Reno Homesteading Basics

Wondering if you can homestead in the Reno/Sparks area?  Everything has its details, but here are the basics.  Please keep in mind that we’re experienced, not experts.

Details and laws change frequently. Feel free to make suggestions in the best sizzling hot casino.

Growing Season:  First of all, that advice that it’s safe to plant after the snow is off Peavine is HOGWASH! In 2012, the snow melted in January. I’ve seen snow on the mountain in June, after it’s safe to transplant outside. New gardeners can accomplish more by using season extenders and consulting people who have gardened this area for years than by watching snow melt.

Our last frost date is May 15th, with a first frost in the fall around September 15th. However, we suggest that you anticipate frost for a week longer and watch temperature lows until mid-June. This extends longer for areas outside the main city. Because of erratic frost patterns, we don’t recommend that you grow anything with a season longer than 100 days unless you have supplementary frost protection. Peas, radishes, and lettuce can be planted in mid-March, and other cold-weather crops are successful if planted late March to mid-April.  Frost-sensitive plants should not be sown or transplanted until mid-May, and the gardener should remain wary of erratic frost patterns for a few weeks afterward. Most local gardeners start their tomato and pepper seeds within a greenhouse in early March.

Temperatures: We live in gardening zones 5-7. Early July, we experience highs above 100 degrees, with a record high of 109. Lows rarely go below 0 degrees Fahrenheit within the city limits. Areas beside large open spaces, such as major roads or empty lots, can drop down 10 degrees lower than sheltered areas. The further you go outside the city limits, the colder and more erratic temperatures can be. This is especially true in the North Valleys area. Cold Springs and the Virginia Highlands are zone 5.

Soil Quality: Unless you live in a floodplain, your soil will either be sand or clay. Our soil is also very alkaline. Gardeners find cultivation difficult or impossible in unfortified Reno/Sparks soil. The best solution is to establish regular composting habits and to garden within containers until soil is amended.  While chemical fertilizers may help this year’s crops, adding organic material fortifies and improves your soil for future years.

Precipitation: It’s normal to experience an entire summer with no measurable precipitation. Drip systems, self-watering containers, conservation and repurposing, and heavy mulch are all recommended. In addition, you may want to use shade cloth during the height of summer. “Full sun” normally means “full sun in a climate that often gets overcast days.”

Rain barrels are illegal in Reno. But the authorities themselves say few people are going to enforce the law unless your collection system is very obvious.

Garden Zoning Laws: If you don’t live within an HOA, it’s normal to see lawns ripped up and turned into gardens. Reno is very relaxed about defining landscaping plants.

Bugs and Insects: Luckily, we don’t have many crop-devouring bugs and most infestations are after mild winters. Tomato hornworm has been spreading fast through the area. Squash bugs and earwigs are extremely common. Every few years, Mormon crickets invade. Aphids will cause problems, especially between April and June. Bees can be scarce, but some neighborhoods exhibit beekeeping hobbyists. Most, if not all, infestations can be controlled without pesticides.

Furry Pests: Unless your yard is surrounded by a solid wood fence, expect rabbits in your garden. If humans like it, rabbits love it. If you have mature trees, expect squirrels. If you live within city limits, expect raccoon. Raised beds can deter rabbits and a fence with chicken wire buried 12 inches into the ground can also keep out burrowing critters.  In squirrel-prone areas, a chicken wire barrier may be necessary for tender plants. Raccoon prefer garbage to gardens but are merciless to poultry. If you plan to keep poultry, build or buy a heavily fortified coop with complicated latches.

Chicken Laws:

Washoe County: The only major rule for chickens: flocks over 10,000 need to have a special ventilation system within the building.

Reno: Pretty much all livestock follows these rules: they cannot be neglected, and they cannot be a nuisance to your neighbors. Roosters are allowed, and there is no flock limit as long as they are cared for. Other than that, they follow the same rules as other pets: Keep them confined on your property, don’t let them attack anyone, and keep them quiet and sanitary enough to keep peace with the neighbors. This rule follows other livestock as well, with some Reno residents keeping goats or small herds of pigs.

Sparks: Before last year, chickens were prohibited in sparks and backyard chicken owners went by the sheer grace of their neighbors. Luckily, that changed. Roosters are still illegal and the number of hens you can have depends on square footage, but you can keep between two and sixteen. Read the new laws by Sparks City Council to determine how many hens you can have.

Home Owners Associations: We hate to say this, but if your HOA or CC&R rules prohibit chickens, they trump city laws. Keep this in mind if you plan to buy a house. Most new communities do not allow homesteading of any kind with the exception of backyard gardens or projects you can do within your own home.


20 Responses to Reno Homesteading Basics

  1. Elizabeth says:

    We live in Lemmon Valley and just bought a 5 month old Nigerian Dwarf goat. She is kinda noisy right now because she misses her family. I am hoping it will be only a few nights where she is noisy.
    How do we know if we zoned or aloud to keep her? we live on 1/3 of an acre lot. i have tried to find if we are aloud to have small breeds of goats and have failed to find anything.

    • marissaames says:

      Hi, Elizabeth. Unless you are in a home owner’s association, Lemmon Valley is considered county land. You are allowed to keep just about any farm animal. I have friends in Lemmon Valley that keep pigs, so a dwarf goat should be no problem at all. If neighbors complain, just assure them she is getting used to a new home and will quiet down soon. If you keep chickens, it could help matters to offer the neighbors a fee eggs. And perhaps check the local boards to see if you can find a friend for your baby. That would really help her loneliness.

