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.
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.
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.