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Trigger SF to create new item - can/how can this be done?

I am working on a simple (or so I thought) Employee and PTO app.  The PTO object looks up to the Employee.  I would like to automate the creation of PTO items at different times - 90 days after the Employee start date, and yearly on their anniversary (ie create a new PTO item for this Employee when eligible, filling in the Amount with a field on the Employee, etc).  I have all the fields in place for this but realized I don't know how to make it happen.
I have searched everywhere I know of, and I have gleaned that 1. I cannot use existing Workflows to do a cross-object 'anything' (except on children), 2. I cannot use existing SF functionality to automate creation of anything.  It seems it can be programmed somehow though?
If anyone can help by pointing me in the right direction that would be great.  I have programming background but haven't programmed in SF besides doing the basic Eclipse IDE thingy - setting up an object and creating fields.  I thought I read something about Apex or AJAX - but can't find any 'Here's how to get started' tutorials or if that's even the right place to look for this.
I'd love to start programming with this and it seems simple enough, so I hope someone can help!
I'm not sure I've fully understood what you are trying to do, but here are some pointers that might help you a little.

What edition are you using?  You probably need Apex code and triggers and these are only available on EE and UE.

I think I'm right in saying that you need to set up a sort of 'salesforce cron'.  You can find ideas on how to do that on these forums - just search for "cron".

There is a growing bunch of Apex documentation available.  It's worth setting aside a couple of hours to read through some of the main docs to get an overview, before diving into the detail. Check out the wiki,  - a good place to start is probably the various links from this page.

If you want a broader overview of the whole range of SFDC technologies, get hold of the force.com cookbook, which you can find just by searching this forums.  To download the cookbook you'll need to register as a DFC member, but you'll need to register  anyway to get your free developer account.