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How to build an attractive, space saving upside down planter.

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Picture of How to build an attractive, space saving upside down planter.
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I have been interested in the idea of growing tomatoes upside down ever since the first time that I saw a Topsy Turvy commercial. I liked the concept, but I didn't like that it was free hanging. I have a nice patio that I put a lot of work into and did not want to clutter it with several large hanging tomato plants. The second issue I had with the product was that it was not very visually appealing. Additionally, the water reservoir still required filling on a regular basis. So with a few wooden patio barrel tubs, some scrap planks from my workshop and a little bit of effort, I came up with a durable self watering upside down planter that attached to my wall and can accommodate almost anything that can be grown upside down while adding to the landscape of my backyard. Oh, and just for fun I planted strawberries in the top portion of the planter which have done wonderfully.
 
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Step 1: Materials needed

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As far as materials go, the most important part is the 20"x13" wooden Barrel Tub. There are many sizes, but my experiences tell me that tomatoes typically need a deep root base. So I found the 13" barrel best accommodated this. The tested variation in step 10 gives a little info regarding a smaller 7" barrel that I originally tried and how I made it work.

1 20"x13" Barrel
2 20"x13"x3/4" pieces of wood for a backing. Use Redwood if you want to be exact, but I used some scrap doug fir. Smaller pieces can also be glued to make the final size.
1 bottle of Wood Glue (water based, not polyurethane)
8 #8x1/2" pan head wood screws for securing metal banding
1 Box 1" 1/4 crown pneumatic staples- If you do not have an air compressor these can be replaced with 1 1/4" finish nails or #6 x 1" screws

Tools make all the difference in a project. I'll explain what I used, but will also try to make suggestions on safe alternatives.

Step 2: Preparing the Barrel

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The ultimate goal is to cut the barrel and barrel straps in half, so it is important to spend some time strengthening it so it does not fall apart.

The barrel is strengthened by applying a good amount of glue into each of the joints. It helps to separate each panel slightly so that the glue can flow into the joint. After each joint has been thoroughly coated, move to the fasteners. The use of a Pneumatic nail/staple gun is suggested because it is fast and most accurate. But if you do not have access to this type of tool, a box of 1 1/4" finish nails and a hammer will do. If you do use a hammer and nails or screws, I would suggest gluing one section at a time and nailing or screwing each joint as you go. Remember to also secure the bottom of the barrel to the sides all the way around with nails or screws. If you must use screws, try to find finishing screws because most screws will be very visible.

When the barrel is secure, water down the leftover glue (50% glue/50% water) and brush it on the inside of the barrel. This mixture is called Glue Size and is great for sealing this sort project

Step 3: Cutting the Barrel Straps

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In order to cut the wooden barrel, a track must be cut in the metal straps. The easiest way to do this is by using a dremel tool with a metal cutting attachment. However, it is important to first secure the strap so that it stays in place after it is cut. This is done by drilling a hole on each side of the planned cut and putting in a glue coated 1/2" pan or wafer headed screw. Once all 8 screws have been put in place, it is time to cut the banding. Cut an inch and a half section out of the banding to give plenty of room, keeping in mind that a smaller cut is more aesthetically pleasing.

I suggest using a dremel, but there are many options available: a grinder with a metal cutting wheel, a jig saw (if you are exact), or maybe even a pair of tin snips or a hack saw (both of these would be difficult, but we work with what we have).

Step 4: Cutting the Barrel

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For the barrel cut, it is best to use a table saw. Align the fence to hold the bottom of the barrel in the middle of the blade, and raise the blade up to about 2 inches, and make the bottom cut first. Once the bottom cut is complete, line up the blade with one of the corresponding cuts on the side of the barrel and lower the blade to about an inch and cut the side. It is important to be aware of the metal banding while cutting the sides. Once one side is complete, repeat the cut method on the other side.

This is again something that several tools could accomplish. A hand saw (bit of elbow grease), jig saw, reciprocating saw or band saw would also be able to get this done. You may want to draw a cut line as a guide if you use any of these methods. REMEMBER to be familiar with the tools you use and use them safely.

Step 5: Making and attaching the rear panel

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The easiest way to make the back panel is to purchase a piece of wood that is already the size you need, 20"x13" or the maximum width x maximum height depending on your barrel size. I recycled planks from a previous project, so I had to cut and glue my rear panel to the correct size.

Once you have a rectangular piece to use as your backing, trace the profile of the barrel onto one of the back panels. Be sure to mark the panels so that they correspond with the correct barrel half. After you have a good trace, a jigsaw can be used to cut out the outline of your barrel half. Do this with both backings. Match up the correct backings, glue along the barrels edge and attach with staples, nails or screws.

