Our mild winter has taunted northern Nevada gardeners for weeks, tempting us to work in the garden before we should. But Saint Patrick’s Day is here, and the long wait is over. It is time to plant cool season crops.
Great Basin tradition holds that gardeners should plant peas on Saint Patrick’s Day. The patron saint of Ireland used shamrocks to illustrate parables and grew a living tree from his walking stick, but the yearly ritual of planting peas on March 17 is not based on the cultural and spiritual history of the holiday. Instead, the link between Saint Patrick’s Day and peas is a simple one.
Peas should be planted when soil temperatures reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and they thrive in temperatures less than 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Peas planted in proper soils during cool temperatures have a sweeter flavor than those planted in warm temperatures. In Nevada, these conditions are met in mid-March; a fact easier to remember when linked with Saint Patrick’s Day.
Reno offers many ways to celebrate the holiday, but if you choose to spend March 17 planting peas or other cool season crops, follow these tips:
- Peas – Plant seeds directly into a well-drained soil, rich in organic matter. Provide trellises for climbing vines.
- Onions – Onions prefer the same well-drained soil rich with organic matter as peas do. Sets or starts and bulbs can be planted now; seeds can be started indoors and transplanted within a month of germination. Onions have a small root system and do not perform well with competition, so space them with room to grow.
- Spinach – Plant only cool season spinach in March and April; warm season varieties will not geminate in cool soil temperatures, nor will they withstand frost. Spinach requires soil rich with organic matter, but it can do well in clay soils too. To extend the spinach harvest, provide filtered shade to lower temperatures before plants begin to bolt or go to seed.
- Lettuce – Loose-leaf lettuces darker in color are more nutritious than light-colored head lettuce. This is good news for gardeners because leaf lettuce yields a more productive harvest for a longer period of time than head lettuce, and it has fewer pest problems. Lettuce can be planted in rows of single or mixed varieties. Gardeners can also broadcast seed to make solid blocks of mixed salad greens. Plant requirements mimic conditions for spinach.
- Carrots – Site selection is an important part of successfully growing carrots. Carrots do best in rich, well-drained soils. However, too much organic matter can cause excessive root hairs. Clay soils, soils with hard pan and soils with rocks and other debris can cause root disfiguration. Plant in rows for easy thinning when seedlings reach 1 to 2 inches tall. Succession planting in three-week intervals is recommended for an extended harvest. Be sure to mulch. For good production and flavor, the soil must be kept moist and carrot roots should not be exposed to light.