How To Make A Seed Room & Start Seeds in Your House


Make a seed room to start seeds inside your house

We turned our living room into a seed room.

This space transforms by the seasons just as the fields do.  Tired of the annual spring shuffle of living room to seed room and back again, we decided to make it permanent.  

You could say the living room and kitchen are a bit crunched together now, or you could say it’s cozy.  Either way, we have some semblance of balance again between the farm and the home. All it took was a simple wall, and now each space knows what it’s meant to be again.

If you’re starting seeds indoors for your homestead or farm, and you need more than a tower’s worth of space for seedlings, you can easily make a seed room inside, too.  You don’t actually need to take over the living room—this would work well in a basement, too.

Why make a seed room?

Vermont winters are known to stretch well past calendar spring, with March 20th more likely than not to be well below 32ºF. While we have a greenhouse to move the seedlings into, heating a plastic-walled structure is expensive.  

Starting seeds inside an insulated, temperature controlled space helps save on early fuel costs.  

Plus, a warm greenhouse in the midst of a cold, snowy field is a welcome home for voles and critters who love nibbling on spinach seedlings and pea shoots.  Starting the seedlings inside keeps them safe from critters, and gives them the best head start.

Elements of a seed room

So what makes a seed room a seed room?  All you need is a dedicated space, white walls, tables, shelves, grow lights, and simple ventilation (think 1 box fan for an 8’x14’ space).  

Let’s start with the walls.  

When plants grow outside, sunlight pours onto them from many angles.  Inside, white walls reflect light onto the seedlings, mimicking the light exposure they’d have outside.  

Before making a dedicated seed room, we bought heavy white shower curtain material from a fabric store and hung it around the seedling table.  If you’re looking for an easy way to make a temporary seed room, this is an inexpensive way to go.

For our permanent seed space, we put up a wall to create a new room and painted it white.

Looking for a reflective and easily washable paint, we chose Rustoleum chalked, an ultra-matte finish paint that Edge found recommended by other growers.

Choosing the right grow lights

LED and Fluorescent Lights, for starting seeds indoors
LED lights on the left & Fluorescent lights on the right

Fluorescent

Like many growers, we started out with fluorescent bulbs, which are the cheapest, and often the most common lights you’ll find at the local hardware store.  But just any fluorescent light won’t due—like having reflective walls to mimic the light outside, it’s important to get the light that most closely reflects the sun.

6500K lights, also called daylight white lights, mimic a typical summer day and encourage vegetative growth.  This is the best spectrum to use when starting seedlings destined for the greenhouse or garden.

Pros to fluorescent lights:

• Affordable purchase cost

• Easy to find

Cons:

• We grow a lot of pea shoots and microgreens, and we’ve found the fluorescent lights heat up the plants more than LED, causing the soil to dry out faster.

• They use more energy than LED and are therefore more expensive to run.

• We can only fit two 10×20 seedling trays under each fixture.  This is fine if you’re only starting a handful of trays, but we start many more than that.  

• The fixtures need to be close to the trays, which doesn’t make watering easy.  We either pull the trays out to water, or have to lift up the lights, adding to the time it takes to water and decreasing efficiency.

LED

Full-spectrum LED lights are more expensive to buy than fluorescent, but they last longer and they’re more efficient and therefore cheaper to run.  

They also stay cooler than fluorescent lights, which means we don’t need to water as often.

When starting seedlings inside, go for a full-spectrum LED, which balances warm and cool light.  This, too, will mimic natural sunlight and encourage balanced plant growth.

Pros:

• Unlike fluorescent fixtures which need to be plugged in individually, LEDs can be linked together, so you only have one plug to manage.

• More efficient than fluorescents, use less energy, last longer.

• Stay cooler than fluorescents, so they don’t dry out the soil.

Cons:

• Higher initial purchase cost

• Like fluorescent lights, LED has minimal coverage area, and we can only fit two 10×20 trays under each fixture.

Ceramic Metal Halide

Ceramic Metal Halide Light, for starting seeds indoors
Ceramic Metal Halide

When we expanded our indoor seed starting area beyond a couple of towers, we wanted a lighting option that didn’t require many more cords and plugs that the fluorescent and LED lights come with.

We also wanted to be able to easily water the plants without having to lift up the lights or move the trays.  This is where a ceramic metal halide (CMH) light comes in. CMH is the equivalent of a high-pressure sodium light, but is more efficient and runs at a cooler temperature.  

CMH gives off ultraviolet and infrared rays in their light spectrum, and the color rendering index is between 90 – 92.  What does that mean, you ask? With the sun’s CRI at 100, it means that the CMH lights most closely mimic natural sunlight.

