The vegetable gardening season in the Lake Tahoe basin is very short because of the cool climate. On average, the last frost in the spring occurs in mid-June and the first frost in the fall in mid-September, although frost can always occur a couple weeks earlier or later than average. Some plants can survive frost, but many must not be planted until the danger of frost has passed.
Vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, peas, broccoli and radishes tolerate cool temperatures and can grow well during the late spring and fall months. In the Lake Tahoe basin, plant these crops as soon as snow melts and the soil can be prepared, as they can tolerate temperatures as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Vegetables that do not tolerate frost, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers and squash, should be planted as seedlings in mid-June. Choose varieties that will produce their crops by mid-September.
The soil in the Lake Tahoe basin is typically very sandy, which is not ideal for growing vegetables. Plants need a variety of nutrients that are not found in sandy soil. To prepare your soil for a vegetable garden, mix in organic material such as compost and peat moss, and if desired, add a chemical fertilizer as well. Soil in the Lake Tahoe basin is likely to be acidic. A soil test, which measures the pH and nutrients, will tell you if you need to add lime to bring the pH to about 6.5, ideal for most vegetables.
Watering and Care
Vegetable gardens in Lake Tahoe need regular watering. Because of the dry air, wind and sandy soil that drains quickly, daily watering is required for healthy growth. Vegetables need water when the soil is dry 1 inch below the surface. Also, due to Lake Tahoe's high elevation and the possibility of frost in early summer and early autumn, close attention should be paid to the weather forecast for frost warnings. Cover the plants with plastic or another fabric designed for protecting plants on nights with possible frost.
Lake Tahoe gardeners who do not have any defenses in place will quickly find that many local animals are interested in eating the vegetables. Common animals include squirrels, voles, rabbits and deer. Building a fence around the garden is the best way to prevent these animals from eating the crops.