An Early Spring Great Basin Gardening Tradition

In the Great Basin Desert, we plant peas on Saint Patrick’s Day. This is because the proper growing conditions for peas are met in mid-March, and linking that with a holiday makes it easier to remember. To keep the Great Basin gardening tradition for early spring, you too should plant peas and other cool season crops on March 17.

This gets peas into the ground about the time when soil temperatures reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit and before temperatures reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Peas grown in these cool soils taste sweeter.

The mild temperatures good for peas are also good for other cool season crops. Cool season crops include root and leaf vegetables. Like peas, they can be planted outside in mid-March. They germinate in soils 35 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. They are hardy and can withstand light frosts and moderate snows common to Nevada springs.

Photo by Wendy Hanson Mazet.
Photo by Wendy Hanson Mazet.

The Reno-Sparks area offers a lot in the way of Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations, but if you decide to spend the holiday planting cool season crops, here is what you need to know:

Carrots – Plant in rich, well-drained soils away from too much organic matter and clay soils, soils with hard pan and soils with rocks and other debris. Plant in rows for easy thinning when seedlings reach 1 to 2 inches tall. Apply mulch, keep the soil moist, and make sure carrot roots are not exposed to light. For an extended harvest, plant more carrots every three weeks.

Lettuce – Plant in rows of single or mixed varieties, or broadcast seed to create solid blocks of mixed salad greens. Go for leaf lettuce since it yields a more productive harvest for a longer period of time than head lettuce. Leaf lettuce also has fewer pest problems, and it is more nutritious.

Onions – Plant sets or starts and bulbs in well-drained soil rich with organic matter. Space them with room to grow. Their small root system does not perform well with competition. If you have seeds instead of sets or starts and bulbs, do not plant them directly outside. Instead, start them indoors. Transplant them in the garden within a month after they germinate.

Peas – Plant seeds directly into a well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Fashion trellises for their climbing vines.

Spinach – Plant cool season varieties now in soils rich with organic matter or in clay soils. Extend the harvest by providing filtered shade before plants begin to bolt or go to seed. The filtered shade will help lower temperatures back to preferred levels.

There are many different crops and varieties of those crops to choose from this Saint Patrick’s Day. It is easy to over-plant since there are so many tempting options. As hard as it is to leave areas in the yard unplanted for now, do so in order to save room for warm season vegetables. You will start them indoors from seed soon, and they’ll need room outside in the garden come mid-May or early June.

For more information, check out the related blog posts below.

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