He wears a hat that says GRDNR and his name rhymes with dirt, and that’s ok with Kurt Mitschke, our featured gardener for September. I met Kurt earlier this summer while I was wandering through Austin’s Sunshine Community Gardens deep in the heart of Austin. The towering corn (‘Peruvian Chullpi’ from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) above his garden plot drew me in like a magnet; as I got closer I noticed the beans climbing on a corner trellis, a kale “tree” tied to a sturdy support, a DIY sink set up behind the corn and Cherokee Purple tomatoes carefully tied in green organza bags to deter the birds, all within the confines of a well-tended and maintained 20 x 20-foot allotment. Kurt was working busily in the garden, but not too busy to take a break and talk gardening. Before we knew it, an hour had passed and we had become garden buddies.
If you’ve ever driven into College Station on Texas 21 then you’ve driven past Kurt’s tiny hometown of Lincoln, Texas, just down the road from Dime Box. He grew up around country gardens and gardeners and now enjoys the thriving urban garden scene in Austin. The vibe, the garden wisdom, the community and the variety of plants he is exposed to at Sunshine has inspired him to a new level of gardening. A community garden is a great place to pick up ideas and inspiration, and social media gives him a place to share. Armed with a camera, a drone and a creative spirit, Kurt enjoys showcasing his urban garden and the interesting variety of edibles that he coaxes from his plot. See more of what he is growing at www.instagram.com/kurtsdirt. And for a bird’s eye view of Sunshine’s 3-acre Community Garden check out his cool drone video:
Name: Kurt Mitschke
Location: Austin, Texas
Years gardening: I’ve been around gardens my entire life, so 28 years now, but I didn’t have one of my own until I joined my first little community garden five years ago. Then I got pretty serious about it all once I moved on to a much bigger plot in Sunshine Community Gardens, where I still garden today.
Years gardening in this garden: Three-and-a-half years — and in the current setup that includes a mix of in-ground and raised beds, nearly two.
Favorite thing to grow: Gosh, I have so many favorites, but there’s nothing I find more exciting than growing new-to-me varieties, especially vegetables and herbs that I haven’t ever seen in other local gardens or markets.
Best growing tip: Grow vertically. Using trellises and other supports in the garden is a great way to maximize space and produce healthy crops that are easy to harvest. Plus, it’s just a really fun and impressive way to grow.
Best pest control tip: Keep a clean garden. Get rid of dead and decaying plant matter that can be a prime breeding ground for lots of bad bugs, not to mention a bunch of other things you hope to avoid in the garden, such as fungus and disease.
Best weed control tip: Turn the soil less and mulch more. Chopping and tilling can bring up weed seeds that are dormant in the soil, so if you don’t disturb it these seeds might never have a chance at germination. And I don’t limit my efforts to the growing beds — all pathways in my garden are covered with a thick layer of wood chips that also helps to limit the weeds.
Biggest challenge: Each season trying to fit in all the different plants I want to grow! Also, Texas summers.
Favorite soil amendment: Lots of compost. Specifically, mushroom compost. We had a truckload delivered to the community garden this spring, and my plot — as well as the community garden as a whole — never looked better.
Do you preserve any of your harvest? Yeah, occasionally. Sometimes I pickle or blanch and freeze vegetables. I also dry some herbs, for tea and cooking, and will probably do the same with chili peppers this year (it’s been a great pepper season and I have a lot to experiment with). I much prefer to eat and share my harvest when it’s fresh though.
Favorite advice: Don’t be afraid to try something new. Always be willing to learn.