My garden zone is 2b. My main challenge, wind and a short season. For that reason I start a lot of my flowers and vegetables indoors under lights.
If you have ever started seeds indoors you may have noticed they sprout and start off really nice. Then they start to stretch out and become very spindly and do not do much more then that. Rarely will they get their second set of leaves and are a very light green. There is simply not enough light. The idea of growing plants on the window sill is lovely but very unrealistic.
Even the tiniest of seedling need light, lots of light. Much more then what comes though the windows.
Fluorescent lights and fixtures are very inexpensive and are easy to set up and operate. And you are saving a ton of money. For just a portion of what you would spend at the greenhouse on plants could get you all you need to start and grow your entire garden.
I started out with a few 4 foot fixtures on over turned milk crates. It does not have to be fancy or expensive.
I have upgraded my grow system a bit. I have a 3 tier light stand that uses 6 lights.
I use a combination of 2 different bulbs. One is a 40 watt plant and aquariumn bulb, it looks orange when turned on. Along with that I have 34 watt white light to even out the spectrum. Both made by Phillips.
I rotate the trays 180 degrees every 24 hours to make sure the plants grow evenly.
If you notice the lights are lowered as close as I can get them to the plants without touching them. The great thing about using fluorescent lights is they stay nice and cool. So even if a seedling does touch a bulb, it will be fine. They do not generate enough heat to burn the leaves.
Your goal when growing indoors is to duplicate Mother Nature as best you can. So along with with lights and water you also need to think about wind. In nature wind makes plants stronger as does it indoors. You want to be sure your plants are strong and healthy so they can handle the transition when they are moved to the outdoors.
As soon as my seedlings have their first set of leaves I turn the fan on for a minimun of 30 minutes a day. This assures they will have nice strong stems long before they ever feel real wind. I do spray all my seedling with water before I turn the fan on to be sure I do not dry them out.
When they are this young I do not fertilze them at all. Make sure the soil is wet, but not to wet, you do not want the seedlings to drown.
When I am germinating seeds I use covers on all the trays to raise the humidity and to contain heat. Seeds need moisture and warmth to germinate. Once a tray is planted I will place it on an electric heating pad under the lights. This can at times speed up the germination process by quite a few days. You will notice in the picture a large amount of condensation on the cover. Be sure to wipe down the insides of the covers using a clean towel at least once a day. This airs out the tray and also helps prevent too much mositure building up. Once the seedlings sprout remove the lids completely.
If you notice on the seed packages it will tell you some important information.
First is how many weeks BEFORE your last frost that the seeds should be started. That assures your plants will be old and strong enough to handle the move out doors. Also it give you a good idea if the crop will be finished before your first frost in the fall. So be sure to buy seeds that will grow and be harvestable in your areas growing season.
The second bit of information you are looking for on the package is how to plant. Each seed has different needs as to depth and spacing. It will also tell you how long it takes for the seeds to germinate. Some seed take up to 21 days to sprout. Be aware of these number and mark your trays so you know what each contains. Many seedlings look the same until they grow their 3rd set of leaves.