Step 6: Cutting and Finishing the Barrel

Finishing the backing of the barrel is not completely necessary, but it offers a nice touch. These barrels were coated on each side with a Minwax stain, but if you used redwood you would not need to do this. Reseal the barrels again after staining to help the planter last longer.

Cut a hole for the plant to grow through by using a 2 1/2 inch hole saw bit and a drill to cut the center hole. Start drilling the hole from the inside of the barrel, but switch to the outside before you cut all the way through. This will prevent any splitting or fraying form occurring when the bit cuts through. Depending on how well the middle of the barrel was caught, you may need to re-drill the second watering tube hole. Re-drill using a 5/16"-3/8" drill bit.

Step 7: Hanging the planter

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The planters used in this project were attached to a block parameter wall, so two holes were drilled into the back of each box to accommodate the screws and masonry anchors. These holes were then copied onto the wall where the planter was to be hung, using a masonry drill bit, a hammer drill and 1/4" x 2 1/2" masonry screws with a 5/16" masonry drill bit. The screws used in this project came with plastic anchors that were placed into the newly drilled holes. There are many other possible alternatives, but that is a personal preference.

Step 8: Connecting the waterline

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Attach a piece of 1/4" tubing from existing water lines (if available) up through the smaller of the holes on each planter box. After the tube is through, attach an adjustable flow drip emitter to easily change the flow for any variety of plants that may be used.

Step 9: Planting the Plant

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Feeding a tomato plant through a 2 1/4" hole can be tricky. First, start with a smaller plant, and remove any fruit (dont worry it will grow back). The second and most important step is to wrap the plant in foil so it looks like a spike. The spike should be gently formed down to about a 2" diameter. Once the "spike" is prepared, hold it upside down and feed it through the hole. Remove the foil, fill the planter with dirt and enjoy.

My tomato plants have produced exceeding well this year, and I contribute a lot of it to the automated watering.

Step 10: Tested Variation

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When I originally made these planters I was forced to use the smaller 7" tall barrels. I had concerns about the limited root space, so I constructed an extension out of plastic netting and hanging peat moss basket material (sorry but I don't know exactly what it is called). I cut the basket material into a square and rolled it into a 6" diameter tube. I then used the plastic netting as a frame to wrap around and support this tube. The plant was feed through the planter box as normal but I positioned the tube above the plant roots and filled it up with dirt. This gave the potential for a 12" root base. Or should I call it root top? They worked wonderfully, but I like the appearance of the new design better. I am not going to add strawberries to the new design due to the ending of the season, but this fall we plan to try a butternut squash plant on the bottom with an herb planted on top.
RelientOwl5 years ago
Those other ones don't look attractive at all this is cool!
 
buttersnake5 years ago
Great work mate! That looks fantastic, especially compared to the ugly "topsy turvy" planters you can buy.
pagan209 (author)  buttersnake5 years ago
Thanks! I just replanted the pots last weekend.  Tomato time again.
shaels6 years ago
I would also attribute some of the success to all the heat reflecting off of the masonry wall- that setup would help keep the soil really warm and thus ensure a lot of growth.
static6 years ago
Yup; you are correct. The end result is attractive. Good job on the instructable as well.
pagan209 (author)  static6 years ago
Thank you so much for your positive and constructive replys.
pfred26 years ago
I like how in the TV commercials for the Topsy-Turvy they state, " lets nutrients flow down" as if plants don't use capillary action. Just another prime example of profiting off of people's ignorance I suppose. It is not like someone is going to come along and suddenly improve a system that has been working well for billions of years! If plants wanted to grow upside down they'd be doing it on their own already. Even air plants that naturally hang in trees grow right side up. Now maybe if you put a mirror under the plant ... he-he!
pagan209 (author)  pfred26 years ago
Funny that you mention that because the plants in the commercials don't grow the way that my upside down plants grow. My plants all reach/curl up to their light source. The commercials plants look like regular tomato plants hung upside down. The top of the leaf faces the ground. Food for thought. I'm sure the product works well, I know mine does. TV magic I suppose.
pfred2 pagan2096 years ago
The first time I saw the commercial I knew it was a total scam. What amazes me is that so many cannot see through it. Aren't there laws against confidence schemes? I mean really now if it was true then Australia would be the garden spot of the world now wouldn't it? Everything is upside down there right?
static pfred26 years ago
They deliver the product advertised. and the product does it's basic job, growing tomatoes. Where's scam or confidence.scheme. Full of claims that are difficult to disprove, yes, but that;s typical of mot commercial, They work, and allow people to grow tomatoes, where they couldn't otherwise. That's why they are still on the market.
TV "magic", hmmm? Seems likely that they transplanted existing tomato plants into the Topsy Turvy for the purposes of filming the commercial... but clearly, the product works, as you've shown with your project here.
Sounds like you don't know too much about gardening there Steamy. Or you'd know that recently transplanted plants aren't at their most photogenic. This of course is why the Topsy-Turvy is such a success to begin with. The promoters are banking on the ignorance of their customer base.

