Spring Means Gardening in Northern Nevada

Deep down, I know it’s too soon.

There is still snow on Peavine. The last freeze date is more than two months away. Nighttime temperatures sometimes drop below zero. And heck, this is northern Nevada, so it could snow at any time.

But I have a green thumb, and there’s a certain itch that sets in this time of year.

The first crocuses and tulips have bloomed in my garden, and it’s suddenly a crisis, at least in my mind, that I haven’t sown my carrot and onion seeds.

Because in my family, spring rhymes with gardening.

My dad’s father was from a farming family and each year, with Grandpa’s help, my dad would plant and maintain an elaborate garden that covered most of our backyard. Half the yard was devoted to vegetables and berries, and citrus trees dotted our lawn, thriving in the temperate Bay Area climate.

The rule was not to plant tomatoes before grandfather’s birthday in early May. But in early spring, when Dad and Grandpa had the itch, they curbed it by grafting dormant fruit trees. Grandpa would acquire cuttings from his neighbors and then drop by our house, where he and my dad would attach the pencil-sized scions to the trees in our mini orchard.

No one in our family is patient, and after grafting the grafts, my dad would go out regularly to push, push and check them. Finally, our apple tree had more than a dozen varieties; I don’t remember ever buying apples at the grocery store. Our stone fruit and citrus trees also bore more than one variety of fruit.

My grandfather died six years ago; the last time i saw him he pulled out his old tools and walked me through the grafting process. I don’t know if I remember exactly what he told me, but I planted some fruit trees in my garden so that one day I could try.

And then there were the vegetables.

Every spring we were trained in what my father called “OJT – on-the-job training”. That meant pulling weeds, and boy, were there a lot of them. But after the weeds were cleared, my dad let my brother and I each manage a garden box; I planted lima beans so I could sit on the porch and shell them, competing with myself to find the pod with the most beans inside. I piled the beans in a colander that, nearly four decades later, I still use in my kitchen.

I remember my mother sweating on the stove in the summer, canning pickles from the bountiful cucumbers and simmering tomato sauce. Because Dad never planted a single tomato or cucumber plant – like any true gardener, he planted several, just in case.

We always had more than we could ever eat.

By midsummer, we were universally tired of zucchini and yellow squash, which my mother had baked, steamed, and slipped into cakes and breads. Neighbors received “gifts” of additional products.

At Grandpa’s we ate tomato sandwiches – giant beefsteak tomatoes on bread with salt and pepper. At my maternal grandmother’s house, we dipped the strawberries grown on her back porch into bowls of white sugar.

It’s a little different in northern Nevada. The growing season is shorter. The wind is stronger, the nights cooler.

At the end of every summer, when my tomatoes haven’t necessarily ripened before our first frosts, aphids have taken over the Brussels sprouts, and my watermelon vines stretch for miles without bearing fruit, I swear that next spring I won’t.

But still, with the first heat wave of the year, the itching returns.

Rain or shine, I’ve blocked out this coming weekend to fix my irrigation system and start planting tomato and watermelon seeds indoors.

And as hard as it is, I will hold on in early May. Happy birthday, grandpa – this tomato is for you.

Amy Alonzo covers the outdoors, recreation and environment for Nevada and Lake Tahoe. Contact her at [email protected] Here’s how you can support continuous coverage and local journalism.

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