Nontraditional gardening: ‘Miracle Planters’

Part three in a three-part series

NW Miracle Planters1
Albert Tanko and Klaus Mitterhauser showcase one of the “Miracle Planters” Tanko built at Mitterhauser’s North Branch home. Photo by Derrick Knutson

For many people, gardening can be a relaxing pastime.Digging one’s hands in the soil and feeling the sun, warm on the shoulders and neck, can be a form of catharsis.

Gardeners rummage around their plants, crouched over weeding or sowing seeds for years, but as time goes by, knees sometimes turn creaky and backs can get sore from spending all that time stooped over.

North Branch resident Albert Tanko has a solution for those who love gardening but don’t like the aches and pains that sometimes go along with it.

Motorists who have driven past his home along Highway 5 and Zodiac Street likely have seen what looks like a rock fence surrounding most of his property.

But upon closer inspection, it’s easy to see the robust plants growing from the tops of the rock towers.

Tanko’s friend, Klaus Mitterhauser, who is in his early 80s, calls them “Miracle Planters” because of how well the plants grow in them.

“To me, it really is a miracle,” he said.

Mitterhauser, who moved to North Branch about 15 years ago, is a former restaurant owner and chef who wanted to get into gardening after he retired.

“I learned gardening the hard way with a lot of failures and a lot of books that didn’t tell me what I needed to know,” Mitterhauser said. “Then I met Albert. He has the simplest, most cost efficient and best way to garden.”

And the best part of the planters, Mitterhauser said, is that they can be made to heights that make it so the person gardening in them can stand while tending to their plants.

How Tanko builds the gardens

Tanko uses truck tires he procures from recycling centers to build the insides of the planters.

He usually stacks them three or four high, cutting away the inside of the top tire to create more planting surface.

He then wraps the outsides of the tire stack with wire fencing and fills the planters with rocks he’s collected from nearby farmers’ fields.

The planters can be dressed up by different means than rocks, too.

Tanko has more than 200 of the planters at his home between North Branch and Isanti.  Photo supplied
Tanko has more than 200 of the planters at his home between North Branch and Isanti.
Photo supplied

At Mitterhauser’s North Branch home, Tanko built two planters and wrapped the outsides with bamboo, which can be purchased from home improvement stores.

To fill the planters, Tanko uses just about any compostable material for the first few feet of the planters, but the top foot or so is filled with two bags of good potting soil mix and Tanko’s added growing component: sheep manure.

Tanko has about three-dozen sheep at his home, so there’s always an ample amount of high-nutrient manure to be collected for gardening.


Advantages of the 

‘Miracle Planters’

Mitterhauser said in addition to the advantage of being able to stand while gardening, it’s not that hard to see how well Tanko’s planter design works. He has a traditional garden alongside his garage, which is growing at a normal pace, but the vegetables growing from the planters Tanko built are going gangbusters.

“Right now, I have tomatoes about the size of my fist,” Tanko said of some of the garden fare growing at his home.

Expounding on how well tomatoes grow out of the planters, Tanko said he doesn’t really bother much with tomato cages, because the tomato vines end up cascading down the sides of the planters, and he picks them before the tomatoes come to rest on the ground.

Mitterhauser said the tires draw and retain heat, which helps plants in the Miracle Planters get started weeks before gardeners can usually plant in the ground, and they’re well-drained, so overwatering really isn’t an issue.

In addition to how well vegetables and other plants do inside of the raised planters, Mitterhauser said they’re perfect for climbing plants, like peas, because a gardener can place those types of plants at the base of the planters, and they’ll climb up the sides as they grow.

He also noted weeding is easy because he doesn’t have to bend over, and the planters keep rabbits away, which can decimate a garden in a short time.

For anyone interested in having a Miracle Garden built on their property, Tanko said he’d come and build and fill as many as people want to their specified heights and decorating options, for a fee to be agreed upon by Tanko and the homeowner. If they order more than three, they will receive a discount.

Tanko can be reached at 763-444-5453 or [email protected]


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