We used to read gardening books the same way we read recipes: Sure, we'd dream about delicious meals and blooming flowers, but never actually put in any work.

But fear not: Putting your green thumb to work is easier than it seems, even for first-timers. Spring officially started yesterday, so it's time to prep that patch of earth. We're learning on the fly, and so can you. 

Here are some starter steps:

1) Ask your nearest USDA agricultural extension about what plants grow best in your zone and natural soil.

2) If you want to grow flowers and vegetables from seed, buy now. Time’s a-wasting! As a rule, carrots—one of the easiest crops for first-time organic gardeners, should be seeded in the ground three to four weeks before your region’s last spring frost date, according to the National Gardening Association.

To find your city's last frost date, go to www.victoryseeds.com/frost The average date for the last spring frost in New York, where we live, is April 13—and, given global warming, it may even be earlier.

To buy organic and heirloom seeds, try planetnatural.org, seedsofchange.com, and seedsavers.org.

Too late? Not to worry. Rules are made to be bent. You can also buy a "cheater" flat of already-sprouted organic baby carrots, parsley, chard, whatever, from your farmers market or gardening supply store.

1) Before planting, prepare the soil. Dig and turn it to a depth of 12-18 inches, and mix in a 2-4 inch layer of organic compost. What, you haven't composted all winter? Tsk tsk. While you start to cure a homemade batch in a bucket, you can buy organic soil enricher from gardensalive.com.

2) Sow seeds ½ inch deep, about 12 per foot in a row. Do a little dance and chant, It will come up.

This article originally appeared in Plenty in March 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.

Copyright Environ Press 2008