My kitchen has three large south-facing windows in a sort of bay window configuration. This area gets lots of sunlight, especially when the leaves are off the trees, so it’s where I start my seeds in late winter.
Perhaps you are wondering why I am starting these particular seeds at this particular time. It is because different seeds take longer or shorter times to produce a plant that can safely be planted outside at different times before or after an area’s Last Frost date. If you start them too early, they’ll be leggy and perhaps even die before you can get them outside whereas if you start them too late, you won’t get a good harvest before the fall freeze date.
Rodale’s has a handy seed-starting chart available for free on their website (a downloadable pdf is available here):
You can find your area’s First and Last Freeze dates by calling your county extension office or checking the site Dave’s Garden, which has an online freeze/frost calculator into which you can enter your zipcode to get the dates for your area. Here is what it said about mine:
Each winter, on average, your risk of frost is from October 5 through May 4.
Almost certainly, however, you will receive frost from October 19 through April 19.
You are almost guaranteed that you will not get frost from May 20 through September 21.
Your frost-free growing season is around 154 days.
So to calculate when to start my parsley, I look at a calendar and the Rodale chart. My spring Last Frost date is May 4th and I can put parley outside 2 weeks before that date, so I count back and end up at April 20th. Parsley needs 9-10 weeks after sowing the seeds before it is ready to put into the garden, so I count back 9 weeks from April 20th and end up around February 17th for the date I need to sow my parsley seeds indoors.
My basil seeds have been started earlier than necessary because I intend to pot some of them and grow them in a sunny window for a kitchen herb garden. The view from kitchen is a nice one of our woods and the neighbor’s corn field:
However, I’m going to sacrifice the view in order to have a year-round kitchen garden. Phil is building free-standing wooden units with glass shelves that will fit right into the window spaces and will allow me to grow herbs and some kinds of vegetables (lettuce, celery, scallions and a few others) right in the kitchen all year long.
The reason to keep the fall First Frost date in mind is if you are doing staggered planting. You might not want all your parsley (or tomotoes or zucchini or whatever) to be ready all at once, so you might start some seeds now, some seeds in a couple weeks, and maybe even a third or fourth round of seeds. That way your plants are bearing at different times, provided they are all ready and done for by the First Fall Freeze (for me that is officially October 5th although I can almost always harvest later than that, especially hardier plants like squash and herbs).
There really is no such thing as a “brown thumb”. It’s really just a matter of doing some research and then a bit of trial and error. Even if you live in a city and have only a balcony, you can grow pots of tomatoes; herbs do fine in a sunny window. And there are always community garden plots to consider. Virtually anyone can grow something edible, so why not start now?