Saturday, January 19, 2013

DIY Seed Starting Set-Up

Now, I'm not the kind of girl that needs to have the latest or most expensive kind of purse or shoes. Far from it, actually. I have exactly one black leather handbag which I bought in 2004. I spent $90 on it back then, so I feel like I should be able to get at least another couple of years out of it.

Those kind of objects don't tempt me to spend a lot of money, but homesteading gadgets and gewgaws do. When I saw this lovely seed starting set-up from Gardener's Supply Co., I nearly started to salivate. 

3-Tier Sunlite Garden, sold by Gardener's Supply Co.

We attempted to start some of our vegetable plants from seed last year and had mixed results. The main problem was that the plants got leggy due to lack of adequate light. This doodad would completely eliminate that problem. There's room to start quite a few seedlings or nuture larger transplants and the level of the light fixtures is easily adjusted.

There's just one problem. The Sunlite Garden costs $599, shipping not included. Ridiculous, isn't it? No worries. You can create your own, even larger version of this set-up for a fraction of the cost. 

Here's how we did it:

Materials List: 
  1. One  74"x 48" 5-Tier Shelving Unit - $79.97 at Lowe's 
  2. Four 48" T8 fluorescent shop lights - $17.98 each at Lowe's
  3. One 12 pack of 4' T8 Cool White Fluorescent bulbs - $29.98 at Lowe's
  4. Eight S-hooks - 78 cents for two at Lowe's 
  5. One power strip with timer  - $13.98 at
GRAND TOTAL FOR HARDWARE: $198.97 plus tax

We assembled the shelving unit and then hung the shop lights from each shelf

I found out from my research that you don't have to use special lights to grow strong seedlings. A standard fluorescent light will work provided that you can adjust it so that it is 1-2" above the seedlings. Shop lights already come on 9" chains; all you have to do is buy a few S hooks to hang them from the shelving unit at the level you need. Seedlings need about 12-14 hours of light a day and a power strip on a timer makes it easy to provide the right amount of light while saving energy.

The level of the shop lights can be easily adjusted using the chains and S hooks

Other expenses: You will also need something to start your seeds in. You can buy sterile seed starting medium or make your own. We plan on recycling toilet paper and paper towel rolls for seed starter pots (read about how to do that here) and milk jugs for larger transplants, so those will be free.  We invested in some leak-proof seed starting flats, clear domes to cover the flats during germination, and a couple of heat mats to use with the most heat-loving plants. We will be starting seeds inside our house, but if you are planning on doing it out in a garage or cold basement, you will need to have a source of heat for the seedlings.

We'll be starting our first seeds in less than a month. I can't wait to put this system into use! I think I'll take all the money we saved and buy something truly useful.... like more chickens!


Best Tips for Starting Seeds Indoors by Barbara Pleasant in the Dec 2012/Jan 2013 issue of Mother Earth News  


Anyone else starting seeds indoor this year? What kind of set-up do you employ?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

January has been "Prep-uary" at our Place

We've been very busy this month with prepping-related projects.

  • Hubby Dear and I cleaned and organized our storage room. It had collected a lot of odds and ends and, frankly, it was becoming a bit of a dump. I inventoried our long-term food storage and came up with a long list of items I need to buy. We've used some things that we need to replace. According to the food storage calculators, our family now consists of four adults and two children (children 7 and up are "adults" for food storage purposes), which means that I also need to increase the amount of food we store in general. 

Once we cleared out the clutter, it became apparent that we had used A LOT
of our food storage and never replaced it.

We also have a lot of canned goods that need to be eaten and restocked. Rotate, rotate, rotate! 

We still have some of the onions we grew last year left. They are stored in cheap pantyhose, which works
pretty well to keep them fresh and mold-free. You'll notice that a few of them have sprouted, though!
  • Because of some health concerns that I have, I started following a Paleo diet back in December. I no longer eat grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugars, or refined fats. In other words, I can't eat most of our food storage! I hope that this way of eating will help resolve some of the problems I have as a result of chronic inflammation in my body, but it does provide a challenge to store food that meets the criteria of my diet. I'm brainstorming a list of Paleo-friendly foods to add to our storage and this is what I've come up with so far:  sprouting seeds, canned coconut milk, coconut oil, lard, nuts in the shell, and canned tuna and salmon. Anyone else out there who is both Paleo and a prepper? I'm curious to see how you handle this dilemma. 
  • As I was organizing my storage room, I decided that my vintage, 1940s-era water bath canner had finally bit the dust. It is just too rusty and decrepit to use any more. Identical products on had very poor reviews - I guess they don't make granite ware like they used to - so I invested in a Victorio Stainless Steel Multi Use Canner.  This product can be used as either a water bath canner or steam canner and seems really sturdy. I've never steam canned before - have any of you? 
RIP, vintage water bath canner. You gave me (and others) years of good service.

