In the Garden: Seeds + Grow Lights

April 2, 2015 14 Comments

starting tomato seeds

Our backyard is still covered in dead grass, mud, and puddles of melting snow, but this year there is definitely going to be a garden. I wrote a little bit about how this whole garden thing came to be here, last fall, and today lets talk about seeds & grow lights. This is all new territory for me and while my generalist brain LOVES new territory and I may sound like I know what I’m talking about (or not), it’s all enthusiasm vs. experience. I’ll share some of my fav resources at the end so that if you have any questions about starting a garden, you can go to the people that actually do know what they’re talking about.

In the first month of gardening, before even stepping foot outside, it’s obvious that gardening is a lot of work. If you factor in the cost of time, it’s usually WAY cheaper and easier to purchase your food from someone else. So why garden? For me it’s the availability of interesting fruit and veg varieties, the way that most things taste so much better fresh from the garden, the ability to take more control of how our food is grown, and the connection that’s made in the process. It feels nourishing on so many levels and I’m really enjoying learning about all the aspects of growing healthy and nutrient dense food (lots of reading on soil right now).

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Transforming a yard of dead grass into a vegetable growing machine will not be a trivial task. I’m thinking about semi-raised beds and relying on google to lead the way in figuring out how to build them. This is the April project that I’ll talk about next month. Lets talk about what happened in March.

Starting From Seed

My seed purchasing experience was out.of.control. Have you guys ever looked at a seed catalog? I was like a dog in a meat buffet, but worse, because no one was going to stop me. I have about 10 tomato varieties, 7 pepper, 3 cucumber, lots and lots of beans, lettuce, greens, radishes, roots, etc. I’m certain that all of this won’t grow, but it’ll be good to see what naturally does well in my space. The main reason that I started my plants from seeds (vs. buying seedlings from the garden center later on) is the amazing diversity of varieties that are available. While it took weeks (if not longer) to actually pick everything, I’m a total sucker for unique veggies and the best way to make this happen in my own garden was to purchase the seeds. Most of these came from Urban Harvest and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and a few from Seed Savers Exchange

There are big plans for herbs and edible/medicinal flowers as well, but there’s also a magical place called Richter’s, about 45 minutes from where I live. No need to start those from seed.

If this whole garden thing actually works out, you guys are in for a lot of weird and colourful recipes and meal ideas this summer!

Vegetable Seed Packets // From the Land we Live on

Grow Light Setup

Then there was the grow light project. We considered extending the “operation” for some extra pocket cash, but for now our op is just housing tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos.

It started off with a $20 plastic shelving unit and two basic fluorescent light fixtures (<$30 each) from the hardware store. I opted out of using the expensive “grow” lights and went for the cheap “daylight” 32W T8 bulbs instead (I read this was OK to do). The shelves have a grid surface to attach the lamps to, using basic chains and S hooks. The chins are great, as they’re adjustable in length for when the plants grow and the lamps need to be raised.

I quickly realized two things: it was obvious that my grow light plants were doing better than the sunny south-facing window ones so I needed more space + my plants were going to outgrow the shelf height, so I would need to find a way to give them more vertical space.

I purchased another set of lights, another shelf and some longer chains, then arranged the shelves side by side with the lamps hanging in the middle to allow for the plants to sit in between the units. This allowed for more area and vertical space (the long chains will be adjusted as the plants grow). The setup you see below is about half full (there’s still lots of room in the back) and uses 4 basic 2-bulb fixtures. The books and boxes you see down there…lets just say that you can blow on the $20 shelving units to topple them over and the last thing that you want is crushed tomato seedlings and fluorescent light bulbs filling your room with mercury gas when they shatter. The hazards of gardening.

Grow Light Setup // From the Land we Live on

Grow Light Setup // From the Land we Live on


There are amazing people that actually do know what they’re talking about and if you’re planning on doing some gardening and are just starting out, I highly recommend going through all of their insanely useful archives. My two favourite blogs are You Grow Girl and Sweet Domesticity. Not only are these blogs full of information and super creative, but the authors are in a similar gardening zone as me (5-ish), meaning that I can kind of follow along with their schedules and relate to what they’re doing on Instagram. I also really love Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail (same author as You Grow Girl). It’s like the 101 of veggie gardening and I really love the creative take on making the best use of your space, even if you’re growing in a back yard. I’ve gone through piles of gardening and permaculture books from the library, but this is the only gardening book that I own and I love how its such a basic, yet inspiring and useful resource.

Also, if you’re in the Toronto area and are hoping to connect with other gardeners, join the Toronto Urban Gardeners and Homesteaders Group. We had a few meetups this spring and are hoping to have many more workshops and gatherings in the coming season!

What are you growing this year? What are some of your favourite gardening resources? Want to share your grow light setup? Leave a comment below! I’d love to see what you’re working on.


  1. Reply


    April 2, 2015

    Wow…I can’t wait to see what your backyard will look like in August! I’m also a sucker for the strange varieties of vegetables you can’t buy in grocery store or even a farmers market. I don’t really have a light set up, but I just finally got my husband to build me some cold frames so I think I’m going to see how that works with starts. It is just so exciting to finally get my hands dirty again :)

    • Reply


      April 2, 2015

      Thanks, Sandra! Cold frames sound awesome! Can’t wait to see how yours turn out. Maybe a project for another year for me :)

  2. Reply

    Jesse White

    April 2, 2015

    You are ridiculous!!! I cant wait to see how you transform your garden to a veggie jungle!!!

    • Reply


      April 3, 2015

      haha thanks, Jesse :) If you subscribe to my imaginary CSA I’ll bring you tomatoes to the dog park.

  3. Reply

    Maria | Sweet Domesticity

    April 3, 2015

    Thanks for the link love and kind words! Looks like your garden is off to a great start!

    • Reply


      April 4, 2015

      Thanks Maria! I hope most of it works out :) Looking forward to seeing more of your garden this season.

  4. Reply

    lynsey | lynseylovesfood

    April 6, 2015

    oh i cannot wait to see all the bounty you are going to grow!!! As someone who has no garden i will be living vicariously through you. xo

    • Reply


      April 7, 2015

      Thanks Lynsey! I also can’t wait…I check on the seedlings a little obsessively…maybe they decided to skip the 4 months of growing to bring me some tomatoes now? You’re welcome to come feast in the garden if it actually ends up producing anything :)

  5. Reply

    janet @ the taste space

    October 5, 2015

    Hey Sofia, I was just looking through your recommended resources as we investigate how to make our first garden. I was wondering whether you have read this book (or her blog?)

    I realize I need to master summer gardening before I do winter gardening but I am very eager to try the cold frames.

    How did you end up liking your raised beds? We are planning to make them now so they are ready in the spring.

    • Reply


      October 5, 2015

      Hey Janet! I haven’t read that book, but I did flip through Niki’s Ground Breaking Food Gardens which was really good – but a totally different topic. I haven’t tried cold frames, but definitely something I’ll look into in the future. Probably not this year, but maybe next!

      The beds turned out great! Lots of weeds, maybe because they’re so close to the ground and I’ve mixed in existing soil, but it wasn’t a big deal. We have 6 beds, each 8′ x 4′ each + some garden space around the perimeter of the garden, which is way more than enough, at least for us. Building them now is a great idea! You can probably do some composting directly in the beds over the winter and have it break down by spring, giving you lots of organic material. I wish I had done that because taking out the sod, tilling, and bringing in all the soil/compost was a lot to do in the spring. Here’s a good intro article: Hope that helps :)