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DIY germination chamber

Discussion in 'Plant Propagation' started by Dirttiller25, Dec 28, 2016.

  1. Dec 28, 2016
    Dirttiller25

    Dirttiller25 Chillin' In The Garden

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    Does anyone have any ideas or plans for a diy seed germination chamber. Been looking for plans but can't find any free ones or when I do its not very clear. I'm looking at using a junk refrigerator or chest type freezer that has a metal reservoir for water in the bottom, the reservoir would have a water heater element in it with a float valve and a thermostat. Any other similar ideas out there or how to set it all up? Thanks!
     
  2. Dec 28, 2016
    digitS'

    digitS' Garden Master

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    Don't some folks use aquariums?

    I've used "the top" of the refrigerator since we junked the olde icebox. No, I'm just kidding ..;) The older refrigerators must have been pretty energy inefficient and heat rises. The top of the newer fridge doesn't seem to be quite as good at kicking out the sprouts but I still use it.

    I don't know if anything I have to say is of much help but one word of advice, check often/often. Leggy sprouts, deprived of light, are bad news.

    Steve
     
  3. Dec 28, 2016
    Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Garden Master

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    I'll show a photo of what I use so maybe what I say will make more sense. What seeds are you germinating, that can make some difference. Some seeds need light to germinate, Basil is one if I can trust my memory. Some do better in dark, some it doesn't matter. Soil temperature can make a difference too, usually the warmer the better but again, different seeds have different requirements.

    Most seeds need moisture and warmth to germinate. I built a box and put a string of old Christmas lights in it. I put hooks in the sides on the insides and ran those lights back and forth across to keep them from being tangled and to try to keep the lights from touching the wire. I control the heat by how many working lights I have in there. I also lined the bottom and sides with aluminum foil to reflect the heat up and in. I have a thermometer I stick in the soil to check temperature. I generally like it around 80 F for pepper seeds but most other things don't need the soil that warm.

    Moisture control is my biggest challenge. You want pretty damp soil to germinate most seeds but once they germinate too much moisture can kill them. I use a non-traditional method, Steve is much more traditional and quote experienced in how he does it. I'm an amateur, he's more of a pro. I put strips of wood maybe 1" high in the bottom of a plastic bin to create a place water can drain to. Then I put a plastic layer with holes, actually a black tray sold to start seeds in. Fill that with potting soil, use yogurt cups (bottom cut out) to tell me which seeds are where, and plant. To germinate I put the cover on that plastic bin to hold the moisture in, you'll see water condensing on the bottom of the lid.

    Now comes the dangerous time. If they stay that wet after they germinate you can get "damping off" or they can otherwise die. After enough germinate I take that lid off and set up a small fan to dry the soil surface out. Watering from the bottom is recommended at this stage but I water between the yogurt cups.

    To avoid those leggy sprouts Steve mentioned they need lots of light. I try to keep the lights right n top of the tallest plants, 2" is the recommendation. I was still getting leggy sprouts, so I put white paper on both sides to reflect the light back on the plants from all sides. That helped a lot.

    Grow Stand.JPG

    To me that is the basics. Get the soil warm enough for whatever you are germinating, keep the soil moist until they germinate, then dry out the soil surface while keeping the lower down moist enough. Then provide lots of light. The white insides of your refrigerator/freezer should really help with that.
     
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  4. Dec 28, 2016
    Dirttiller25

    Dirttiller25 Chillin' In The Garden

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    I'll mainly be starting vegetable plants ( tomato, pepper, squash, cucumber, etc), some herbs (basil,oregano, chives, cilantro, thyme), and some annual flowers ( marigold, zinnia).

    I've heard of the aquarium technique steve but I grow and sell vegetable plants so I need a bit larger scale like the fridge. 2 years ago I used my cabinet incubator and it did pretty well but I'm needing more room to start more at once. Last year I used a heat mat a family member gave me but it only holds one tray and again I'm trying to expand lol. I start my seeds in a 1020 size tray and just sprinkle the seeds on the soil and lightly cover. Easier and faster than plugs when it comes to seeding and transplanting. As far as lighting I saw one fridge where they used rope lights. Everything I've read says to check everyday and as soon as some sprout take them out.
     
  5. Dec 28, 2016
    majorcatfish

    majorcatfish Garden Master

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    @Dirttiller25 there are a million designs and of course everyone has their preferences and mainly how much space you willing to take up...
    here at the house i am limited on space, so had to get creative and it's been working out great.. of course it has gone though many improvements over the last couple years. and it will get another this winter.
    heres the basic layout
    5' wide 8' tall covered in plastic and using a 6 bulb t-5 highbay fixture. the lower shelf was an add on this last spring ran out of room and used my old t-12 lights..
    DSC_0011.JPG
    i do not use heating pads, use a little personal heater and dial in the soil temperature to 70 * using a digital meat thermometer. plus use a 12vdc fan from an old computer to circulate the air when the heater is not on. <upper right corner>
    most important is to keep the trays off the table for even heat flow and optimal soil temp.
    some debate weather to use foil or flat white paint/paper to reflect the light back to the plants..each their own on this point..
    DSC_0008.JPG
    during that important germination period and early growth period will lower the front plastic cover.
    DSC_0006.JPG
    once they are mature enough usually i leave the front plastic up since the house is set at 70 anyway, but if you have indoor cats you need to guard those little ones.
    some 4' plastic fencing works great
    DSC_0007.JPG will use jack chain to raise the light, but some times the plants out grow the others, since you want the light 4-5" away from the plants, so will use whatever is handy to raise the others and to keep the water level when watering. DSC_0015.JPG
    you have to plan out how many of each your going to plant in the garden. my top table can have 72 3x3 pots, but thats a bit crowded thats why the second lower table<still working on that area> mainly for starting seeds for the raised beds.

    the nice thing about this design it double for junk storage till around march then the junk room is a mess till april..
    and if you have a hard time getting direct seeds to take you can still start them indoors and harden them off outside...

    hope this gives you some ideas on your design..
     
