One of the exciting moments of spring for me is the annual digging of horseradish roots. The only thing more exhilarating is grating the roots in the food processor, or, more precisely, the removal of the processor lid after grating.

Phew! That'll bring tears to your eyes.

However, my point is not to talk about horseradish. Rather, it is the surprise I had when digging the roots last Saturday.

Though the top 6 to 8 inches of soil were quite workable, the soil beneath was still frozen. That I did not expect, and it is sign of just how slow spring has been coming along.

This has discouraged many gardeners from doing any early seed sowing of cold season crops.

Here are some steps that may help those chomping at the bit to get started:

• Warm the soil by placing sheets of plastic over areas of the garden to be planted with early crops such as peas, carrots, onions, and leafy greens.

Use clear plastic or a colored plastic, usually red, green, or blue, labeled as IRT (Infrared Transmitting). Hold down the plastic by placing rods of rebar along the edges.

• Pre-soak seeds in water for several hours or overnight.

• Pre-germinate the soaked seeds by placing them on a sheet of damp paper towel. Insert each towel into a labeled plastic bag and place all the bags in a warm (75-80 degrees) location until the seeds have sprouted.

• When seeds have sprouted and the emerging roots are no longer than 11 4 inch, plant them in the warmed garden soil.

Of course, the plastic has to be removed beforehand. Caution: Never let the sprouted seeds dry out before planting.

• Sowing smaller pre-germinated seed can be difficult. To make the task easier, try fluid seeding. Start by mixing one tablespoon of cornstarch in a cup of water and slowly bring it to a boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the starch.

When the solution starts to thicken, remove from heat and set it aside to cool into a soft gel.

Next, mix sprouted seed into the gel. Pour this mixture into a plastic baggie. Snip a corner of the bag with scissors.

To plant, simply squeeze the bag to exude the gel and seed down the row.

The gel keeps the sprouts from drying while affording some protection from cold.

• The last step is to place floating row cover over the seeded crops. The warmth and protection provide by the row cover will hasten growth.

Your reward for this effort will come with bragging rights for earliest harvests in the neighborhood.

Speaking of rewards, turn over the compost pile and look for gold beneath the surface.

You might think I'm kidding. Well, I am, partly.

If the prospect of finding gold motivates you to turn over the pile, that's good, because the pile will need some aeration to get "cooking" again.

However, there really is gold in that pile -- black gold, as veteran gardeners prefer to call the dark humus end-product of composting.

Screen this compost and use it to top dress lawns and gardens, and as a component for home-made potting soil.

After turning over the compost pile, gather the kids and take them to Project Native's free Environmental Film Festival this Sunday at the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington.

The daylong festival will start with a collection of short films for children and families at 10 a.m.