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How To Build A Simple Seed Starting Shelf

Every year, our garden becomes a bit more complex. With more plants to grow from seed, we need more space for seed starting indoors. So, we decided to build a simple seed starting shelf to save space (and money).

In this article, I’ll show you everything you need to make your own DIY seed starting shelf. This will include the supplies needed, how to assemble the shelf, and some optional modifications for increased practicality. Let’s get started!

Seed starting shelf
Simple seed starting shelf with integrated LED grow lights.

Cost and Potential Savings

First, I want to emphasize just how economical it is to build your own seed starting shelf. Many gardening shops offer grow shelf kits (that usually require assembly anyway) for a much higher price.

The most comparable unit I could find was the SunLite 2-tier, which currently costs about $700. While these shelves have some built-in practicality, like light height adjustment and wheels, we can easily add these to our custom shelf for much cheaper.

If you want a cheap kit, this Amazon unit is currently priced around $170, but is not as heavy-duty as the components included in our DIY build.

The cost of our DIY build is between $200-300, depending on the quality of the lights you choose to use. I recommend using the higher quality light for better longevity, but if price is your biggest concern, a cheaper kit may suffice.


How to Build a Seed Starting Shelf

If you’ve decided to build your own planting rack, great! This simple seed shelf saves space, looks nice in our living area, and will last many years to come.

It took just 30 minutes or so to put the shelf together (and it would have been quicker with two of the Spider Farmer grow lights). This 2-shelf build has space for 8 standard 10×20 seedling trays, or 96 standard 6-cell seed cell trays (576 individual seedlings!).

LED grow light seed starting shelf
Fully assembled seed starting shelf.

Supplies

  • Storage shelf. I recommend shopping at your local hardware store for a storage shelf. You’ll likely find the best price in person. It is also helpful to see the size in person. Our build uses a 48″x18″x72″ wire shelf. You can also purchase one online.
  • Lights. The Spider Farmer SF600 is a perfect light for this shelf, with full spectrum light and a 2×4′ coverage rating. For a cheaper option, the Barrina LED grow light strips will work (but require more setup.
  • Outlet timer. This will control the light cycles, turning on and off your grow lights automatically.
  • Zip ties. Some lights will include zip ties, but this is a cheap and easy way to suspend your grow lights.

These are the basic supplies needed to build a simple, non-mobile seed starting shelf. Below, I discuss some optional modifications you can make to the shelf.

Steps

  1. Assemble the storage shelf.

    Start by piecing together your wire storage shelf. Our shelf is designed to be 72″ tall, but can be built as a half-height shelf (which we did). Start by adding the bottom shelf, then place the others at your desired heights. You may wish to leave more space on one shelf for taller plants, and less on the others for seedlings.Putting together grow shelf

  2. Hang the lights using zip ties.

    If you use the SF600, you can loop zip ties through the metal wire that comes with the light. For the Barrina LEDs, you’ll have to zip tie directly around the strip (don’t worry, the lights don’t get very warm). If you want to adjust the light height later on, learn how below.Zip ties for hanging grow lights

  3. Cut excess zip ties and flip them upside down.

    Tidy up the shelf by cutting off the excess zip tie. Flip the zip ties so that the bulky side is below, allowing for items to be placed on the shelf above.LED light strips hanging with zip ties

  4. Daisy chain lights together (if applicable).

    Some lights require daisy chaining together. This allows a single power cable to provide the power for all of the grow lights. Connect each light to the next.Daisy chain LED light strips

  5. Plug into outlet timer.

    Set your outlet timer to the “timer” mode (some timers can be set to “on” or “timer”), and set it to be on for 15 hours, off for 9 hours. This is standard timing for most plants, but of course you can adjust as you see fit. Now, plug in the lights and get growing!Outlet timer for grow lights

One tip is to make sure your lights are positioned with the power connecter towards the wall outlet. This will help keep your cables tidy.

Seed starting rack with LED lights
Simple DIY grow shelf build.

Optional Modifications

While we are happy with the simple design of our open plant shelf, you may wish to make some of these optional modifications for improved utility.

Shelf liners can be used to make a flat, water-resistant surface on each shelf. These plastic liners are included with some kits, but can also be purchased separately to fit your shelf size.

Caster wheels are a great modification if you want your grow shelf to be mobile. Just be sure that the wheel-type fits the shelf you are using (or buy a kit that has them included).

Light height adjustment can be useful if your lights aren’t particularly strong. If you fit your shelf with fluorescent lights, they must be placed very close to the plant leaves (LEDs can be further). Use ratcheting ropes to easily adjust lights up and down as needed.

Light blocking material can be used to to avoid the glare from the grow lights. The purpose-made shelf covers can also protect your plants from any furry friends who like to munch of seedlings (our cat is a prime suspect in our household).

It also keeps more light in the grow area, leading to better growth results. When you want to tend to the plants, simply roll back the cover.

Some other changes you could make include adding fans for aeration, seed heating mats, and yellow sticky traps for catching unwanted pests in your grow area.

Grow light rack with plants

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I hope you enjoy your new seed starting shelf! This simple addition to our gardening space has made a tremendous difference, and makes working in a smaller space much easier. Let us know any other tips you have for a germination shelf in the comments below! 🌱

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