Eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and more harvested from the garden. Photo by Steve Bender.

Don't give up on gardening just because it's cold and gloomy outside. Spring will be here sooner than an IRS audit! So if you're one of those wild-eyed weirdos who prefer good heath to disease and fresh veggies to canned or frozen, here's an easy gardening task to jump-start spring. Sow vegetable seeds indoors.

Why start veggie seeds indoors? Let Grumpy enumerate the compelling reasons. 1. It's easy. Yes, even for you. 2. Plants you start yourself are much cheaper than transplants you can buy. 3. With so many online sources for seeds, you'll find 100 times as many veggie varieties there as you will at a garden center. (Seed sources listed below.) 4. Starting seeds indoors avoids many of the critters, bugs, and fungi that attack seedlings outdoors. 5. Starting seeds early means you can plant outside early and harvest weeks earlier than otherwise. 6. You may discover that gardening is interesting and fun. Hey, it's worth a shot!

Getting Started The first thing you'll need for starting seeds is a warm, sunny space. Something like this:

emThis modest conservatory at Druid Hill Park in Baltimore is a good starting point for beginners.                                                   Send Grumpy a photo when yours is completed. Photo by o palsson./em

Just kidding -- although personally I think I deserve to have a conservatory like that. If everyone would send me just $1 a month, we could make it happen.

Actually, all you really need to get started is something like this -- a Deeproot Seed-Starting System from Gardener's Supply Company. It goes for $39.95.

emYou can start veggies as well as marigolds!                                                   Photo: Gardener's Supply/em

I've used this before and it makes seed starting so easy. It's really a mini-greenhouse with a vented, plastic dome, 15 growing cells, and a capillary mat and water reservoir that automatically provide seedlings with the right amount of water. The dome retains heat and humidity, speeding germination dramatically.

All you need now is a warm, sunny window to place it near. Don't have one? Then add a heating mat and a grow light and you can start seeds anywhere inside. Buying all three pieces at once isn't cheap, but you can use them again and again and again.

When to Start Seeds Indoors There are two types of veggies -- cool-weather veggies and warm-weather veggies. Cool-weather veggies need to be started earlier in winter, because they want to be transplanted outside while the weather is still cool -- about 4 weeks before your last frost. Don't know when your frost-free date is? This map from the Farmer's Almanac will help.

Here's approximately how many weeks before your last frost date to start cool-weather veggies indoors from seed.

  • Broccoli -- 8 weeks
  • Cabbage -- 8 weeks
  • Greens (lettuce, mustard, turnip, etc.) * -- 8 weeks
  • Peas (English) * -- 6 weeks

* Can also sow seed directly into garden 2-4 weeks before last frost.

Here's approximately how many weeks before your last frost date to start warm-weather veggies indoors from seed.

  • Beans * -- 2-4 weeks
  • Corn * -- 4 weeks
  • Eggplant -- 8 weeks
  • Melons * -- 4 weeks
  • Okra -- 4 weeks
  • Peppers -- 6-8 weeks
  • Southern peas * -- 2-3 weeks
  • Summer squash & zucchini * -- 4 weeks
  • Tomatoes + -- 6-8 weeks

* Seed sown directly into garden after last frost germinates quickly. + Starting tomatoes this early produces taller transplants that should be planted deeply for bigger root systems.

Report Crepe Murder! Don't forget Grumpy's 3rd Annual Crepe Murder Contest. When you discover some dolt has chainsawed his crepe myrtle into ugly stumps, email a digital photo of the crime to Grumpy at: You could win a fabulous prize.