Historically, a dowry is the booty a bride brings to a marriage, which might be money, fine linens, or a good milk cow. This tradition may take many forms. A few years ago, I entered a new relationship bringing along a cold frame and adjustable tabletop plant light. But in hindsight, Roger had me from the start. On my first visit to his house, it was hard to take my eyes off of his glowing three-tiered plant shelf, perfect for houseplants in winter and vegetable seedlings in spring. It began to feel like a very good match.
If you don’t have a greenhouse, you know how important it is to have a dependable source of light for your seedlings. For 20 years my tabletop plant light served me well. Now it lives with friends who are just getting started as gardeners. Although these special fixtures (like Hydrofarm’s Jump Start models) are costly to buy at $70-$100 USD, they make growing seedlings so easy (and they last so long) that they are a good investment.
You can get good light to seedlings cheaper with a fluorescent shop light, and it’s not difficult for resourceful people to rig up a way to adjust the height of the fixture with chains fastened to the ceiling. Ideally, you want the light to be less than 2 inches from the tops of plants, but some seedlings gain height faster than others. Raising the slower growers by placing them atop books or boxes is often the easiest way to get them closer to the light they crave. You should also change out tube bulbs every three years or so, because they lose some of their brightness with age.
It is not necessary to invest in the very intense lighting systems that hydroponic growers use, because vegetable and herb seedlings live indoors for but a few short weeks, and regular fluorescent lights are ample for their needs. Besides, once seedlings are up and growing, gradually exposing them to more sunlight is the best way to prepare them for life in the garden.
Halfway Housing for Seedlings
Many gardeners use cold frames to provide a semi-protected environment for seedlings, or you can use a growhouse, which are popular in the UK but have never really caught on in the US. Go figure! For the last couple of years I made a primitive growhouse by wrapping plastic around a metal shelf on my deck, and onion, cabbage and hardy herb seedlings loved it.
The problem with having plenty of cold frame or growhouse space is what happens when the weather turns so cold that all the plants must come into the house. With space under lights occupied by tomatoes and peppers, a cold snap may lead to flats of onions and cabbage cousins all over the house – on the floor, on the washing machine, and occasionally in the bathtub. Roger says he doesn’t mind, because we have this huge thing in common: we know where those seedlings are headed, and we’re both hooked on garden-fresh, organically grown food.
By Barbara Pleasant