Heather, this is for you : )
First off, my thumb is sort of brownish green. Here's the thing. I kill a lot of plants, but I look at like what I've read photographers say they do. You take a thousand photos to get one good picture. I figure I'll kill a bunch of plants, but I'll get a few really good ones and I'll learn along the way. The real reason I garden is that I LOVE playing in the dirt and this seems to be one of the few ways we get to do that as adults. If I get some yummy veggies in the process, well that's icing on the cake. (Wait, that's the cake with the icing... I like icing better than cake so the veggies are the cake and the dirt playing is the icing.)
There are a few things I've learned from all my messing with our little plot over the last few years. Heather asks if she should be planting already so, in my typical fashion, you get ALL my advice : ) Here it is in a nutshell:
We live in the Pacific Northwest so there are a few things that don't take much effort to grow year round. Now, that said, you have to get a feel for your particular "microclimate". For instance, if you are on the coast, it's a little milder there all year and you might get away with planting even earlier than me in Portland. However, if you are in the coast range, you probably have a very short growing season as you're at higher elevation and with a little less daylight each year. Bottom line, plant a little bit and see how it does! Just don't plant all your seed and then you can replant a few weeks later if everything dies.
I think I've been waiting way too late each year to plant and I'm learning that I should actually prepare my beds in the fall rather than the spring - ie till in all the dead plants in the fall so they can compost into the soil over winter. If you didn't do that last fall, like me, then as soon as you have a couple of dry sunny days get out there and work up the soil - getting it ready to plant. If your soil clumps together or you can even squeeze out water - then DON'T do it. It'll dry into a brick the next sun you get.
Right now it's cold season planting. Look on your seed packs, it will tell you what the ground temp should be to plant. Remember that the ground temp is always warmer than the air temp as it holds in the heat better, especially if you have raised beds. Your beds also don't have to be contained in anything - they don't have to have a wooden frame or anything fancy like that. You can just dig a "grave" - piling the dirt up to the side and, voila, the pile you leave is your raised bed! This is what we do every few years in our fenced garden.
Here's what seems to be doing well in our garden - so far, but I haven't seen it in a few days - lettuce, radishes and chard. I think peas will be good soon and we've tried broccoli too. I am also realizing that I've been waiting way too late to plant peas in particular. They like it cold. Speaking of peas, inoculant is a little expensive, but it does really seem to help and a little goes a long way.
I also put out little cat food cans (well cleaned) with cheap beer in them all over the garden. This seems to be working with the slugs, but you have to top it off when it gets low or it rains a ton. You bury the cans in the soil so that just about the top 1/4 of an inch is above the soil. The slugs go in but they don't come out. This is VERY important to do while it's still pretty rainy out - the slugs LOVE this weather and they will eat all your baby plants.
If you buy perpetual chard this year, you may never need to buy the seed again. Mine has self sown for three years, maybe four in a row.
I have also heard that planting garlic and onions throughout the garden will deter some pests. I'm trying that, but have no idea if that really works. We like garlic and onions so why not! If you plant them right now, it's a good time to do it, you won't have them this year, but maybe next year. Oh, salad onions/green onions though can be planted now and throughout the summer and you'll have them this year. Chives too.
Lastly, if the temp is going to drop at night below freezing or if you're going to have ice, you want to protect the plants. I've heard you can even just put a sheet over your bed for the night. Or take some of that window plastic and make a "cloche" or a cover for the bed.
OK, that's it for spring knowledge. Like I said, pretty basic!