A more likely scenario would be the plants were indeed grown in the Topsy-Turvy planters, but "inverted" from their advertised orientation, then hung upside down for filming (and scamming) purposes.

The only way the Topsy-Turvy as a product "works" is as a great money making scheme. In that light it is indeed a "working product". For this one though I am going to have to keep my credit card in my pocket.

Whoever unleashed the Topsy-Turvey on the world really deserves to spend the rest of their life in a Teeter Hang Up http://www.teeter-inversion.com/ without the possibility of ever being righted! We'll see just how smart they get eventually with all their bodily fluids running to their heads!
pagan209 (author)  pfred26 years ago
All I can add to this is that my tomato plants, which are grown upside down, are producing just as good if not better then other more traditionally grown plants which have been given very similar conditions.
pfred2 pagan2096 years ago
There are a lot of variables that affect plant growth and yield. This year was amazingly wet for the beginning of the season here and I lost almost everything on a ground plot, right next to two raised beds that did well. We're talking the difference of 3 inches here. I say this to try to illustrate how minor changes can radically affect growing outcomes combined with other factors (the wetness in this case). So forgive me if I still am not convinced hanging plants upside down is the way to go. Your containers for instance might have been say better drained, or have a more nutrient rich medium the plants are growing in. The fact they are doing better more than likely has nothing to do with them hanging upside down.
pagan209 (author)  pfred26 years ago
Sweet. Well if you have any questions about my instructable let me know.
pfred2 pagan2096 years ago
I am a bit fuzzy on how your automatic watering system works. I plan on rigging one of those myself next year in one of my gardens.
pagan209 (author)  pfred26 years ago
I use micro sprinklers for everything from my outside planters to my grass (future Instructable when I redo my front yard). The system starts out at the a Rain Bird timer which controls all of my zones then goes into a filter the size of a 2 liter bottle. Before it get to my three sprinkler valves It goes through a lower pressure regulator. LOWER PRESSURE is very important with micro sprinkler. Once at the valves I have an additional filter for my vegetable garden that allows me to fertilize throughout the entire zone. The other two zones control my below ground lawn drippers and the various planters in my back yard (this is where I have my tomato planters) . I use a variety of micro emitters; foggers, 1-2 gallon drippers, micro sprayers and many adjustable flow drippers. The tomatoes are currently attached to adjustable flow drippers. The adjustable flow emitters are really nice because they allow me to make minute changes if necessary without replacing with another component. I live in a wind tunnel so the entire system save a lot of water. I'll Try to post some photos.
pagan209 (author)  pagan2096 years ago
Here are some photos.
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pfred2 pagan2096 years ago
What you got there a Rain Bird system? I bought a milk crate full of vintage Rain Bird battery timers at a garage sale a while back and am planning on rigging something up with them for myself. They should have really thrown you a little wire duct for that box.

http://www.globalspec.com/FeaturedProducts/Detail/Automationdirect/Solid_wall_and_blueblack_colored_Wire_Duct/91569/0?deframe=1

I'm just a stickler when it comes to automation controls I guess. He-he! What'd that government project set you back? You probably don't want to know what I paid for 7 valves, and assorted fittings. An Andy and I was walking away.
pagan209 (author)  pfred26 years ago
The electrical for the box is pretty typical for any valve setup. I've never heard of a wire duct of any form of protective tracking being used other then maybe some electrical tape, but that may be a regional thing. The water proof grease caps make it difficult to wrap. Timer came with the house (10 zone costs about $150 give or take), valves about $60, micro tubing and connectors about $100-$150 and the below ground micro tubing for the lawn was about $200. Miscellaneous thing included I’ll say about $400-$450 for my whole back yard irrigation setup. I live in a high wind area so the water savings are pretty high. Government project? An Andy and I was walking away?
pfred2 pagan2096 years ago
What I do and what everyone else does are often three different things. Wiring in finger ducts done well usually doesn't end up in references to rats nests, or spaghetti though. As to well formed wiring being regional I cannot say. I haven't been everywhere yet.

Government job/project is a slang term used to cover any number of different industrial scenarios. Just what came to mind to me when I saw the images.

