seed starting rack
We start almost all of our seeds on our home built seed starting rack

For the last few years, in the late winter months, our dining room table transforms into our seed starting area – or as we like to call it – our mini garden. We actually had it down to a science, using a few inexpensive shop lights to grow our plants healthy and strong.

The mini garden set-up unfortunately also rendered the dining area useless for the 6 to 8 weeks it took to grow all of the ornamental pepper and garden plants we use.  Not to mention, some strange looks from company wondering what we were “growing” in there under the dim glow of flourescent lights :).

seed starting rack
Our seed-starting rack stand – room for over 500 seedlings!

So, for this week’s DIY segment –  we thought we would design and build our very own lighted seed starting rack. The rack will allow us to move the entire seed starting operation out of the dining room – and into an unused portion of our basement.  It also allows us to double the seeds and plants we can start indoors in less space – from the 4 flats we could start on the table, to a full 8 flats.

We wanted it to be simple, strong, and of course, as always – inexpensive!

Using just nine simple  2 x 4 x 8 pieces of lumber, a single sheet of particle board and 4 inexpensive double-bulb shop lights – this can be made from scratch for around $50 to $70. Even less if you happen to have some old shop lights or scrap lumber laying around!   The seed starting rack will accommodate up to 8 full size seed trays on the two growing shelves – and can grow up to 576 plants if using the 72 pack cell inserts.

There is even shelf space at the bottom to store gardening supplies – or if you are really ambitious – another layer of plants!  The best part of the project – it can be assembled with simple tools in less than an hour or two.

Building The Seed Starting Rack

Materials List:

(9)  ea. 2  x4  x8’s
(4) ea. Hanging Shop Lights
(1) 4′ x 8′ sheet of 1/2 strand board or plywood
(50) 3″ screws
(8 to 12) 2″ screw hooks

Tools Needed:

Circular or Chop Saw
Screw Gun
Tape Meassure

How We Built It:  

(We have included extra photos of the seed starting rack at the bottom of the post to show the building process)

Start by cutting all of your pieces:

You will need to cut the 2×4’s into the following sizes:
4) ea. 6′ long
8) ea. 4′ long
8) ea. 2′ long

Taking the 4′ x 8′ sheet of plywood or strand board, cut three pieces, each 27″ x 4′ wide – these will become the shelves of the stand.

The actual building process is a snap – especially if you have two people for an extra set of hands. We normally use construction adhesive when we build anything for extra durability – but we forewent that on this project in case we ever want to disassemble and relocate the shelves.

Start by building your 4 rectangular shelf supports from the 4′ and 2′ pieces.  Create a rectangle by placing two 2′ boards flush at the ends of two 4′ boards.  Drive a single screw in the middle of each connection to create a solid rectangle.  Repeat until you have all four rectangles assembled.

Next, we will assemble the bottom shelf first. Take one of your 6 foot boards and place it flush on the end of the outside edge of where the 2′ and 4′ pieces meet. (see pictures)  Then – making sure your 6′ board is straight in the air at a 90 degree angle – we screw it in place with a total of 4 screws.  We put 2 screws that sink into the 2′ board and 2 more than sink into the 4′ board. Repeat for the other 3 “legs” and you are on your way to your plant stand.

Next – we screw in one more of the rectangles the same way – this one at the top – flush with the top of the 6′ boards. Once you have this screwed in – your stand will start to become very stable.

Attach the final two shelf rectangles for your two shelves.
Attach the final two shelf rectangles for your two shelves.

Now, we just simply repeat with the final two rectangles, screwing them in to form the bases for the growing shelves. For our set-up, we set our two shelves at 23″ apart – this allows us plenty of room to adjust the lights up and down with chains as the plants grow, and lets our plants have plenty of room to grow big.  As another option you could also evenly space the two middle shelves and actually grow on the bottom shelf as well for 3 growing areas.  For us, two is more than plenty – and we will just use the bottom shelf as for storage items.

Next, slide in the 3 27″ x 4′ shelf boards you have cut from the plywood or strand board to make your shelves.  Simply drive a few screws into the support frame to secure.

Once you have all of your shelves in, its time to hang your lights. Simple screw hooks work great here.  A small pre-drilled hole will help you screw them in.  We install 2 hooks on each side – spaced evenly on the 2 foot end bars.  Most of the inexpensive shoplights at the big box stores will come with a small chain and S hook for the light – just install and your set.  To make ours even easier to operate – we are going to install a small power strip on the side, allowing the lights to be turned on with a single flip of the switch.

There you have it – an inexpensive seed-starting stand!  If you want more information of starting seeds – you can see our article from a few weeks back – How To Easily Start Seeds Indoors

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–  Jim and Mary

Close up of the rectangle shelf supports attached to the post. We attach 4 screw on the outside of each shelf angle support to add extra strength to each
Four screws are driven in to the outside of each post at every shelf corner
Four screws are driven in to the outside of each post at every shelf corner
Four screws are driven in to the outside of each post at every shelf corner
Side View of the shelf supports
Side View of the shelf supports

7 thoughts on “How To Build An Indoor Seed Starting Rack – Cheap!

