I have been reading about winter sowing, but the thread begins with the understanding of this practice underway. How do you winter sow? and when?
Also, can seeds be started without warming matts or special lights? I have a limited budget and cannot afford the trays, soil and all the rest that the stores are selling. I really want to grow from seed. Can anyone help advise? I live in Grants Pass, Oregon. Zone 7
Slant, check out the wintersowing forum here on DG! The WS that most folks are discussing there involves sowing in closed, vented containers (such as a milk just with the cap off and holes punched in the bottom for drainage). This site can get you started too, http://www.wintersown.org/
Definitely check out the wintersowing forum. For your other questions, you don't need warming mats or special lights for many types of seeds. Tropical seeds often need heat to germinate, but typical annuals/perennials most likely don't. If you want to start seeds indoors, the seedlings will need a lot of light, but you don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on grow lights, you can use a cheap shop light from Home Depot if you want, the key is to have light for a long period of time (16-18 hrs a day is what I do for mine) and make sure the light source is only a few inches above the seedlings.
Ditto to everyone here. Think about the fact that people have been growing from seed for centuries and only recently had the nifty little flats, etc that are marketed so well. You can get excellent results recycling stuff you have on hand: egg cartons, plastic clamshell containers (poke holes in the bottom of one side, use the other side as an excellent greenhouse top), milk cartons, yogurt containers, the list is endless. In terms of heat, how about on top of the refrigerator? Many people germinate seeds up there because it's a good temperature. The only thing you need is a light source, and those can be very cheap. I highly recommend Goodwill , in fact. I've bought tons of stuff there that I use for seed starting, etc.
You can also use a heating pad, on low, although you might have to put the seed tray on something that will hold it up above the pad if the pad gets too hot. I've germinated seeds this way for years until I got a greenhouse. You can even re-use much of the seed germinating mix you use after you pot up the seedlings into regular mix. Just sterilize it in the microwave first.
The other thing to know is that the heat is really useful for germination, but after that many seeds can continue to be grown in cooler conditions. So then you can use your heat source to start more seeds!! Good luck!! It's an addiction.
Pixy, I don't know what sort of heating pad you were talking about, but I'm going to get up on my home safety soap box for a moment...
Please heed manufacturer's warnings on household heating pads... they are not designed to be used with anything on top of them, and they're not designed to cope with possible water spills. Many heating pads now sold shut off after a certain amount of time to minimize fire hazard, and that makes them useless under seed trays. Same goes for heeding the warnings on electric blankets... folding them up and putting them under seed trays can be a fire hazard... just because some people do it and haven't had a problem doesn't mean it's safe, it just means they haven't been unlucky.
There have been several threads on the propagation forum about inexpensive (and safe) alternatives to seedling heat mats.
As for expensive plant growing lights, many people think that the inexpensive cool florescent bulbs are better for seedlings than the fancy full-spectrum ones. I use the 4 ft. shop lights from HD ($8) that take two 40W bulbs... one fixture provides enough light for two of those standard nursery flats.