So, you’ve consulted the garden calendar to beat all garden calendars and bought—or, better yet, traded for—the seeds you’re going to use this year. What now, person with below-average gardening ability and no fancy greenhouse? If you’ve got a sunny window with the ability to put something right in front of it all day, buy a bag of potting soil and some seed-starting trays. I prefer the larger plastic ones above, set on something to catch water (they’re often sold next to trays that fit them). They’re big enough that you can grow plants large enough to be transplanted with some success, and they’re plastic, so they can be re-used year after year. I also find they retain heat better than the fiber-based ones, which have a tendency to become waterlogged and nasty.
Just add some generic potting soil to each cell, plop in your seeds to the depth indicated on the back of the package, and keep them watered every day. So long as your window gets enough sun, you should have sprouts in as little as a few weeks. If you can, once you thin them out, let them grow to the size of proper starts you’d buy at the store (which, last time I checked were around $2.50—not much of a bargain). Because they’re not actually outside they’ll probably get a little leggy, as you can see in the picture above, but just prop them up as best you can once they’re transplanted and they should be fine.
No sunny window? Or, as is often the case, no garden at all? You may want to consider investing in an Aerogarden indoor hydroponic garden. I’ve had mine for well over 5 years now, and while it was a bit expensive (the cheapest one is $89.95), it’s paid for itself in organic lettuce and herbs that are difficult to grow outside. The first time it comes with free seeds, but you can easily re-use the grow sponges it comes with for your own seeds, which is what I’m doing now. You can also buy hydroponic fertilizer elsewhere, like Amazon.com.
My Aerogarden lives in the basement; that way it’s not only out of the way, but it brightens what would otherwise be a dark space. The seedlings in it now will eventually be thinned out and transplanted into the garden, and I’ll replace them with a crop of finicky-to-grow-outside herbs (*cough* cilantro *cough*) over the summer.