  • Hubby Dear and I ordered our seeds for the spring and bought the components of our DIY seed starting set-up. I am excited to share with you our plans for the year in an upcoming post. It won't be long before we'll be sowing broccoli, cauliflower, and kale indoors. 
Seeds, glorious seeds! So much promise is inside these packets. 

  • Some friends of ours are downsizing due to job loss and health challenges. We bought a generator and some other homesteading paraphernalia from them, which served to help both of our families out. 

Our "new" 5500 W generator.

I did the math, and this generator will run one of our refrigerators and the furnace fan and that's it. It is definitely not a total solution to a long-term power outage, but it is a start. Now I need to stockpile some gas tanks, gasoline, and Sta-Bil.

Have you been celebrating "Prep-uary" at your house? Tell me what you've accomplished so far in 2013. :) 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 in Review and 2013 Goals

Happy New Year, y'all! I hope everyone had a blessed holiday season.

Unfortunately, I was either busy or sick for much of 2012 and so my posting here wasn't as regular as I would have liked. Nevertheless, I managed to make progress on my preparedness goals. Here's the list of goals I had last January. I didn't accomplish everything, but I'm not unhappy.

In 2012 I :

  • Added a bit to our first aid supplies. This is definitely an area where we fall short. I will admit to being a wee bit complacent about first aid since Hubby Dear is a medical professional. I need to improve. 
  • Expanded our garden and learned some hard lessons during a very poor growing season. Our area of the country experienced the hottest year on record as well as one of the driest, so our garden was far less than stellar. 
Delicious heirloom fruit and vegetables

  • I planted comfrey in our orchard area. It's part of the whole holistic orchard deal, but the bonus is that it is also a medicinal herb. I learned about permaculture and now have plans to have a bunch of medicinal perennials growing among the trees in the orchard. 
  • My favorite item on the list (and new obsession) is poultry. We started raising chickens, ducks, and turkeys. Having livestock was a big stretch for two former city kids like Hubby Dear and myself, but we have really enjoyed the journey. We started off with chicks and poults from hatcheries and ventured into hatching eggs with an incubator. Our chickens gave us 1,645 eggs in 2012; the ducks provided 124.  
Some of our ducklings

  • Related to that last one, we butchered our first animals. It was so rewarding to grow our own meat and butchering is definitely a worthy skill for any prepper. 
  • All the manure that started appearing on our property provided the impetus for us to begin composting
  • Managed to keep our strawberries alive! We won't have to re-plant this year. I am hopeful that we will have a generous crop next spring. 
  • Another success: I learned all about sprouting, an easy way to grow fresh, nutritious greens all year 'round.
  • My success with sprouting for people encouraged me to grow wheat grass for my birds. It took a couple of tries (and a horrible infestation of fruit flies), but I finally got the hang of it.  I'm also proud of the black oil sunflower seeds we grew for the chickens. 
A Peredovik black oil sunflower

  • I stocked up on reusable Tattler canning lids. I used them for all the canning I did and I finally got the hang of using them. They are a little different than standard metal canning lids, but once you get it, you won't go back. 

For 2013, I remain focused on building up our homestead. One reason is that I just like doing it. I love puttering around the garden and taking care of my birds. I have expanded into breeding poultry for pleasure and profit, so that also takes up a lot of my time and energy.

The other reason that my preps are centered on homesteading is that I feel it is quite necessary. The shenanigans in DC regarding the so-called Fiscal Cliff made me sick to my stomach, but I hope that it will serve as a wake-up call to many. I fear that our country is in an irreversible decline and our prosperous American lifestyle is in serious jeopardy. In short, I think we're screwed. I feel that being as self-sufficient as possible will be incredibly valuable in the days ahead. You might not live on 5 acres in the country like I do, but I hope you are thinking about things you can do to help your family weather whatever storm may come.

With that said, here are my goals for 2013:
The north half of our garden, May 2012

  1. Continue to add to our orchard. We have peach, nectarine, cherry, and plum trees ordered for the spring. We'll plant more peach, apple, and apricot trees in the fall. Here's the master plan for our orchard if you haven't seen it. 
  2. Expand our garden again and try some new varieties and methods of cultivation. 
  3. Try new types of pest control in the garden. We garden organically, but haven't ventured much into companion plantings to attract beneficial insects. That is a priority for me this year. We will also experiment with row covers to flummox the evil squash bug that has plagued us in the past.  
  4. We tried starting seeds indoor last year. We had mixed results, mainly due to lack of sunlight. We are building an easy DIY seed starting kit that should really help out. 
  5. Water storage is a huge issue for any prepper and the horrible drought we are in has really brought it to my attention. I hope to get rain barrels installed and may experiment with using greywater
  6. First aid - the perennial topic for me. I've got to get going here. 
  7. Food storage - I need to take inventory of what we have used up and refill as necessary. I will be canning and dehydrating the produce of our garden and herb garden. 

So that's me. What about you? What do you have planned for 2013?