  • July 15, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    I built a stand like this many years ago and had a different set=up for hanging the lights. There were 1 1/2″ rods that spanned the width with a finishing nail in each end of the rod. I hung sash chain down the ends (2 lengths down each end) from top to bottom. Chain the lights to the rods, then hook the nails into the chain to hang. To move the light up, just move the whole rod to a new chain loop. It was very easy to move the lights or to slant them slightly to one end so that they were closer to the plants.

  • March 20, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    any thoughts on designing this for easy storage when not in use? since this will only be in use for 2-3 months it would be conveinient to store it in the attic or other area for those of us where space is a premium

    • November 16, 2016 at 8:41 am

      I made one years 25 years ago – still in use – by screwing the whole thing together loosely, then fitting with lag bolts/wing nuts and removing most of the screwed -together joints. You need two lag bolts per joint for a secure assembly. This way the whole frame and be easily disassembled at the end of the season. I ended up leaving the “ends” screwed together because I have storage space for those, but theoretically, the whole thing can be disassembled. You have to flip the end 2x4s ninety degrees to be able to bolt the shelf supports to the end frame.
      It takes me less than 30 mins to assemble the whole thing, most of that time cursing while trying to hang the heavy, old T-12 fixtures. Not sure if I’m happy or sorry I stocked up on those bulbs 10 years ago….
      Some tips:
      1 – LABEL ALL THE JOINTS before you disassemble the first time!!! You will never (unless you are a master carpenter, and I am not) get the bolt holes to match up unless you do.
      2 – Drill the bolt holes slightly larger than necessary for the bolts. Makes dis- and re-assembly much easier.
      Sometimes a hammer is necessary to convince the bolts to go through the holes. NEVER pound the threaded end of of the bolt for removal. If you need to use a hammer, screw a nut to the end and tap gently on the nut so you don’t destroy the bolt threads. (again, voice of experience talking here)
      3.- Use washers with the wing nuts for a tight fit. I used regular nuts for years before i switched to wing nuts/washers, tightening everything with a hex wrench – boy, was that dumb!
      4 – An assistant with assembly is always welcome (though sometimes I have to do it myself – 5’2″, 110#)
      5 – Don’t panic when your frame is wobbly upon assembly, it will stiffen when you tighten all the nuts.
      I have some old plastic signs I used for seed tray platforms that I duct tape to the frame, but You could cut 1/4″ plywood. I’d seal it with paint or urethane. Never had my shelves NOT get wet. Maybe I’m just messy.
      6 – I used 2×3 lumber instead of 2×4 to make the whole thing lighter weight.
      Happy Seed Starting!

  • February 24, 2016 at 11:30 pm

    Oh yeah, forgot to add this. I covered mine too , not at first but as I learned more about temps I needed to bump it up. Mine sits in front of a windowb in the basement and I didn’t want to block that so I made a tent of mylar emergency blankets. They are really cheap but they tear after rolling the up and down. So I ended up keeping the mylar in the back but I bought cheap white shower curtains at the dollar store for the rest. Works perfect. John

  • February 24, 2016 at 11:23 pm

    Great article, thanks for sharing. I built mine very similar to this one a while back. Couple of things different on mine. I made mine 33 X 49. That way each shelf holds 6 trays and 4 shop lights with 2 tubes each. The trays are 11X22 and so I put 4 one way and 2 the other way. Next, one of my shelves has a piece of galvanized sheet metal on top. Got that at a HVAC place. Instead of just a plywood shelf, that one is 3.5 inches thick (a 2X4 on edge) and has a plywood bottom. So it is a 33X49X3 inch box filled with sand and a heating cable for bottom heat. 8 sets of shop lights with room for 4 more on the bottom shelf if I remove the 5 gal buckets from the bottom shelf. Max capacity is 18 trays. John

  • February 11, 2016 at 7:20 pm

    Oh, this is just what I was looking for! I will use it in my conservatory where I start my broad (fava) and runner (pole) beans off in 3 inch pots. There won’t be any need for artificial light as it is an all glass conservatory (sun room) and I’ll be making enough shelves for 6 trays of 66 pots. This is just perfect. Shame timber is so damned dear here in the UK …

  • February 8, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    Great design. Because my basement is so cold (55 degrees) I decided to wrap the unit with 3/4″ foam sheeting. (3 sheets 4×8′)To make this look neat I moved the legs 3/4″ past the front and back of the shelves. This allows the foam to be recessed on the sides and flush on the front and back. I took the leftover 2×4 foam sheeting and inset it in the top and bottom shelves to seal the unit. Just waiting for the lights to come!

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