This is a picture from Christmas 2003 of my plant stand and grow lights. Perfect for a graduate student with no garden to call her own. Thank goodness times have changed!
I've seen an avid gardener install several of these units in her basement to start seeds during the winter. That's a great strategy for giving some plants a head start, like tomatoes and impatiens. Most seed packets say to start the seeds 4-6 weeks before your frost date, and that time here in zone 7 is approaching soon!
If you've been watching my hydroponic plants grow under their lights, from when we planted the seeds to tending the mature plants we have now, you can see that they work well in the classroom, too. We are starting the next stage in our hydroponic experiments tomorrow, so I'll post soon with our progress.
A couple tips-
1. Mark the fluorescent tubes with the date of purchase with a permanent marker. If you are going to grow plants under them full-time, they will dim and need to be replaced after about a year.
2. Incadensent bulbs generate a lot of heat and will fry your plants.
3. A rubber mat, as pictured here, can collect accidental drips. Now I also put the pots on a plastic tray full of gravel, which also cuts down on leaks.
4. Invest in a simple 24-hour timer and set it for 12-14 hours of "daylight". If you don't want your plant lights to wake you up while you're trying to sleep in on weekends, you can buy a fancier one.