Maybe Martha Is Just Bored

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Sometimes I get the urge to participate in some conspicuous consumption – funnily enough, this feeling always occurs when the bank account is at its lowest ebb and it tends to happen more in the winter than in the summer. Maybe it’s because I’m inside most often in the winter and I’m confronted with all the things that I feel are lacking in our interior environment – a proper entertainment unit instead of a cheap coffee table not large enough to accommodate our ancient sound system (we own a turntable that was my gift to my husband for our first anniversary), some modern wood dining chairs instead of the filthy upholstered Queen Anne-s, an amazing light-filled pendant instead of the puny $20 Home Depot special currently burning a hole into the dining table (and a dimmer switch so we can stop eating under interrogation lighting)…well, where do I stop? – So many things I’d love to change if so many other things about my life were different. But I have found a great solution for this insignificant-when-compared-to-having-real-problems crisis though – reorganize!

See, for me, while I may be a traditionalist, I’m not a habituist, and a large part of the craving to buy is to have something new to look at and interact with (part of the joy of buying Ikea furniture is putting it together). But, as I said, financial constraints and, in almost equal amounts, a desire to live within a lighter footprint, has had me trying to deal with my feelings of boredom in a less deleterious way – re-arranging, re-organizing, and re-purposing our things and our space can make me see them in a different way and, at the very least, I get some cleaning done (I’m absolutely shocked by the size dustballs can grow to!).

So today I’m going to tackle the seed starting table which I’d allowed to get in a chaotic mess once I’d finished starting all my plants last spring. I’d had big plans to grow herbs on it this winter and to start some micro-greens but the paraphernalia cluttering the shelves is preventing me from going forward with those grand plans (and when one is a procrastinator, any little obstacle can trip you up).

Shelving Winter 2011

Dealing with the leftover potting soil, pots, baskets, peppermint bunches needing to be stripped and stored, finding a place in the tiny kitchen for the new roasting pan, making a place in the pantry for the new batch of brew (in bottles on the floor), and tidying up all the other odds and ends is going to keep me occupied for the rest of today. Hopefully I’ll have something to show you tomorrow…


Seed Starting: The Lighting

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

When I first started growing my own transplants, I did it without supplemental lighting.  That first spring, I moved flats of seedlings around our apartment to catch the intense rays of sunlight that beat through our high, wide southwest-facing windows.  Even without knowing that the windows were tinted with something that blocked supposedly detrimental rays, you know that this is a ridiculous way to grow plants!  Despite my time-consuming efforts to keep the seedlings in a ray of sunshine, the intensity and length of light always kept the little things reaching for more and, while they were, eventually, transplanted into the container garden on the balconey, they never did come to much because of their initial rough start in life.

The next spring wasn’t much better.  Although I did use supplemental lighting, it was one of those little incandescent-like bulbs marketed as a grow light.  I screwed it into a decorative lamp with a shade, clustered my flats around it, and was once again rewarded with spindly, anemic seedlings reaching for light that was too far above their heads.

By the third spring, I’d learned my lesson.  Unwilling to shell out +$500 for a seed starting shelving unit with ‘growlights’, I did my research and found out that most people had success with a simple and fairly inexpensive shoplight fitted with one warm flourescent bulb and one cool flourescent bulb.  So, choosing the brightest, warmest room in the house (we’d purchased a home by that point), which was my office, I had my husband construct some durable floating shelves to which he secured two shoplights.  Each shoplight got a cool bulb and a warm bulb, and each shoplight was plugged into a timer set to stay on for 17 hours a day.  Once the seeds germinated, the plastic used to keep the soil from drying out was whisked off, and the trays were nestled under the lights. 

Finally, success!

No more spindly, anemic seedlings reaching for the light.  The warm and cool bulbs mimicked closely enough the color range of real sunlight to result in bright green leaves.  Keeping the bulbs only a couple of inches above the plants meant they could bask in light, not stretch to seek it out.  By the time the transplants were ready to go into the garden, they were bushy, stocky, robust specimens that grew and produced abundantly, and I’ve never done it any differently since then.

The seed-starting shelves with only one shoplight.

The seed-starting shelves with only one shoplight.

This year, though, after selling all my seed starting equipment before we moved back to Canada, I needed to re-stock.  As you can read here, I decided on a free-standing shelving unit because we rent and I wanted to limit the amount of holes we’d have to patch when we move.  But I chose the shelving for a couple of other reasons: the shelves are adjustable so I can set them fairly high and have plenty of space to adjust the shoplight heights in order to keep them only a couple of inches from the seedlings at all times; and the shelves are metal mesh, allowing me to slip an S-hook through and attach the lights using a chain, adjusting the height of the lights by slipping the chain link up or down on the S-hook.  (It is important to me to be able to easily remove the shoplights from the shelving because, during the off-season, the shelving will be used for other things besides growing plant starts.)

I have attached two 4 foot long shoplights to the shelf – hopefully, that will be enough to cover all the plants – and have outfitted each light with a warm bulb and a cool bulb.  However, due to the fact that I only bought one light fixture the first time and when I went back to buy a second fixture, they were sold out and I had to go to another place to buy the second fixture, my shoplights hold different sized bulbs – T12 in one, a supposedly cheaper but less efficient bulb than the T8 I have in the other light fixture.  (For an excellent explanation of bulb choice, I suggest going to The Far North blog and reading her post about lighting.)

S-hooks support the shoplights.

2 shoplights hang side by side to provide good light coverage.

S-hooks support the shoplights.
S-hooks support the shoplights.










The shoplights are plugged into a single timer that stays on for a little over 16 hours.  Supplemental lights need to stay on longer than the sun would shine because they don’t emit the same quality of light as sunshine – think of it as the same thing as eating a complete diet of vitamin tablets versus eating whole foods.

So that’s the lighting set-up – about $40 in materials, a nominal sum for electricity, and no more light-deprived seedlings.

Seed Starting: The Shelving

Friday, March 19th, 2010

After much hemming and hawing, I decided to try out an Ikea heavy duty storage system for starting my seeds indoors.  We have a blank area in our kitchen that, at the moment is the catchall space for the recycling, beer-making paraphenalia, a stepstool, and whatever other flotsam and jetsom eddies into it – it could do with some kind of organizing and I’ve planned on incorporating all of it into the plant growing shelving unit.

I need to add another shoplight to the shelf to make sure the plants get enough light.

I need to add another shoplight to the shelf to make sure the plants get enough light.

I decided on the Broder system because it looked like it could handle the weight of many potted seedlings, would allow me to adjust shelf heights and quantities as needed, wouldn’t be afraid of a little water, wouldn’t drain my piggy bank, and my husband keeps suggesting that perhaps I’d like to gift it to him so I know if I get tired of it, it won’t go to waste.

It can be a bit problematic to move the shelves around – definitely a two-person job – and the shelves are slightly warped but there are two things I always expect with Ikea – cheap price and, as long as you squint, it looks good.  And, for those of you who quibble about having to put Ikea furniture together, hire yourself a couple of preschoolers – my 5- and 3-year-old nephews had the pieces unpacked, and the shelves and feet put together in less than an hour (although there was much fighting over whose turn it was to use the screwdriver, making me long for a screwdriver of the alcoholic kind).

For the price of a few cents over $180, I’m pleased with the shelving; it’s flexible and fits in with my urban aesthetic (although maybe not the slightly country 70’s sensibilities of our rental kitchen) – I don’t think my husband will be getting his hands on it anytime soon.

Trying to coordinate the shelving with my traditional dining room chairs.

A view into the dining room.

A view into the tiny kitchen.

A view into the tiny kitchen.