Spinach from Buffalo Ridge Orchard in Iowa. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

UPDATED: March 15, 2015

Ahh, what a difference a year, or two, can make. I wrote this two years ago, when there was still snow on the ground in late March. For the most part this week, Eastern Iowa has experienced warming temperatures and the snow is nearly gone.

What a perfect time to start thinking about spring gardening and starting seeds. See seed-starting tips and how to find your last average frost date, below.

Here is the original post from March 2013: I intended to start my seedlings indoors this weekend, but with snow falling throughout the day today, it just doesn’t feel right. Maybe next week.

Hoophouses have upended Iowa’s growing season. Also known as high tunnels, the simple, plastic-covered pipe structures take advantage of natural sunlight to extend the season and make it possible to grow nearly year-round in the state.

I don’t use a hoophouse, yet, but fortunately growers who sell at the Iowa Valley Food Co-op and at the winter farmers markets where I shop, do. I’ve been eating fresh spinach all winter, thanks to Iowa farmers who now use hoophouses to grow great greens and other produce under those protective covers. They have been planting and will continue to plant throughout these cold days that seem to have dragged on incessantly this year.

More traditional gardeners, like me, who want to know when to start their seeds can use seed packets and last frost date averages as guides. The packets often indicate how far in advance to start your seedlings before transplanting outdoors.  For example, tomatoes usually are started indoors 6-8 weeks before planting outside.

Knowing the last average frost date for your area also helps, but keep in mind that the date can vary from year-to-year.  Using our tomato example and the last average frost date in this part of Eastern Iowa of May 13, according to one source, (others place the date much earlier, around April 30)  you could have started your tomatoes around St. Patrick’s Day, for the eight-week jump-start,  up until the end of March, for six weeks.

I have a week to breathe.

To find the last average frost date where you live, go to the National Climatic Data Center. For more on seed-starting, here are some tips from Iowa State University Extension.