When we lived on grid and had full use of electricity starting seeds was a no brainier.
We could simply run the grow lights 24/7, we could use the heating mats to assist in seed germination, and we even had clever tricks like putting the trays on top of the warm and toasty refrigerator or the dryer.
However now that we live off the grid the dryer has been replaced by drying racks, and the fridge remains outside till summer for energy efficiency purposes.
In addition heating mats and grow lights running 24/7 just isn't a practical or a viable option when you rely on your panels and battery bank.
We also are on a budget and limited for space outside. So erecting a greenhouse at this time just isn't feasible.
However we love thinking outside the box. And when others may be looking at buying building materials for that greenhouse, or just giving up and waiting till the garden centers have plants, we have decided to make what we have work for us!
Heck,thats part of self sustainability right?
The Warmth Solution
A challenge for many of us who are off the grid is we heat with wood! We dont have a thermostat that can easily regulate our heat so germinating seeds can be difficult. Germination is the sprouting stage, which doesn't require light. But as the embryo of the plant emerges from the seed gentle warmth is crucial.
Regulating wood heat during this sensitive stage can present a issue. This is why we use thermal mass.
Thermal mass uses objects with high thermal mass to absorb and retain heat. Materials used include cement blocks, bricks, stone, water, tile. These materials have the ability to store heat and re-radiate it. This is a lifesaving concept when using a wood stove and germinating seeds that need that gentle warmth throughout its germination period.
To implement all one needs to do is find their choice of material. We used cement block and rock as well as a big kettle of water.
Simply take your blocks or stone and water pot and place them on top of the wood stove. Some people are even able to stack the stone up against the sides of their stove.
When the fire has died down during the day those trays that are set on top of the stone/blocks will benefit from the radiant heat. This also works well as the outside temps warm up and you find starting a fire during the day isn't practical. No need to worry, the thermal mass will continue to work until the evenings fire!
When using the wood stove there is the tendency for seed pods to dry out. Therefore you must be very diligently checking your trays for moisture control. Always remember to add water to the bottom of the tray. Mist as needed to keep the soil mix moist.
Another off grid trick is to ADD a very damp sponge or wash cloth to each tray. I find wood heat very drying. So this added trick really does increase the moisture, assisting in creating a little greenhouse.
Green House On Wheels
The other reality with seed germination is that it is usually done at the end of March going into April when outside temps are indeed warming up. Which means off grid wood stoves are shutting down. Usually only fires are started during the evenings to take the edge off. So besides utilizing the thermal mass there is another ingenious trick we often overlook!
Our own vehicles!
All one needs to do is park your car in the driveway where the sun is hitting it directly. Keep the windows rolled up and wallah..! Instant greenhouse. Our truck and Subaru hits temperatures between 100-85 degrees . The germinating seeds love this constant warm heat that for any gardener doesnt require any extra help!.
From Heat To Light
And lastly, when those seeds finally do germinate they will need light. Many people are so accustomed to using grow lights that they forget the power of the sun! A south facing window is all that these new plants need to get started. Without light they will become leggy and stalky. But once in that window sill they will reach for the sun! Still pay attention to the room temperature. They cant go out in a cool garage yet, but neither is a hot car good anymore. Temperatures between 60-70 degrees will suffice. Dont get to wrapped up in the particulars. You will be surprised at how fast they grow once they feel that sun
And one last point! For those who have conventional homes and want to be more conservative with their lifestyle.TRY this no electric method!! You will be empowered with what you can do without having to rely on the convenience of electricity! Save a light bulb, and grow a plant! Its magical!!