Indoor Seed Starting Basics for Growing Vegetable Transplants: Buy Shop Lights, Forget PAR Value, Save Money!

Posted by Gary Pilarchik on

Getting started growing amazing garden transplants begins with buying budget friendly but effective lights. Starting seeds indoors is not as difficult or expensive as you might think. I have been germinating and growing my own transplants for over 20 years and have always had success.

The first thing to understand is that you are growing transplants and not flowering or fruit producing plants. Just transplants. You goal is not full indoor growth. And again the key is... just transplants. That means you do not need expensive garden grow lights.  You can spend hundreds of dollars on specialized grow lights if you wish, but they are not needed.  Save a lot of money and simply buy shop lights that are not in the gardening section of stores but in their lighting or hardware sections. If you shop on line, do not enter garden lights but for comparison. You want basic white LED shop lights. Often we are charged more by looking for 'garden' grow lights.

Multiple colored light emitting diodes (LEDs), specific 'technical' wavelength ranges, something called PAR value and other things you may find in expensive grow light systems are valuable but not needed for indoor seed starting and transplant growing. Don't let this overwhelm you and stick to white LEDs. If you love growing indoors and want a more expensive versatile system, buy advanced grow light systems later. 

 

Find lumens & Kelvin Ratings

You need to worry about 2 values which are lumens and Kelvin. White lights, being white, have all the colors of light in them, generally speaking. They have the wavelengths of light for photosynthesis. They are often called 'daylight or bright' lights. Therefore the colored light systems you see with multiple colored LEDs and the PAR (photosynthetic active radiation) value are met well enough in basic white LED shop lights. 

Lumens is the intensity or brightness of light. Try and get a lumens value of 5000 or higher. Kelvin is the color of light. You want a minimum of 4100K but try and get as close as you can to 6500K which is the standard maximum for lights. The Kelvin scale does go to 10000K.  The 4100-6500K range mimics bright daylight. This is all you need to have great success. Years ago, I grew my transplants with fluorescent tubes that had values as low as 2100 lumens and 3200K.  I was still able to grow transplants. But with today's LED selection, really try and find the values I presented.

I recommend 4 foot shop lights. Make sure you buy shop lights that have plugs and that do not have to be hardwired into electrical wires. Buy two lights if you can and that is perfect for building your indoor grow light station and for growing up to 4 flats of transplants.  You can find seed starting flats (below) and starting supplies at our Seed & Garden Shop.  I also recommend buying a shelving unit that has 4 foot shelves with a minimum of 24 inches of width, but closer to 36 inches is best. Start with only using 1 shelf and expand to other shelves over time. The other thing I recommend buying is a timer to manage turning the lights on and off.  A 4 foot shelf is perfect for hanging 4 foot shop lights. This way each shelf gets maximum light coverage. 

This is the first article and video for 2022 on starting your own vegetable plants indoors. You can find the LED shop lights for anywhere between $20 and $35. The lights pictured here where $20 from Walmart. I will cover starting supplies in the next article and video and take you through all the steps of growing transplants. Check out my video that covers the basic supplies needed to get started with growing indoor garden transplants

 


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