The best way to get a head start is to raise the soil temperature so the seeds can sprout. To do this we bring the work inside a controlled area. This can be as simple as a small greenhouse or a cold-frame. Cold Frames are simply a partially buried box in the ground with a glass roof. Despite the name they stay warm inside. In contrast a greenhouse stands above ground. Cold Frames are cheaper and easier to use but the greenhouse offers more room. Both work on the same idea we call of course “the greenhouse effect”. The sunlight comes in during the day and radiant heat is trapped inside.
The greenhouse effect has been in use for a long time by gardeners. I have seen many variations from large fancy greenhouses to simple plastic hoops on the ground. They all use the same basic idea to get ahead of spring. I personally favor the poly-carbonate greenhouse I have over the plastic hoops or cold frames I have tried. Venting the humidity from a hoop house can be difficult. Cold frames have limited work area and being low to the ground requires more kneeling and stooping. And a dedicated greenhouse can always double as garden storage.
But a greenhouse alone is not enough to start seeds. The seeds also need something to be planted in. This requires pots and dirt. Stores sell various starting kits every year. However, they are not cheap and buying them each year can add up. Many of these use dehydrated peat discs and those can be purchased separately as refills. But again, those little discs are not as cheap as bagged peat.
Over the years I have found some ways to reduce this cost of seed starting. Commercially grown seedlings come in four pack or six pack starter pots. Most of these plants are annuals so they flower great for one season and then the plant dies. But, the plastic starter pots they came with are still very much usable. l keep them for my own seed starting the next year. I have been doing this for some time and I now have quite the stockpile of reusable seedling starter pots.
Reusing these pots require seed starting medium. I have noticed that regular garden soil or even potting soil does not work very well in these. Seed starting medium has more nutrients and does not get so compacted that the seedlings cannot emerge. The medium comes in bags and is usually next to the seeds and starter kits and peat discs. Buying a bag of this is still usually cheaper than purchasing the little dehydrated discs.
These starter pots have drainage holes in the bottom so water will run out. The drainage is great for seedlings but will create a mess. I set them inside plastic trays or old cookie sheets that can catch and hold the water that flows through. This also allows me to water the seedlings by pouring water into the trays to create a frugal self-watering seed starting system.