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How to Build a Simple and Basic Double Tomato Container with Water Resevoir

Picture of How to Build a Simple and Basic Double Tomato Container with Water Resevoir
Wow! A lot of words to say two five gallon paint buckets put together so you have a back-up water resevoir in the bottom. Tomatoes will grow really well in containers but you can't let them dry out even for a day. I recommend a 5 gallon bucket or larger. It is really hard to ensure you don't let container tomatoes dry out. You want to give yourself three advanatages. The first is using a 5 gallon container or larger. The second is using a moisture control soil mix and the the third is using this dual container design.


 
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Step 1: The Basic Materials: 2 Five Gallon Buckets, Stones and Moisture Control Soil

Picture of The Basic Materials: 2 Five Gallon Buckets, Stones and Moisture Control Soil
The 5 gallon buckets will cost you about $4 each from any home improvement center. Different centers have different colors. You will need a bag of pebbles, the size in the picture. They can cost anywhere from $4.99 to $6.99. It will however supply enough pebbles for 3 or more containers. The soil can be store bought or hand made. The key is a lot of peat moss or other organic matter that will hold water. Any of the commerical bags of moisture control garden mix while work well. The cost for a large bag is about $9.99 and that should be enough for 3 or more containers.

Step 2: One Container is the Resevoir and It Gets Pebbles and a Small Hole or Two

Picture of One Container is the Resevoir and It Gets Pebbles and a Small Hole or Two
The first conatiner will be the resevoir container. First put a hole no larger then 1/2 inch wide about 3 inches from the bottom of one 5 gallon container. The hole is there to let excess water above the 3 inch resevior flow out. Too much water, that is if you tomato sits in it , will also harm the plant.

Once you put the 1/2 inch hole, 3 inches from the bottom, add pebbles up to the level of the hole. You resevoir bucket/container is now complete.

Step 3: Make the Second Container by Drilling 15 to 35 Holes in It's Bottom

Picture of Make the Second Container by Drilling 15 to 35 Holes in It's Bottom
You can use a drill or nails or anything really. Put in 15, 25, 35 or so small holes in the bottom. If your hole is bigger you need less. If it is smaller you need more. Don't worry about pertection. You want enough holes to ensure that if a few get blocked others are open to let the roots of the plant reach into the water. 

This container will hold the moisture control soil mix and the tomato.

Step 4: Fill One Container With Pebbles and the Other with Soil and a Tomato

Picture of Fill One Container With Pebbles and the Other with Soil and a Tomato
One container is the resevoir. The pebbles, again should come up to the level of the hole you put in it on the side.  You don't need to add water to the pebbles. Let nature fill it or let if fill as you water it over the weeks. The tomato plant is small and water issues won't come into play for several weeks.

I am adding water for no real reason in the picture but to show the process of water being held in the stones.

The other container should be filled with the soil mix. Leave about 2 or 3 inches from the top so you can fill it with water without splashing out the soil.


Step 5: Place the Container with the Tomato into the Resevoir Container

Picture of Place the Container with the Tomato into the Resevoir Container
That is it. You are done. The resevoir is not a self watering system. It is described a resevoir to buy you a day's grace. Tomatoes in containers will do really well and produce nicely. That is, if you never let them fully dry out.

Move the container to where you want it and then water the tomato in. Your done!

Step 6: How the Tomatoes Look Weeks Later

Picture of How the Tomatoes Look Weeks Later
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The system works.  Here are some tomatoes I have grown in 5 gallon containers and in the double container resevoir system.

If you want to learn more about vegetable gardening please visit my very active blog The Rusted Vegetable Garden.
pwitkowski1 year ago
You mention standard watering and not letting the soil dry out. What would you instruct about watering?
oldngrumpy2 years ago
I hate to pop anyone's bubble, but there are a couple of problems that should be pointed out with this build. I have made several self watering containers and learned some things the hard way, but some things are simply matters of physics.

As soon as enough water is drawn into the soil, or evaporates, to create an air space between the top container and the water level the water will stop moving into the soil. While plant roots may eventually seek out the water, soil nutrients can't be transferred to plants in dry soil and your plants will suffer deficiencies. This build would, at best, make use of about 1/4 in of the available water.

There are a couple of possible remedies for this. A couple of larger holes in the container bottom could accommodate absorbent rags to act as wicks to transfer water. These should be long enough to extend to the bottom of the holding (lower) bucket and almost to the top of the soil. One could also cut an opening in the bottom of the planting bucket and install a basket to hold soil and then adjust the drain hole to match the height of the basket. Pond plant baskets or strawberry containers work well for this. I would suggest a landscape cloth barrier between the soil and water in either case to prevent plant roots from actually reaching into the bottom container.

Also, while fine for starting multiple plants, the 5 gal bucket is marginal for even 1 full size tomato plant. With varying sizes of storage containers available for cheap it is wise to go larger. The lower center of gravity of the storage containers may also avoid finding your plants laying down after a wind storm. In any event, secure them upright as much as possible.
TheRustedGarden (author)  oldngrumpy2 years ago
Well experience for 5 years has had me grow many large and successful tomato plants. It is very effective. Wind wont plow a 5 gallon container over. This model even has stones in it. It is a water reservoir not a self water wicking system. The water system provide an excellent reservoir. Remember its not self watering system.

It will provide you several days of water if you miss a standard watering. You should also use a diluted fertilizer with all container vegetables. The tomato will also root 100% into the stone an use every drop of water. There is not gap problem. Nature takes care of it.

rookie13 years ago
Well written and a great idea. Thanks for sharing.