  2. Annabelle says:

    Hi there! I am a fellow chicken keeper in Reno. I fear I may have a little roo on my hands (9 weeks old). According to this, even if I am in the city, I can keep her? … I mean, him. Everything I have looked up so far says no in all of Washoe Co. I honestly am SO attached to the little bugger. Thanks!

    • marissaames says:

      Hi, Annabelle!

      If you do NOT live within Sparks or an HOA, the law is basically this:
      – Your animals cannot be neglected.
      – Your animals cannot be a nuisance.

      So basically, if your neighbors are fine with your rooster, a herd of dairy goats, or 200 chickens, and they’re well cared for…you’re fine!

      (It always helps to keep communication open and offer a dozen eggs. I tell my neighbors that problems are harder to solve if I get a note from Animal Control versus an open conversation about exactly what the problem is.)

      • Annabelle says:

        Thank you so much! That’s one worry down. Now I’m just crossing my fingers that he stays quiet and sweet! I guess I still might have to find him a nice home if not. 🙂

  3. Zack says:

    I live in sun valley and am trying to find out if goats are allowed in the area. What if I move to sparks? I haven’t been able to find any info besides on chickens.

    • marissaames says:

      Hi Zack, sorry for the late reply.
      Regarding Sun Valley, it depends on where you live. If you live in the part which is technically county land, you’re definitely allowed to have goats. If you are zoned for Reno, you’re allowed to have them as long as they’re well taken care of and your neighbors don’t complain. If you are zoned for Sparks, you are NOT allowed to have them except in special areas zoned for livestock that are over an acre in size. I hope this helps.

  4. Angela says:

    Hey there! We live in Stead and have a Barred Rock we suspect is male. We’d be happy to keep him as a Roo for our flock, but only if the law allows. I’ve been looking around and the only other info I can find seems to be from 2012 and says they aren’t allowed in Washoe county… can you give me a link or number to call, just so we can double check that we’re good?

    • marissaames says:

      Hi Angela,
      I’m sorry I got to this message so late. I’m actually currently in the same building as the president of the Northern Nevada Poultry Fancier’s Association. She says that if you can give me the street or intersection closest to your house, she can check. Zoning in Stead is tricky so she needs a location. If you haven’t already rehomed the rooster and still need information, please let me know.

  5. Kalyn says:

    Hi, we live in northwest Reno ward 5, we’re about to get a mini pig and want to make sure that we’re zoned for one. I’ve tried looking on washer county site and can’t find it? Can you help me.

    • marissaames says:

      Hi Kalyn,
      You’re in luck! Reno’s zoning laws are very relaxed regarding backyard animals. The codes basically say that animals cannot be neglected and cannot be a nuisance. The nuisance part involves odor, noise, animals that get out of their cages, or dust/debris/insects that can invade your neighbor’s property because of your animals. So if your neighbors are fine with you having a mini pig, you’re fine as well. However, if you live in an HOA, the association rules trump Reno’s laws. So if the HOA says no, it’s a solid no.

  6. Jessica scott says:

    Hi there,
    We just moved from Colorado and the homesteading movement seemed to be more prevelant there.

    I am struggling to find resources, informal groups or classes on anything homestead related. You are the first I have found.

    Is there a meetup group or any other resources you have found to be helpful?
    Jessica Scott
    Gardnerville nv

    • marissaames says:

      Hi, Jessica. Welcome to Nevada!

      Actually, I’m currently working with a few of my team members to start a homesteading club with the intent to educate each other and form support groups. We plan to have the first meeting after the new year. Until then, you can join the following Facebook groups, which are very helpful. (I’m a member of each and will most likely recognize you.)

      Nevada Backyard Chicken Group
      Gardeners and Canners of Northern Nevada
      Gardening in Northern Nevada

      All of these groups are very helpful and friendships are quickly made. I hope to see you there.

  7. tviviandavis says:

    Hi! Not sure if you’re aware, but there was a meeting at the Sparks City Council just yesterday (10/12/2015) concerning urban farming, community gardening, backyard chickens & beekeeping. The council decided to allow chickens based on the area of Sparks in which the person resides (no longer just agricultural area) and the square footage of their property, up to a max of 16 hens (no roosters). There is a map available.

    Alecia Richardson Planning and Zoning Public Hearings and Action Items: 11.1 – See more at:

  8. tviviandavis says:

    For Sparks residents: Planning and Zoning Public Hearings and Action Items: 11.1 – See more at:

    Scroll down to see how many chickens you can have and there is a link to a map showing which areas allow chickens (no roosters).

  9. Hi Marissa,

    Are you still planning on putting together a Homesteading club?

    • Marissa Ames says:

      Hi Joseph,

      We sure are. It will start out small and grow slowly with the help of everyone. We’re hoping to have our first meeting next month. If you email your contact info to me at, I can let you know when we have a solid date. A Facebook, Twitter, or G+ contact is fine…just a way I can get hold of you.

  10. Will Foltz says:

    We are looking to buy a house in either Lemmon Valley or Cold Springs. Do you know if there are any chicken restriction for either? I think i am OK in Lemmon valley, it’s cold springs that i am not so sure about. Do they still fall under Reno’s rules and regs?

    • Marissa Ames says:

      Hi, Will

      Cold Springs is about half and half. The biggest dilemma is whether you plan to move into a newer community. Most of the newer houses reside under Reno zoning and are also part of HOAs. It’s the HOAs you need to worry about. Within Reno, the law is basically this: there is no limit on number of chickens, and you can have roosters. But they must not be neglected and, if your neighbor complains, you must fix the problem. I’d be very specific with your realtor that you do NOT want a house within an HOA if you want chickens. Also consider purchasing an older house that isn’t within a planned community if you want more leeway.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s