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2016
  6. Dec 28, 2016
    majorcatfish

    majorcatfish Garden Master

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    and of course you being in the south a little plastic over the fall veggies you can extend your growing season probability longer than here.
    DSC_0001.JPG
    DSC_0019.JPG
     
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  7. Dec 30, 2016
    Chickie'sMomaInNH

    Chickie'sMomaInNH Garden Master

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    what i bought for last year's seed starting was a flexible heat mat from the seller below. i got the 11" wide by 4' long & i used it for 4 seed flats at a time on it. i just turned the flats around to even out the heat on the shelf. it worked well & i'm thinking of getting another this year.i've been using T8 lights over the trays but i've been hoping to switch over to a combo with some program-able LED strips i bought last year. i have a roll of silver film i will be using to help seal the shelf to keep it bright enough.

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Heat-Sprout...hash=item35c980dfbb:m:msHY_oDL1Fad4iDKbA6WdMg
     
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  8. Mar 4, 2017
    Zeedman

    Zeedman Deeply Rooted

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    If you have the space for it & want to start a lot of plants, one of the cheap, collapsible greenhouses can be converted into a good-sized germination chamber. The one I use (think it was called a 'germinette'?) has a collapsible aluminum frame, and came with mounting hardware for (6) 6-foot-long wooden shelves, three on each side (I had to buy the lumber). It has vents to allow air flow, and a zippered entrance. I mounted T-12 shop lights below the top two shelves on each side, suspended by hooks & chain, and controlled by a timer. To keep it warm, I used a small Patton electric heater, controlled by an electric baseboard thermostat... but the thermostat was recently upgraded to a sealed thermostat found in a garage sale (!!!).

    The shelves needed to be braced, or they sagged in the middle... and since I bottom water seedlings, the shelves had to be level. I found that I had the best temperature control if the unit was placed in my garage; the cooler temperature prevented the unit from overheating when all lights were on. A cool basement would probably work as well. The exterior is covered by moving blankets & sheets of cardboard for insulation.

    The lighted shelves will hold a total of 8 trays. When T-12's were commonplace, I was easily able to find bulbs that were bright enough to leave the plants in the chamber until they could be set outside. Federal efficiency standards, and the advent of T-8 & T-5 bulbs, have gradually reduced the availability of the 3000+ lumen T-12 bulbs (and even HO T-8's are getting hard to find at decent prices). So now I germinate heat-loving seeds in the 80 degree chamber, then move them onto a shelf under a 6-bulb T-8 hi-bay fixture located in the house. Seeds that prefer cooler temperatures are germinated directly under the hi-bay fixture. I'll try to post a photo.

    Been using this germination setup for about 20 years; some years I push through 20 trays or more, in several waves. It is outstanding for getting the best germination from old seed, especially for beans and peppers. I found I had to turn the temp down for tomatoes, though, or I got too many "helmets".
     
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2017
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  9. Mar 4, 2017
    thistlebloom

    thistlebloom Garden Master

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    Zeedman, is your garage insulated? Ours is attached to the house, but water will freeze when the temps get down into the low 20's and teens. I think the portable greenhouse idea
    in the garage is a great idea for starting my plants. My house is small and it's doable inside, but makes for cramped quarters and kind of a mess. I think I'll check into that some more. Thanks for the good information.
     
  10. Mar 4, 2017
    Zeedman

    Zeedman Deeply Rooted

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    @thistlebloom, my garage is also attached & unheated, and poorly insulated. It cools much more slowly than the outside temperature, but still gets below freezing... hence the blankets. I am starting my first plants now. When it is this cold, condensation tends to form on the inside of the plastic cover; to reduce this, I open up the vents a little more, and just bite the bullet (so to speak) on the increased electrical consumption. The lowered humidity & increased air circulation prevent mold which might otherwise build up in a closed system (a lesson learned the hard way in the first year). The garage is a nearly sterile environment, so no insect problems, and much lower humidity than the basement.

    My living space is also limited, which was the reason I initially chose this setup. I moved from a 1600 square foot home (where I started all my plants on a large lighted shelf indoors), to a barely 1300 square foot home. At the time, we were still raising 4 children, so using the house was not an option. The new home, however, has close to 2000 square feet in unheated utility space (full basement, attic, garage) so plenty of room there.

    We are empty-nesters now, so I was able to dedicate a space indoors for the hi-bay lights, and turn seed starting into a two-step system (or three step, counting the solar greenhouse). This allows me to start a lot more transplants than I used to, which in my temperamental climate, has vastly increased my success rate. Bean transplants saved my season last year, when all the direct-seeded beans rotted in the ground.
     
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