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.
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

Picture of Materials needed
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.
RelientOwl3 years ago
Those other ones don't look attractive at all this is cool!
buttersnake3 years ago
Great work mate! That looks fantastic, especially compared to the ugly "topsy turvy" planters you can buy.
pagan209 (author)  buttersnake3 years ago
Thanks! I just replanted the pots last weekend.  Tomato time again.
shaels4 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.
michgrun4 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 ?
pfred2 michgrun4 years ago

From the sad but true files:

I hate to break it to you there Mich but you may be a bit too old to start :)

From :

"Coopering means to do the work of a cooper. A cooper makes or repairs casks, which is a skill that takes many years to learn."

Alternatively you could go the modern high tech machine route:

But seriously now don't oversimplify barrel making like some in this thread cough, cough, Pagan209 may have ... We ain't wainscoting a drawing room here kiddo! That'd be childs play compared to barrel making.

Smart money would just buy a barrel. It'll be a WHOLE lot cheaper than trying to make one. Oddly you can probably buy a made barrel for cheaper than you could even spend on the materials alone to make one.

Then again you are fast approaching the ship in a bottle building age now aren't you? By the time you get done making your first barrel I'd say you'll be there!
michgrun pfred24 years ago
Thanks for your messages; I just was trying to avoid flying in to America to visit one of your Home Depot Stores to by the barrel tub. I live in Costa Rica; I have some skill as a woodworker hobbyist and I also some basic tools like a Delta 10’ tablesaw. I did like the design and I only asked for the measurements used to build it locally. Sorry for all the confusion I caused!!!! and thanks again all of you for your replies.
pfred2 michgrun4 years ago
What? No Home Depots in Costra Rica? Oddly in America all the signs in the Home Depots are in Spanish. Think of the confusion that causes!
michgrun pfred24 years ago
yea, your are right, no Home Depots in Costa Rica just Office Depots and way above average prices!!! I have been to America and I have noticed all this Spanish signs every were including some funny sings in Washington DC were you could read in the public parks "prohibido orinar" (pissing forbidden) or "no se permite fumar marihuana en este parque" (not allowed to smoke marijuana in this park) what a shame. For the barrel or barrel tub I like the size of the pictures shown in Instructables.
static pfred24 years ago
RespectfullyI believe you are overstating the difficulty. I watch Roy Underhill construct a wooden pail in his 1/2 hour show. These flat sided garden center barrels are being built by trained coopers, I'm certain. I used to work in in the oil field, where old redwood tanks 20 ft. in diameter where common, THOSE you would want a train ciooper on site if you need to to repairs beyond replacing broken hoops. Anyone with an average skill in using their table saw should be able to build these flat, if they want to. side barrels.
pfred2 static4 years ago
I stand corrected. if Mr. Underhill can do it in a half an hour on his edited for TV show then anyone can!
pagan209 (author)  static4 years ago
That settles it! I think we are in need of another instructable. Maybee I'll make a pocket size barrel tub that can be used as a minerature BBQ, out of card board of coarse. Oh Yeah, I'll throw in a few LED so you can see whats going on when your BBQ'n you tiny burgers. Cant find a way to tie in the Art of Sound portion, unless listening to music while building it counts. I dont think it would. Busy, busy, busy!
pagan209 (author)  pfred24 years ago
I dont know if I got it wrong but I assumed he was wanting to build a Barrel Tub, which I refer to as a barrel and use in my instructable. If you were in fact ask how to build a barrel like those used for aging whisky or riding over Niagra Falls then my response wouldn't so much oversimplify as it would make absolutly no sense. However If you did in fact mean a Barrel Tub then building it isn't that complicated and only requires a tablesaw, some boards and alittle patience with all of the angles and dimensions. I appologize if by assuming, I...hows the saying go?
pfred2 pagan2094 years ago
So you don't need to make a full barrel in order to have a barrel tub? OK. It is still impracticable for someone to do a single knockoff of the item. I'd give good odds it'd take the right cauls or a jig to get it all together beyond angles and patience. Most things not 4 sides usually do. Oh well, best of luck to all of you.
michgrun pfred24 years ago
Thanks for your messages; I just was trying to avoid flying in to America to visit one of your Home Depot Stores to by the barrel tub. I live in Costa Rica; I have some skill as a woodworker hobbyist and I also some basic tools like a Delta 10’ tablesaw. I did like the design and I only asked for the measurements used to build it locally. Sorry for all the confusion I caused!!!! and thanks again all of you for your replies.
pagan209 (author)  michgrun4 years ago
If you had a set size beyond what I provided just let me know and I can look the measurements up and give them to you.
pagan209 (author)  michgrun4 years ago
static pagan2094 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)  michgrun4 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.
static4 years ago
Yup; you are correct. The end result is attractive. Good job on the instructable as well.
pagan209 (author)  static4 years ago
Thank you so much for your positive and constructive replys.
pfred24 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)  pfred24 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 pagan2094 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 pfred24 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 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)  pfred24 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 pagan2094 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)  pfred24 years ago
Sweet. Well if you have any questions about my instructable let me know.
pfred2 pagan2094 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)  pfred24 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)  pagan2094 years ago
Here are some photos.
IMG_0321 (2).JPGIMG_0320.JPGIMG_0322.JPG
pfred2 pagan2094 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.

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)  pfred24 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 pagan2094 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:
NaTeB1 pfred24 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 NaTeB14 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 pagan2094 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 dgrc4 years ago
So I have to ask, what did growing them upside down do for you?

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