Many people try to start some seeds and grow them on in a window sill. Unless you happen to have a really deep window sill in a south facing window, growing seedlings in this manner rarely proves satisfactory. The seedlings don’t get enough light and grow pale and leggy. You can grow far more seedlings of much better quality if you grow them under lights. And you don’t need one of those fancy get-ups that you see in the seed catalogs. It’s possible to make one yourself with average woodworking skills for quite a bit less money. This seed starting light stand is one of the best designs I’ve seen for making your own stand with ordinary fluorescent shop lights. My brother made it for his wife, modifying it so that it held two fixtures on each level.
My husband made a stand for me several years before this article appeared in Fine Gardening, using plans that I had found in an even earlier issue of FG. But I like this better, and if I can ever think of a reason why my present stand is no longer adequate, I’ll use this design for a new one. But I don’t think I’d ever go back to the window sill way of starting seedlings. (Garden Gate developed a stand made with PVC pipe, but it’s not accessible from their website. If you have a stash of back issues, you might want to look it up.)
If you don’t already have the shop lights, I advise not skimping on them. The bargain basement ones have reflectors that are too narrow and cords that are too short, leading to much aggravation. And they require a 3-prong cord, hence also requiring a 3-prong extension cord. Thus, if you buy the cheapest shop light, you will have to buy a not-so-cheap extension cord, and you may find you spend more in total than if you had gone ahead and bought a higher priced shop light to begin with.
A timer to turn the lights off and on automatically is good to have, but remember you can’t get the cheapest of these, either, again because of that 3-prong requirement. Every two or three years I stop by a local greenhouse and buy a huge bag of Pro-mix off of them at their cost, saving me money over what I would pay at a big box store. If you browse through the Seeds and Seed Starting archives, you will probably glean a few more hints (and a lot of moaning and groaning about excessive seed addictions).