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First day of spring and vernal equinox today

Toward the end of March, it's time to

Toward the end of March, it's time to start planting perennials such as tulips. Credit: AP / Alvaro Barrientos

Today is the first day of spring, and you know what that means? It's also the vernal equinox.

When I was a kid and I wanted to know the meaning of a word, my mother typically would tell me to “look it up.” Lazy, I often pressed her to “just tell me.” Invariably, I would regret not reaching for the dictionary because she would launch into a 10-minute lecture about the Latin root of the word and its origins and all of its other meanings and uses. I guess she figured if I understood the word, I would remember its meaning.

Well, all that literary torture must have become ingrained in me because I did develop a love for language and I find myself doing the same thing to my own children. Now I’m going to do it to you.

March 20 is the vernal (from the Latin “vernal,” which means having to do with spring and which also has been connoted to imply “blooming,” a clear reminder that winter is officially over) and equinox, which is Latin for “equal night,” indicating that the night and the day are of equal length -- 12 hours apiece.

The equinox is the day when one season officially becomes another. This year, spring kicks it at exactly 12:57 p.m. in New York. From that moment in time until the summer solstice on June 21 (at exactly 6:51 a.m.), the days will continually grow longer and the nights shorter.

I feel so blah from November through the winter. I find the darkness and the cold mentally and physically draining. But thoughts of tulips and tomato plants and leaving the house without a jacket turn me into a blubbering idiot come March 20, even this year, when, despite the climbing temperatures, there's not a crocus in sight, at least not in my garden.

If you haven't already, start seeds of annuals indoors, but hold off on planting cool-season crops like lettuce and spinach outdoors because the ground is still too cold and soggy.

It’ll be a seed-starting weekend at the Damiano house. I’ll be starting tomatoes and all kinds of herbs in peat pots, homemade newspaper seed pots, cell packs and egg cartons. They’ll take over my laundry-folding counter, under grow lights, until Memorial Day weekend.

Here's my vegetable seed-starting guide and timetable to help you join the fun.

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