I found a great way to start seeds early - and not have to have them in the house, on the window sills or on top of the refrigerator - and you don't even have to worry about watering them once they are planted. I used this the last two winters and it works amazingly well. It is sort of like a school science experiment the first time you try it - and really is fun!!!!
It is called Winter Sown - and you plant your seeds in plastic containers - you can use the ones you get grapes in - those plastic clamshells - or bakery comes in them too - or milk cartons - most anything that is plastic, can hold dirt, has holes in the bottom - or that you can make holes in the bottom of.
Gather up your plastic containers - and your seeds (you can get free seeds from this site also). get some potting soil, something to label the seed containers with - and you are ready to start.
You make sure there is drainage in the bottom of your container. I had the best luck using empty gallon mild jugs. I stabbed the bottom of the jub about 6 times, twisting the knife a little to make the holes bigger.
Then cut the milk carton almost in half around the middle - leaving the part with the handle intact.
Cut a few slits in the top of your container for air - if you are not using the milk jugs. With the lid off the milk jug gets plenty of air.
Fill the container with potting soil, make sure it is damp - about 3" deep - and plant your seeds. You will need to tie or tape the milk jugs back together in the middle to keep them from popping open.
Then put the containers outdoors where they won't be disturbed - but be sure and put them OUTDOORS. The seeds will be watered by the moisture in the soil - it will recycle back into the soil from condensation inside the container. I leave the lid off the milk cartons for a little added moisture from rain that might fall.
It doesn't matter what your weather is like, the seeds will sense when it is their time to sprout and they will come up at the right time for each plant. It really is amazing to see how this works - and all you need are some plastic containers, a little potting soil and seeds - and of course - the gardener's patience.
For labeling I use my P-touch label maker - it seems to be the best way I've found to label the milk cartons. I wrap the label around the handle and stick it back to itself - and so far I've not had any labels fade or come off. If you label on the bottom then you have to lift up the container and might spill the contents while looking at the label. Of course if you are good at remembering what the seedlings look like - you can tell what is coming up.
In the spring - and sometimes in late winter - you will find little sprouts coming up in your milk jugs - they will grow fine until they are big enough to transplant, right in their warm little houses made of milk jugs (or other plastic items). If you do leave them a little bit too long they will still grow just fine - I even had one batch of poppies come right out through the spout of the milk jug and bloom. I had left them too long without transplanting.
Make sure that you place the plastic containers that you have planted with seeds in a location where they won't get a lot of hot sunshine in the spring - or you might end up with cooked plants. Don't ask me how I know THAT. Put them alongside the house, in a place that won't get a lot of wind and where you won't have to move them about. A low table is good, or a bench - or even on the ground. A kiddie swimming pool is also a good spot for them - keeps them all together.
Then sit back and enjoy your new seedlings - grown at the right time for each plant and ready for spring planting. Perenniels and bienniels planted this way will bloom the first season - like hollyhocks - without having to overwinter a year. Rain, snow, hail, ice, freezing temperatures - nothing seems to stop the seeds from sprouting. As you might have found, many seeds will self sow and come up at the appropriate time in the gardens - and this is just another way to help them along.
If you need more help - all the instructions here - you can go to this site and read all about it.
I have planted seeds for hollyhock, delphinium, correopsis, purple cone flower, asters, daisies, bachelor's button, lupins, foxglove and more - and had fantastic results.
So gather up your supplies and have a little fun with Mother Nature this winter.