A grow light helps our tomatoes get going

Our tomato and basil plants at two weeks.

The first year that G. and I had a garden, I started our tomato, basil and pepper plants in my condo in Milwaukee. The windows there had sills 2 feet deep, and the frames around them were mirrored to throw the light back into remote parts of the room. For germination purposes, the mirrored sills worked like little greenhouses, and our plants took off wonderfully.

Last year, I germinated the seeds in my apartment in Chicago. There’s a big glass window, but it was often cloudy and the area around the window was drafty. The seeds sprouted, but the plants were weak and sickly looking. It took a long time for them to catch up once we moved them outside, and we didn’t get tomatoes until September.

With that in mind, G. and I decided we needed to get a grow light to give the seedlings a boost. And as it turns out, it’s a good thing we did because we haven’t had much sun this spring. It’s just been rainstorm after rainstorm.

Seedlings under the grow light.

We saw cute little grow lights at a local foods conference, but they cost hundreds of dollars. G. got in touch with a friend who sells a lot of commercial lighting, and we got a lamp for free. It looks industrial. It’s the size of my upper body and incredibly heavy. But, it works great!

We put it in the basement because of its size and the heat it generates. G. hooked it on a chain so he can raise and lower it more easily.

Our seeds germinated in days, and within two weeks, we had some tomato plants that were about 4 inches tall.  We’re also germinating rhubarb, some herbs and one kind of melon. I’m hoping this will give our garden a head start so we get fruit and vegetables in August, rather than September. Also, with the rain having flooded the area where we put in carrots, beets, onion and leeks, we might not be getting root vegetables. But tomatoes — oh, we should get great tomatoes!


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