with the existing shelves & the
This lip is why only two 10"x20" cell pack trays will fit on each level
|Plywood shelf covered with shelf liner gives me|
a nice flat, 48" x 20" surface for my cell pack trays
|A 20" wide grow light and a 20" wide shelf|
doubles the amount of usable space on each level
I may have been able to MacGyver a solution, but decided to go with Plan B instead - hanging the fixture from the ceiling using clip rope hangers. These hangers are designed specifically for grow lights & they were a revelation - forget about fussing with "S" hooks and chains like my original shop light setup years ago! Hanging the light over the stand has actually worked out really well and it’s super easy to adjust the light up and down.
|The specific ones that I purchased can hold up 150 lbs per pair,|
which is more than enough for the light fixture which weighs in at just over 20 lbs.
As for the old shop light fixtures & all those tubes, they will not go to waste. I will be re-purposing them in our garage where I have wanted to replace two existing ceiling fixtures - 8 foot (!) long T-12 fluorescent monstrosities, both of which burned out in the past year (and I refused to replace the bulbs, not that I could even find any that size if I wanted to).
I do hate wastefulness, so I’m quite happy that all those “still-functional-but-not-bright-enough-for-grow-lights” tubes that I set aside over the past few years will now be put into service once again. Sometimes, my miserly ways pay off 😀
P.S. As I was finishing up this post, the big thaw/rain hit. When I went to the basement to check on things, I discovered that we had a leak - and I don't mean a "grab some towels to soak up the wet spot" sort of leak. I'm talking about vacuuming up buckets and buckets of water. And wouldn't you know it - the water was coming in right where the grow stand was.
|One issue with having the new fixture hanging from the ceiling is that the stand no longer becomes "portable".|
The leak required that I move it so the onions are now under the "regular" lights.
After the leak: My exploratory search behind the insulation
& shop-vac at the ready just in case