• Amanda

Inexpensive DIY Seed Starting Rack

The past few weeks I have been doing lots of homesteading projects and haven’t taken the time to blog about them. I am excited to sit down and share some of these tips with you. For this DIY article I will be showing you how I made my inexpensive seed starting rack, a must have for a low cost garden year after year.

Spring is approaching and at least for us in Maryland, it doesn’t feel like it AT ALL. We had flurries yesterday and the first day of spring is only days away. Supposedly the last threat of frost is April 15th for our area, but I’m a bit skeptical this year. These cold temperatures make starting seeds indoors even more important if you want to have a rich producing garden without buying seedlings at a farmers market or big box store. Seed starting is also great to do mid-summer as well. It is often too hot to start seed outdoors for crops that will be harvested around the first frost, so starting them indoors and moving them outside when the temperatures begin to cool is a great way to get the most out of your growing season.

In my previous post I mentioned how I left all my seed starting supplies in VA and had to start from scratch. Here is how I built my inexpensive, but large, seed starting rack.

Supplies you will need

I want to note, you can make a rack as large or as small as you want. You can opt to use one to four shelves for starting seed. Buy your supplies accordingly. This year I am only using two of my 4 shelves, but I have decided to hang two light fixtures per shelf to evenly distribute light over my seed trays.

Assemble your shelving unit

I purchased a wire rack, but plastic, wood or other materials will work just fine. If you have some type of shelving already at your home, you may be able to re-purpose it. The main requirement for your rack is that it needs to be able to support a hanging shop light from the shelf above. Wire racks are nice because you can use S hooks to hang the shop lights on a chain above your seedlings. If working with a wood rack, you could thread a hook in the shelf above and hang the chain from the hook. As you can see the options are truly endless.

The chain is important when assembling your seed starting rack because you will need to maintain a distance of 3-4” between your lights and your plants. As your plants grow, you will need to move your lights up. Having chains and hooks will make this process very easy for you.

Unpack your shop light fixtures

Your light fixtures will come with a chain for hanging. Some have multiple locations where you can hang from. I choose the outermost slots to hang my lights. I searched for inexpensive shop lights and the ones I listed were the best deal I could find, but they had to be ordered. I did have a hiccup with my delivery. When I received my lights two of them were dented pretty badly, which I was rather unhappy with.

These light fixtures house T12 Fluorescent bulbs. I chose these due to their price. You could also select a T8 fixture, but be mindful when purchasing your bulbs that you will need to buy T8 bulbs to match.

There are many expensive grow light options out there. I am sure they all work very well but for the price you get such a small grow area. I would need between 4-6 of those set ups to produce the same amount of plants as this rack I am showing you in this post. I have had great luck with fluorescent lights in the past. Fluorescent lights are cool and fairly energy efficient. Other lights such as incandescent will burn your plants. If they are close enough to give optimal light, the bulbs are too hot for the plants to withstand.

Install one cool and one warm bulb in each light fixture

When starting seeds indoors using lights it is important to understand what type of light plants need.

  • Cool bulbs offer yellow green and blue spectrum light is great for vegetative growth. These bulbs have a kelvin range between 5000-6000K.

  • Warm bulbs offer orange and red spectrum light that is recommended for flowering. These bulbs have a Kevin range between 2700-3500K.

The chart below shows you color temperature ratings.

Installing the two different bulbs allows you to mimic nearly the entire spectrum to help grow healthy and sturdy seedlings.

Hang your lights

Plug all your lights into the same power strip (with a surge protector if possible … wire rack, humidity, water etc. better safe than sorry). You can hang your lights one per shelf or two per shelf. I prefer to hang them two per shelf because my trays are large and it allows the entire tray to have light.

After your seeds germinate you will need to raise and lower your lights to be 3-5” above the plants.

Plug your power strip into a light timer

Trust me. You are going to want a light timer. It is too easy to forget to turn on or off the lights and you could end up killing all your seedlings from a simple forgetfulness error. If a light timer is not feasible for you, set a reminder on your phone to turn them on and off. Remember, plants need a period of darkens to thrive. Most plants experience two phases an anaerobic one (i.e. “breathing” CO2) during the day, and an aerobic one (“breathing” O2) at night, so don’t forget to turn off the light. It is just as important as turning it on!

Your seedlings will need 12-16 hours of light per day. I like to set up my light timer before my seedlings emerge so I am not fiddling with it later. Try to mimic the sunrise and sunset pattern as much as possible to make it an easy transition to the outdoors later. Also note, your seeds do not need light until after they germinate and seedlings emerge.

That's it!

For as little as $70 (even less if you have some supplies on hand!) you can be on your way to starting seeds from the comfort of your own home!


  • Heating mat – Seeds require warmth to germinate. You may consider purchasing a heating mat or coming up with an alternate method to start your seeds. My house is warm enough that I have never had any issues germinating seeds. You can also leave seed trays in a warm spot or have a warm light over them until they germinate. After that you move them to the rack under the lights.

  • Humidity – If you don’t want to purchase, or don’t have access to, humidity trays you can wrap your shelf or shelves in thin plastic to trap in the humidity. I did this one year in my garage, but later purchased humidity trays.

  • Reflection- Light is very important for seedlings and another way to maximize the light output from the fluorescent bulbs is to use aluminum foil to reflect the light. You can add the aluminum foil to the light fixtures above the lights, or you can wrap the sides of your shelving unit in foil. I did not do any of that this year. I will keep you posted on the progress of my seedlings.

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I'm a girl trying to figure out life. I thought I had it all together and then found out that I don't. I'm on the roller coaster ride called life and I want to share it with you. Be aninspriedmama with me.




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