Let me be clear. When I speak of "grow lights" I'm referring to the light bulbs, kits and setups sold specifically for seed starting. Yes, they're neat and sometimes the connection to hydroponics gardening makes them alluring. If hydroponic gardeners use grow lights for their, um, lettuce crops they must be good, right? What can be better than virtual sun lights to give your seedlings a jump start on spring?
How much do grow lights cost?Out of curiosity I searched Google to see what the price of grow lights were nowadays and the just about choked. The hoods for grow lights alone can cost you a close to $200. Plus, the cost of the special light bulbs which can cost nearly $100 for just one bulb. Add in the cost of electricity to run grow lights from 14-16 hours a day, and those tomatoes you're growing to save money on food just got a lot more expensive.
Cheap alternatives to expensive grow lightsNothing's cheaper than the sun when you're looking at alternatives to grow lights. I would kill for more south facing windows, but even with one small window I manage to do alright when starting seeds indoors. The majority of my seeds are started in soda bottle greenhouses outdoors, but occasionally I'll start some in the one window. The rest I sow directly in the garden after the last frost has passed. Diversifying how I start seeds helps me never feel like I have too many seeds going and since things are naturally timed to grow at different stages I never feel overwhelmed when it comes time to transplant.
If you have to-because of a short growing season or because you don't have window space-use lights to start seeds indoors opt for shoplights. For a fraction of what fancy grow lights will cost you can get a shop light and two T8 Fluorescent Light Bulbs (one cool and one warm)from the hardware store with which to start your seeds indoors. What some consider to be a downside of using shop lights is actually a benefit for seed starting. Their large size is perfect if you're trying to start a lot of seeds. Using a small grow light setup like the one pictured above you'd never get enough seeds started in time for planting even with an relatively small space garden.
Do you swear by High pressure sodium bulbs, metal halide bulbs, or even LED grow lights? If you do you can try to convince me in the comments of this post. But I doubt that I'll be swayed and switch to using grow lights to start seeds indoors. Look through my seed starting archive for more tips and posts on starting seeds. You can also search through the seed snatcher search engine to find even more articles and posts related to seed starting from all around the web.