Monday, February 24, 2014

DIY Germination Mat

Germination.  It's when you put a seed in dirt and hold your breath till it sprouts!

Just kidding...well...kind of.  Germination is the process of a seed sprouting and growing.  Most seeds need to be in soil of a certain temperature.  For example tomato seeds like to germinate in 75 to 80 degree soil.  If they are kept in soil of that optimal temperature most likely you will see above ground sprouts anywhere between 7 and 14 days.  (Here is a chart with germination temperatures and days to sprout.) Keeping soil temperatures at optimal levels in the winter, or when starting seeds indoors can be difficult.  We keep our house cold during the winter, anywhere from 55 to 58 degrees.  Most seeds are just going to sit in damp soil and rot at that temperature!

So what's a girl to do?  Why...create her own germination mat of course!  A germination mat (also known as a heat mat) is like a heating pad of sorts.  You can buy them online and forgo making your own of course, but they can be pricey.  You place your planted seeds on top of the mat and they keep your soil temperatures right where they need to be.  When looking for ways to make my own I found a few different ways and ideas.  The one I really liked used rope lights.  It's a great idea, and honestly, one I may use in the future.  The issue was I don't have rope lights.  And they are not cheap around here either! (Not to mention all the ones I can find were LED which DO NOT produce the amount of heat you want.)  I eventually stumbled across this idea and knew it was perfect.  It's cheap, easy, and seems to be working quite well!

You'll need sand (I used about 100 pounds), christmas lights (not LED), something to hold your sand, and that is all!

Step One: Put container on table.  I found this tub in an old grainery.  That's why it's dirty.  If my mom's reading (Hi Mom!) I'd just like to take a moment to apologize to her.  I have no doubt she would have washed it.  I didn't...because I knew I was just putting sand in it!  So sorry mom!  I have a table set up in our 'laundry' room downstairs.  It's an old pressed wood table, and it sits under lights and by a big open window.  This is where I start seeds because it's out of the way and on a concrete floor.  So if it all fell over I'd only cry a little.

Step Two:  Fill tubs with lights.  After I put lights in one tub I realized I should probably go ahead and do another one.  It bothered me they were not the same heights but there was nothing I could do about it.

Step Three: Tape over open sockets.  I don't know if this was a necessary step.  But I figured it wouldn't hurt!

 Step Four: Hold down lights and pour in sand.  This is the most difficult part.  Sand is heavy, lights wanted to jump out of the box and find a tree.  I didn't want any lights sticking up but I got some.  Just write them off as festive and go with it!  This is the final step.  I know...simple wasn't it?!

The Christmas lights heat the sand, which in return heat whatever you place on it.  So far the sand temperature reads at about 120 degrees.  That sounds hot, but every time I touch it I just want to throw down a towel and lawn chair and bask in the warmth.  It seems to keep my soil at about 68 degrees, which is much warmer than it would be without the mat.  I've also been laying a black trash bag over the top.  This has done wonders!!  It creates a nice warm, humid environment.  Once my seeds sprout I'll probably lay the trash bag over at night, so they get all the light they need in the day.

See, wasn't that simple?

Do you use a heat/germination mat?

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  1. That is a genius idea! I have one of the black heat mats but have to take turns germinating my seeds because I refuse to buy a second or third mat. But I have plenty sand and old christmas lights!

    1. I'm glad you think it will work for you! It's the first year I've done this and I loooove it! I had basil sprout in one day, and not even a week later all my tomato seeds have sprouted! I couldn't be happier with how it turned out!