Tag Archives: gardening

Tips from an Urban Farmer

Photo by Koen King Stokes

Koen King Stokes of Veg’d Out Urban Farms, a new urban farm just 15 minutes south of downtown San Antonio that grows using organic and sustainable practices is trying to prove that putting plants in the ground can be, not only functional, but pretty darn easy.

“If you’re wanting to connect with nature again, you don’t have to go to a park to do it. You can put the essence of nature in your yard. Not only can it be less maintenance than your turf, it can also be productive, as long as you know what to put in the ground and when,” said Koen, who offered a few easy tips.

Kill Your Grass

This might sound a little scary at first, but according to Koen, grass is the #1 weed for urban farms, and completely useless. “I know it’s radical, but I like being radical,” he said. You can kill your grass either quickly or passively. He recommends getting a digging fork or broad fork to break up and aerate the soil afterwards, so that the roots of the new plants can breathe. You want to go down about 6-8 inches.

Learn Your Landscape

This is nothing more than simple observation. Study your planting area. Where are the shady spots? Which spots get the most sun? “These are called microclimates,” said Koen. You might find a section that’s already sheltered from a northern wind. If you’re going to plant something more susceptible to frost, for example, you’ll want to put it on a Southeasterly exposure. “That’s why I have bananas and lemons over here and not over there,” he explained.

Make Mulch Your Friend

Koen encourages any interested urban farmers to fall in love with compost and mulch. “When you apply compost to any soil, it brings it back to a conducive environment for plant growth,” he noted. When you apply mulch on top of compost it helps to maintain that environment. Mulch, which can be made up of anything from leaves to wood chips, pine needles and coffee grounds, is a shelter for compost.

What & When to Plant

You know what vegetables and herbs you like to eat, right? The big questions are if the things you like to eat will grow well in a South Texas climate, and what season is best to plant in. Koen suggests starting with something simple like perennial herbs which, once established, can go virtually unattended. He likes thyme, oregano and mint varieties, although he’s currently growing about 50 different kinds of herbs. Herbs can also be as decorative as they are delicious, therefore a great introduction for a new urban farmer. Koen recommends shopping at Fanick’s or Shades of Green to get your herbs and other plants. He also suggests exploring online resources for more information, such as Texas A&M’s planting calendar.

However, if you prefer to just eat the veggies and herbs, rather than grow them, you can check out Veg’d Out Urban Farm’s delicious produce on Sundays at the Pearl Farmer’s Market. If you need a beautiful dream home to build an urban farm around, just give us a call at 210-494-5400.

How to Make a Sustainable Keyhole Garden


If you’ve never heard of a keyhole garden, the concept was first started in Africa as a way to maximize water and other resources. In Texas, the keyhole garden is growing in popularity for the same reason. It uses minimal water (up to 70% less) and is a great way to re-purpose waste, like banana peels and potato skins, that you would normally just throw away. If you’d rather not spend an hour a day watering your garden, check out this nifty little idea and grow some extraordinary vegetables.

In essence, a keyhole garden is a raised-bed planter that reaches waist-high and is built in the shape of a circle measuring approximately 5 feet in diameter. A hole in the middle holds a composting basket that keeps the soil moist and fed. If you look at it from above, it looks like a keyhole or a piece of pie with a missing slice.

People that we’ve known who have built their own are amazed at how little water is needed and yet how lush and prosperous the plants are in this mini ecosystem. It’s pretty easy to build your own – just follow these instructions:

  1. First you’ll need some bricks or rocks, a compost bin or some wire mesh to make your own cylindrical composter. Of course, you can save yourself some time and effort by shopping for an  attractive, pre-built keyhole planter online.
  2. Next, make a circle with the bricks by stacking them 3 or 4 high, depending upon how you stack the bricks. The circle should be large enough to accommodate the composter in the middle of the circle. Make sure that your arm can reach the composter in the center – this will ensure you’ll be able to harvest all of your crops.
  3. Make sure the wedged section, or keyhole, is large enough so that you can walk up to the composter for refilling.
  4. Fill the planting space with biodegradable materials such as newspaper and cardboard, then top with nutrient-rich soil in such a way that it slopes away from the compost basket. This is to encourage proper drainage.
  5. Plant your veggies in sections – tomatoes go in one pie slice for example, spinach another, and so on.
  6. Fill with compost daily, or as you have it, then water (approximately a gallon a week) over the compost. It should disseminate the nutrients and water nicely throughout the garden, leaving your plants happy and healthy!

For a luxury custom home to go with your awesomely sustainable garden, call us at 210-494-5400 for a consultation. If you wish to be added to our private email list for our newsletter, please sign up here.


Starting an Herb Garden in South Texas


It’s only April, which means either you’re already harvesting vegetables from your garden or you’re considering starting one. If starting a garden seems like a daunting task, consider starting a small herb garden that is much more manageable and also provides your meals with the freshest, tastiest ingredients for your spring and summer dishes.

Thankfully, many herbs like it hot, which means they’re perfect for Texas. Besides being edible, they also look beautiful in your backyard and often smell even better than they look. Here are a few herbs and ideas you might consider for your new herb garden:

BASIL:  Everyone loves basil, but this little guy likes water, so make sure to plant it next to other herbs that need to be watered frequently – at least once a week. We recommend experimenting with the different varieties of basil. The purple basil is beautiful and tastes amazing!

DILL:  Butterflies love dill just as much as we do. If you’re wanting to draw in these gorgeous creatures then plant lots of dill. Make sure to compensate for the fact that they will eat plenty of leaves.

GARLIC:  Garlic does best when planted in the fall. We recommend planting short neck varieties, and don’t forget to fertilize with nitrogen every three weeks. It should be ready to harvest early next summer.

MINT:  Use mint to make a small aromatic shrub. It comes in a variety of different colors and flavors, and goes quite well with spring cocktails. However, keep it trimmed as it can spread quickly.

CILANTRO:  Although cilantro is a common staple in this region for its contribution to numerous Mexican dishes, it does best in cooler weather so plant it in the fall. However, you will want to protect it from a hard frost.

POTTED PLANTS:  Texas is full of sunshine but because we do have the occasional frosts, we recommend putting the more sensitive plants in pots that can be easily moved inside. Check out this buzzfeed video on how to make a very cool three-tiered mini herb garden:

A beautiful garden calls for a beautiful home! Call us at 210-494-5400 to set up a consultation to discuss your new custom-built luxury home. If you wish to be added to our private email list for our monthly newsletter, please sign up here.