Unlike the fluorescent and LED lights that need to be 6 – 8 inches from the seedlings, one CMH hung 3-4’ above the plants can light our 8 x 8’ seed room.  

Pros:

• One light fixture is enough for our entire seed room, which means there’s only one plug to manage, and it’s easier to move around and water more efficiently.

• Closest to natural sunlight — UV and IR rays help grow strong plants

• While CMH can have a higher initial cost, overall you may save money if you only need one light fixture, rather than a light for every two seedling trays.

Cons:

• Because of the CRI and UV rays, Ceramic Metal Halide lights can be dangerous.  Ours came with a warning not to work in the room while the light is on. Looking directly at the light can damage your eyes just as looking directly at the sun can.  If the bulbs break, the UV rays can cause severe skin burns.

• CMH lights have a higher initial cost than LEDs and fluorescents.

• Higher initial purchase price compared to other options.

Lighting Takeaways

If you only need a few towers to start your seeds, go with LED or fluorescent lighting.  For a larger space, consider Ceramic Metal Halide lights.

We currently use all three types of lights, though when it comes time to replace the fluorescents, we’ll switch them out for LED.  

While we’ve seen the CMH grow strong seedlings, especially for plants that benefit from strong stems like tomatoes and peppers, CMH does come with some precautions.  This is a big reason we created an enclosed room. If you’re curious about CMH, be sure to do more thorough research to choose the right system for you.

Are you starting seeds inside?  

Let me know —  Do you have a dedicated seed room, or are you going to make one?  

If you have any questions, pop them in the comments below.  Happy growing!

7 thoughts on “How To Make A Seed Room & Start Seeds in Your House”

  1. Fearn Lickfield

    i wish i could do this. Not enough power for lights or fan. I guess ill just have to keep buying seedlings!

    1. We definitely notice the increase in our electric needs with all these lights, Fearn! Once it gets warmer, we’ll transition out to the greenhouse, where the sun will do it all 🙂

  2. Hi Kate, thanks for this interesting post! I am just unsure why you say you can only put two 10 x 20 trays under a light, as it seems like I see four on one of the picture. I believe it depends on your light size. I have really long lights (double tubes, so about 6 inches wide) and I was wondering if you would put the trays perpendicular or parallel to the lights. Thanks!

    1. Hey Justine, ah you’re right! Thanks for catching that 🙂 It does depend on the size of the light and if the trays are perpendicular or parallel. We have some wooden trays we made for soil blocks, which are just a bit smaller than the standard 10×20, and we can fit 4 of them under a 4′ long light, double tubes, when they’re perpendicular.

      We’ve found that two 10×20 trays fit better than 4 when parallel under a 4′ double-tube light. When we put 4 trays under there, we’ve noticed the edges start to get leggy as they reach inward toward the light. Hope this helps!

      1. Hi Kate, oh thanks for these info. That is exactly what I was wondering, if the end of the trays would get leggy when you fit four trays! happy seeding!

  3. I turned one corner of our basement into a grow room several years ago. It’s unheated and a great space to store the dahlia tubors, jeruselum artichokes and rhubarb crowns over the winter. The walls are painted white (not on purpose, I just learned from your post that white walls reflect light) and I have several benches set up with heat mats. There are flourescent grow lights hanging from the ceiling on adjustable cords. I have a window that goes under our deck on the corner of the house adjacent to my greenhouse which is perfect for passing trays through on warmer days so the seedlings can get natural light. I put them out when the greenhouse warms up in the morning and bring them back inside before the sun goes down and it gets cold. Last year I started collecting rainwater, which I use to water the gardens and seedlings (it’s amazing how much water can be collected during one storm!) and don’t need to use other sources anymore. I’v been hearing a lot about the LED lights but the expense has been keeping me from switching over. I think when we move and I set up a larger operation I might consider them.

    I just started growing Microgreens. It was an experiment for the school garden, but I am quickly getting hooked on them. I’ve done winter growing of greens in my cold frames, but Microgreens are much easier and faster. This summer I am going to save more seed from our kale, broccoli, cabbage and mustard greens to use for Microgreens next winter. Do you grow Microgreens year round or just in the spring and do you include them in your CSA?

    1. Hey Rob! Your basement set-up sounds awesome, especially with that window to pass the trays through. We haven’t set up a rain catchment system, but it definitely makes sense—maybe we’ll add that into our summer projects 🙂

      The LED lights are more expensive, though we’ve really noticed a difference in them, with how they don’t heat up and dry out the plants so much, and the ease of dealing with fewer cords. It’s definitely worth looking into when it’s time to replace old bulbs.

      This is our first winter growing microgreens. We put them in the Winter CSA & will add them to the Spring CSA, too. Once we get into the summer I think we’ll focus on outdoor crops, and keep the microgreens for the winter and spring.

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