An Andy:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_twenty-dollar_bill
NaTeB1 pfred26 years ago
OK I have to comment on this because its just to funny... I believe the main advantages of the up-side-down growing method are for convenience purposes only. Keeping plants off the ground can help keep bugs off (not really,) You also don't have to stake or support your tomatoes. There would be a possible benefit of less energy going to developing strong branches for support. Over all container gardening does have a lot of advantages. Other than that topsy turvy has gimmick written all over it And of course anyone who knows anything realizes that nutrient is not supplied via sunlight, as seen in the commercial animation, represented by wavy lines of sunny goodness. As noted by the other commenter, plant roots like cooler temps, which probably comes from millions of years of growing down into the earth, which is noticeably cooler. There were so many misrepresentations in this commercial that made the whole concept completly laughable. Teeter Hang ups hahahahaha If I could, I would vote this comment of the year!
pfred2 NaTeB16 years ago
I'm all for container gardening. I do it myself. I just do it the old fashioned way, right side up. Maybe if you hung one of these things off a 20 story balcony you might have a few less pests. Pretty much bugs have ways of getting around. I never thought about how screwed up the root system would be upside down, and in the sun. It can't be good. I'm glad someone enjoyed the Teeter Hang Ups connection there. When I see that commercial I always try to imagine what that old man acts like and says after the director yells, cut! BTW I enjoyed "wavy lines of sunny goodness" myself, good one! I'll have to watch out for that. Predatory scammers are just one of those things that really sets me off. I don't think the world really needs them. I know I'd be happier without their BS. I feel so personally insulted by them. Like what am I that stupid?
dgrc pagan2096 years ago
Mine started to curve back up, I assume toward the light. Then one day I went out to water them and they were hanging down. I assume the weight of the maturing plants slowly straightened the curved main stem. Now the grow down with only a small upward tendency at the ends.
pfred2 dgrc6 years ago
So I have to ask, what did growing them upside down do for you?
dgrc pfred26 years ago
Almost nothing. It started out as a potential space-saver and something my wife brought home from a garage sale. Then we decided to use the hanging space for something else so I built a quick & dirty tripod to suspend it from and ran beans up the legs of the tripod. Now it's mostly a piece of additional backyard weirdness that irritates the neighbors. At least they like it better than the clothes line full of underwear.
pfred2 dgrc6 years ago
I bring home lots of stuff from garage sales myself. I've plenty of backyard weirdness but no neighbors to irritate here. Which is to say that underwear is optional in my backyard ;)
michgrun6 years ago
Hi, I really like it, but I'll need to build the barrel. Do you have the measures and the cutting angles for each piece of the barrel side ?
pagan209 (author)  michgrun6 years ago
static pagan2096 years ago
Far Out, Someone with average skill can build the platers IF They want to. Though they are going have to buy the book to get the fine details.
pagan209 (author)  michgrun6 years ago
This is probably and Instructable in itself. There are several factors involved in building a barrel but I will assume that you want the exact same measurements that I have. This is a 12 sided barrel that I purchased at Home Depot. The Size is 19 inches. Height is 13 inches with a Wall Slope angle of 75 degrees. The width measures to 5.092 inches and there is a Corner angel of 210 degrees with a height to length multiplier of 1.035 which makes a board length of 13.455. Using Compound miter reference charts I get a miter angle of 4 degrees and a blade tilt angle of 14.5 degrees. I use a book called "Crown Molding & trim" for reference whenever I have do deal with cuts like this. The book is very helpful and almost a must for any table or compound miter saw owner. They have a website that has a lot of helpful information also. I am in the middle of an entertainment center now but when I'm done I'll try to get a barrel planter Instructable posted.
pickersue6 years ago
Very cool! I'd vote for you even if we wernt related! :oP
adidame6 years ago
You do have a nice patio and, I am sure, lots of yummy tomatoes. Thanks for sharing! I am going to print this out for my grandma, she bought more than one Topsy-Turvy plants.
pagan209 (author)  adidame6 years ago
Cool. Thank you!
kissiltur6 years ago
very nice project - the very prettiest upside down planter that I have seen. I think the basket moss you are talking about in the last step is sphagnum moss.
pagan209 (author)  kissiltur6 years ago
Thank you so much. The stuff was easy to work with and did what I needed but I think I prefer the new one.
braddd6 years ago
Wow, this looks so great. You managed to match everything perfectly.
rookie16 years ago
Really good idea! Very good instructable too. You have a very nice patio.
This looks awesome! I wish I'd seen this a few months ago as I had the same issue with the look of the Topsy Turvy system.
pagan209 (author)  fungus amungus6 years ago
Thanks Fungus!