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Phil Renfro, San Antonio, Texas

Water-Wise Gardener Harvests Vegetables Year-Round

Phil Renfro with peppers
Peppers, both sweet and hot, are a favorite crop in Phil Renfro's garden.

Gardening in southern Texas is not for the faint of heart. Between the intense summer heat, long droughts and poor soil, it takes a dedicated gardener to get plants to grow. The positive side is that with good planning, you can have vegetables growing every month of the year.

Phil Renfro of San Antonio took on the challenge 14 years ago. He and his wife Regina have a home on 4 acres, but his pride and joy is a place he calls his "little house in the woods." "It's actually a garden shed," says Phil, "but all around it is a 30 x 50-foot, raised-bed vegetable garden where we grow all our own vegetables. Phil has constructed a 7-foot deer fence around the garden to keep critters out. Inside, he grows a summer and a winter garden. "In summer I grow all the usual suspects: tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, squash, beans and okra. In fall, I plant cool-season crops of greens, beets, collards, cauliflower, broccoli and onions," he says. Phil also grows fruit crops, such as figs and peaches.

By planting two crops each year, summer and winter, Phil and his wife are self-sufficient in vegetables. Regina is Brazilian and loves using Phil's produce. "She likes making feijoada," says Phil. This is Brazil's national dish, and it features rice, beans, sausages and pork in a stew. "What Regina really likes are my collard greens," he says. She rolls up the leaves and sautees them in garlic and oil. "They taste great with the feijoada. I can never grow too many collards for her taste," he says.

Phil Renfro adding compost
Fourteen years of adding compost and manure has dramatically improved the soil in Phil's garden.
Soil Good Enough to Eat

The key to Phil's gardening success is soil building. "The soil here is poor clay, so I've been adding compost and cow manure for 14 years to build it up," he says. "Now my soil is so healthy it's good enough to eat," laughs Phil. Phil believes composting is the way to go. "I have a Pyramid Composter, wire mesh compost bin and a tumbling compost mixer," says Phil. "I like the tumbler the best because it's larger than the others, mixes the organic materials easily and has a wide opening that's quick to fill," he says.

Phil alternates adding cow manure and compost in his gardens every January before planting season gets rolling. "I also feed a liquid organic fertilizer to the vegetables every time I water through my irrigation system," he says. Between the compost and the liquid fertilizer, my vegetables thrive each year," says Phil.

Watering Techniques

The other key to success in Phil's garden is his watering techniques. It gets awfully hot in San Antonio in summer and Phil doesn't want to spend the whole day watering. "I bought my drip irrigation system from Gardener's Supply when it first came out 14 years ago," says Phil. " I think it's just about the best ever irrigation system ever invented," he says. "After all these years it's still working great. I can leave the vegetable garden for weeks without hand watering," he says.

Phil Renfro and his irrigation system
Phil's irrigation system is a must in the arid climate of southern Texas.

For his fruit trees, flowers and shrubs, Phil uses a combination of HydroGrow porous irrigation hoses and water rings. "I just set the irrigation hose on a timer and don't have to worry about remembering to water," says Phil. "If I didn't have those hoses my trees and shrubs would be dead by now," he says. Because of recent droughts in Texas, Phil is considering supplementing his drip irrigation system in the vegetable garden with the soaker hoses to get even more water on his crops.

The End of the Day

Phil likes the serenity of his garden as much as its productiveness. "I love taking the plants from seed to harvest," he says. "I love that feeling of success". At the end of the day Phil just likes settling into his garden, enjoying the outdoors and spending time by himself. It's his way to recharge and renew himself. It's hard to imagine a better way to live!

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