Tag Archives: landscaping

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.

Organic Landscaping and Why It’s Important


When referencing produce and food the word “organic” has become a familiar term but is still not something many people understand fully. If a product is certified organic then the contents must be 95% or more organic, which means free of synthetic additives such as pesticides, chemical fertilizers and dyes, and must not be processed using industrial solvents. The same concept applies to organic landscaping and gardening as well.

According to local organic landscaper, Sam Sitterle of Green Grow Organics, “Just because a lawn is green, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. We call it fat grass. When it’s chemically-fed, it’s not necessarily healthy. Balancing the biology in the soils is key. Let the microbes do what they do and plants grow according to their needs. Force-feeding with salt-based fertilizers disrupts the biology and causes unhealthy conditions that create harmful fungal growths and leaves plants susceptible to pests.”

Most commercial landscapers use toxic chemicals, such as Roundup, which besides leaving your lawn malnourished, can also have harmful ramifications for your family. Sam is convinced that many of the autoimmune health problems we’re seeing these days are a direct result of these chemicals. “I’m convinced the problems are environmental and would resolve if people would just eat organic,” he said. Sam also points out that veterinarians are seeing more and more pets showing up with cancer on their paws and noses from running around on chemically-treated lawns.

As an alternative to these common landscaping practices, Sam uses a proprietary blend of actively aerated compost tea filled with healthful bacteria (similar to healthy gut flora) that nourishes the landscape. “The plants love it!” said Sam. “Our brews are so bacteria- and fungal-based that when you spray the leaves of the plant with it, they will occupy the spaces that would otherwise be attacked by a seasonal invader. We bring the good guys to the fight, overpowering fungal diseases like brown patch and powdery mildew.”

Interestingly, Sam can often tell what nutrients are deficient in your soil just by evaluating the weeds that are present. “For instance, grassy weeds are sequestering calcium. Virginia button weed sequesters cobalt.  Clover signifies a nitrogen deficiency.  When spotting weeds, pull them if you like but leave them to be mowed over.  These weeds are there for a reason.  Mother Nature makes no mistakes, ever,” explained Sam.

Tip to Kill Fire Ants Without Harmful Chemicals

Sam offers a little tip for those who wish to kill fire ants without using chemicals. Surprisingly, it’s Mountain Dew to the rescue for this one. Pour it over the ant hill and let it do its work. “The carbon dioxide displaces the oxygen, sickening the queen, and the caffeine is a neurotoxin,” said Sam. Try it, it works!

For a custom home that will perfectly showcase your organic landscape, call us at 210-494-5400 to set up a free consultation. If you wish to be added to our private email list for our newsletter, please sign up here.


Xeriscaping: Beautiful and Sustainable Landscaping for Your Home

Living in Texas, especially South Texas, means water is almost as precious as gold. Water restrictions are just a part of daily life, and nothing suffers more for it than our lawns. If you’re looking to build a new house or are considering landscaping alternatives, consider xeriscaping.

If you’re not familiar with the term, xeriscaping is landscaping and gardening that minimizes the need for supplemental water from irrigation by using plants natural to the environment. In fact, a xeriscaped yard uses about half the water of a traditional yard.

Other Benefits of Xeriscaping:

-          No need for pesticides or fertilizers.

-          It’s pollution free.

-          It creates a natural habitat for your local wildlife.

-          It requires a lot less maintenance, so it’s perfect for families who are always on the go or travel a lot.

-          Drought-proofing with Xeriscaping is a great way to improve the value of your property.

Beautiful and Green (sustainable)

Unfortunately, xeriscaping has earned a bad reputation as being unattractive. Sure, this type of landscaping means that you may not have an endless carpet of feather-soft grass in your front yard, but let’s face it, even with unlimited watering, that’s just not realistic. Still, this doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice beauty for practicality.

At Stone Creek Custom Homes, we work with some of the best landscape designers who seamlessly combine their knowledge with your own personal aesthetics to create a stunning outdoor environment for our client’s new homes.

Here are some things to keep in mind for your own Xeriscaped yard:

-          If you like to have a colorful yard, you can plant native wildflowers that are as hardy as they are gorgeous.

-          Use structures like walkways, pavers, stairs, a small bridge or other aesthetic elements, such as fountains, to minimize the need for plant life.

-          Make sure to consider the overall style of your home to help inspire the outdoor environment.

-          If you want to do some pre-planning and designing on your own, make a sun chart that delineates how much sun and where your property gets throughout the day. This will help you properly match the right plants with your home’s sunlight exposure.

-          Get your soil analyzed. You can send in samples to your local agricultural government office. This will help you determine what plants are realistically sustainable on your land and where your soil might need to be augmented.

Feel free to call us at your convenience at 210-494-5400 to discuss your own home and xeriscaping needs! Also, if you’d like to be added to our private email list to receive the newsletter, please sign up here.