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Cornell gardening resources Low-Cost Grow-Light Frame Plans

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Photos courtesy Jim Grefig
If you'd like to start your own seeds inside, or you work with youth or children and are looking for fun and meaningful projects, these grow-light plans might be just what you need.

The cost of the PVC for the lightweight 48-inch-long frame is only about $12. Additional hardware, including the light fixture, bulbs, extension cord and timer, run about $30 to $40 - depending on the cost of the light.

Thea Fry, a Master Gardener Volunteer in Westchester County, and her husband Bob developed the plans. Thea shares their plans with teachers and youth leaders through workshops that are part of a School Gardening Mentor Program in the county, sponsored jointly by the 4-H Youth Development Program and the Master Gardener Volunteers.

"Most classrooms do not have enough light to grow plants, and many teachers and youth leaders don't have the money for expensive grow-light fixtures," says Thea. "We hope that this inexpensive design will help more children successfully grow plants and learn from the whole experience."

One way to keep costs low is to use one "warm" and one "cool" light bulb in each fixture. This costs less than using special "growlight" bulbs and still gives plants the quality light they need. If space is limited, the plans can be modified to use a 24-inch light. Likewise, the stand's width can be doubled to accommodate two lights side-by-side.

Thea also points out that the flat top of the framework can support a plexiglass or cardboard shelf for storing supplies. You can also suspend a plastic sheet over the unit that will help plants survive extended periods (such as school vacations) without watering. Before covering with plastic, plants should be properly watered and not have insect or disease problems, she cautions.

Jim Grefig, another Master Gardener involved with the School Gardening Mentor Program, coupled the grow-light with a hydroponic system (picture below) inspired by Grow with the Flow. This 44-page publication compiles ideas and activities using hydroponics to teach plant science, physics, entomology, social studies, nutrition, math and more. Hard copy not available. Download .pdf.

grow light with hydroponic system
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Photos courtesy Jim Grefig

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