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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

It’s quick, easy to build folding wooden plant stand

Henry Homeyer

It’s time to start planting seeds indoors for late-spring planting. Depending where you are (and what this crazy weather does), late May or early June should be frost-free, so we have about eight weeks until planting things like tomatoes.

This year, I replaced all my fluorescent lights and decided to move plants upstairs to the laundry room. My clunky old metal plant stand would be nearly impossible to get up our spiral staircase, so I built a folding wooden one – and you can, too. It took me an hour to build and cost a lot less than buying one.

First, you need to decide if a plant stand is right for you. Mine is a tall, narrow triangle in cross-section, with two shelves. It is 6 feet tall, 5 feet wide and 2 feet from front to back at the base. It has space for six flats or trays, each of which will hold at least 32 plants – more if you buy the smaller six-packs that I avoid (some flats can hold 48-72 plants).

The lumber for this cost me less than $50 and the light fixtures – 4-foot shop lights – cost me $14 each, plus $8 for the fluorescent tubes. The stand uses three fixtures, so the lights cost about $65, for a grand total of about $115.

Looking at catalogs, I see that one can easily spend $500 or more for an equivalent stand. One could use the same design to make a similar model that would just have one shelf, use one fixture and cost about $75. Then, if you decide you like starting plants in the house, you could add a second shelf and buy the extra lights and shelf next year.

Here is what you need to buy for the model I built:

10 pieces of 1- by 2-inch pine, 6 feet-long.

Two pieces of 2- by 4-foot ¼-inch plywood.

One pair of 3-inch strap hinges.

Three 4-foot shop lights with fluorescent bulbs.

50 sheetrock screws (1¼-inch long).

Tools: portable drill with magnetic bit to fit the screws, measuring tape

Lumber yards will cut all your materials to size for you. Some sell plywood in 2- by 4-foot sheets. If not, you will have to buy a full-sized sheet (4 by 8 feet), which will cost a little more. In any case, your top shelf is 16 inches wide by 4 feet long, the second shelf is 24 inches by 4 feet, so you will need to ask someone to cut the 16-inch piece to size.

You will need to ask them to cut the pine boards as follows: six 60-inch pieces, four 72-inch pieces, six 12-inch pieces. So if the store does not have 6-foot lengths, get 12-foot lengths and have them cut to length.

Start by making two legs for your plant stand. Lay the 6-foot pieces end-to-end on the floor. Do it on your deck, if possible, or next to a wall so that you can get them in a straight line by lining them up with something that is straight. Lay the hinges in place so that you will be able to fold them closed (most hinges only close one way).

Next, close up the hinged legs and place them 5 feet apart on the floor. Place three of the 5-foot pieces on top of the first side. One should be screwed right at the top, one 24 inches from that, and the last 24 inches below that. Flip over the stand and do the same on that side. Stand it up, and spread the legs 2 feet apart at the bottom. At this point, your tripod will be wobbly. Let’s fix that.

You have six 1-foot-long pieces of scrap wood leftover from making the 5-foot lengths. You need to attach two of these to the inside of the bottom cross-pieces, one on the front right, one on the back left. Then, place your 24-inch shelf on top of the bottom supports and center it. There is 6 inches or so of space on either end of your shelf.

You will now attach a cross brace at a 45-degree angle, between the short piece you just installed and a leg. This will keep the plant stand from swaying. Then, take another 12-inch piece and attach it across the legs (front to back) 30 inches from the top. That will prevent the legs from splaying, and make the stand as sturdy as the Rock of Gibraltar.

That may sound complicated, but if you want to see this in step-by-step photos, go to my website, www.Gardening-Guy.com.

Lastly, you need to hang the lights. Mine came with S-hooks and chain, which made hanging the lights easy. If yours do not, you will have to buy them. Most shop lights have a slots and holes on the back side so that you can slip in S-hooks easily to hang it. You can also open a link of your chain and fit it in without an S-hook, just use two pairs of pliers to bend a link open.

Starting seedlings indoors is miraculous for me – even after doing it for decades. I hold my breath waiting for germination and fuss over the seedlings like a mother hen.

And when I bite into my first tomato in August, I have the added satisfaction in knowing I brought that tomato into my world – with a little help from Mother Nature.

Henry Homeyer is a gardener and writer. Contact him at P.O. Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746, or by visiting his Web site, www.Gardening-Guy.com. His column runs the first, third and fifth Tuesdays of the month.