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Itching to exercise your green thumb? Make a convenient, collapsible light stand and start seeds indoors now

This is a challenging time of year for impatient gardeners. The days are lengthening, the sun's getting warm, but there's always another snowstorm in the forecast…then the rain comes; too much rain for tender young shoots to withstand. Yet your green thumb is itching to get into the dirt. You distract yourself by thumbing through seed catalogues; you map your garden layout.

You look morosely at the little envelopes of dormant life lying around. Is there a way to start your garden early?

No greenhouse, no south-facing windows? No problem. With this simple-to-make A-frame stand, sprouting seeds indoors is easy. Just add light and warmth, and young shoots will soon be drawn out of the dark. (See "Transplants & Timing," opposite, for considerations about what to plant when.) Bonus: the stand folds flat for easy storage in the off-season.

As a general rule seedlings do well with 16 hours of artificial light a day, and an eight-hour rest period. If you are a creature of habit, you can turn the lights on and off manually each day, but some gardeners prefer to use a timer to control the lights.

The dimensions of this plant stand were derived from the two plastic trays we chose for our base, which provide a convenient way of carrying seedlings outdoors for transplanting come spring. Start your project by finding similar trays; you can make the stand for more than two if you like. Alternatively, lay shelves between the crosspieces that join the pairs of legs: ¾ inch thick boards can be cut to length, with cleats attached to the underside to lock the shelf in place. This allows shelves to be removed when you collapse the A-frame for storing.

For individual seedling containers, we recycled some milk cartons, cutting them down and adding a layer of gravel beneath the soil, so plants are easily released. Any 2 to 3" deep containers can be used; make drainage holes in the sides at the bottom.

Steps:

1. Cut the 8' 2 x 4s in half. Lay them on edge, and cut a rough (temporary) angle at the tops of two of these four legs. Place them on a flat surface, with these angled cuts touching and the other ends splayed. Use a straight edge to make them flush with each other at the bottom.

2.  Measure the top outside length of your plastic trays, then subtract twice the depth of the lip to get the size of the container. Measure 12" up from the straight edge and make a mark on the flat surface at the outside of each leg. Keeping the 2 x 4s touching at the top, and the bottoms on the straight edge, splay the legs until these two marks are now the inside leg measurement.

3. Centre the 2 x 6 ridge piece on edge over the top of the angled ends of the 2 x 4, using a scrap of 2 x 4 between the splayed legs to prop up the other end. Make it square to the straight edge by measuring in to the centre from each side; move the ridge piece until both measurements are equal.

4. Run your pencil line across the tops of the 2 x 4s where the ridge piece crosses them. Remove the ridge piece and clamp one of the legs into the bench vise. Use a combination square to place the pencil line down the front and back of the 2 x 4. Saw straight along the lines, checking the rearmost vertical line occasionally to ensure that your saw cut is on it. Note: the bevel is cut across the wider face of the 2 x 4. Cut the other three legs using the first one as a template. When all four bevels are cut, lay the legs side by side with their angled ends aligned. Clamp them together and plane off any irregularities.

5. Measure and mark 1½" in from the ends of the ridge piece, and use a combination square to transfer this measurement to all four sides of the wood. Place the cut angle of one of the legs on the flat face of the ridge piece, aligned with the inside of this line, and put a temporary screw through it into the ridge piece. Do the same on the other end of the ridge piece and then turn the whole thing over and lay it on a flat surface with the legs down and ridge piece on the top. Place the strap hinges against the bottom edge of the ridge piece, centering them on the legs. Screw the hinges in place. Get an assistant to help you align the two upper legs to the lines on the ridge piece while you screw them in place. Stand the A-frame up and remove the temporary screws from the hinged pair of legs.

6. Clamp strapping pieces across each pair of legs at a height of 12"; one on the hinged side, and one on the fixed side. Place the plastic trays in place and move the strapping up or down so that the trays are resting securely on their curved lips. Check that both sides are level and then screw the strapping onto the legs. Saw the strapping flush to the outside of the legs. Remove the plastic trays. Our strapping ended up being 15" above the ground, still left plenty of room for the lights, which should hang no more than 6" from the top of the container (before germination) or the tops of the seedlings once growth has begun.

7. To lock the plant stand open, make notched crosspieces: clamp the crosspiece lumber to the outside of the legs, so that the bottom edge is about half way down the strapping pieces. Mark on the back where it contacts the outside and top of the strapping. Remove the clamps and lay the piece on the workbench. Use the second piece of crosspiece material against the inside of the line to mark off the width of the notch, and finish off the depth with a straight line parallel to the edge of the wood. Repeat on the other end and cut the two notches out using a saw and chisel. Check the piece for fit by sliding it onto the strapping pieces. Make any adjustments necessary, then use it as a pattern for a second crosspiece. Lock the legs apart with the two crosspieces.

8. Trace around the bottoms of the legs by laying a scrap of ¾" lumber on the floor against each side of each leg in turn, and drawing a line where it rests against each face: this will give you a saw line parallel to the floor. Remove the crosspieces and collapse the stand. Lay it flat on the workbench and saw the bottoms of the legs off for flat contact with the floor when standing. Note: lining the saw up with two of the lines, one horizontal and one vertical will give you the correct saw angle.

9. Reassemble the stand and draw a line across the top of each of the legs. Saw the sharp ends of the legs off square and sand the rough corners. Attach your lights. Note: Keep the power cords away from hot lampshades. Put the trays in place, and sow many seeds.

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