Upside-Down Hanging Self-Watering Earth-Filled Box!

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I've been using DIY versions of a self-watering container with a name similar to "Dirt Box" (or "dearth box") as well as upside-down tomato planters for the past couple years on my concrete, second-story balcony. Here's how I took the basic wicking water principles of a popular patented and trademarked earth-filled box, and applied it to my upside-down hanging tomatoes.

Upside-down planters are cool. The major weak point has always been keeping the plants hydrated, especially during the peak of summer while producing fruit. In the first year, with no special consideration for watering, my plants suffered due to my unwillingness to schlep water to the porch and lift it all the way to the top of each planter. I mean every day?!?! Come on. It was never going to happen.

Last year, I tried drip irrigation. I suspended a tank of water above the level of the top of the upside-down planters and ran a thin hose across the tops of the planters with drip nozzles. The problem was that I could never get the water balanced so the first planter would get the same amount of water as the last. I also had problems getting them to drip slowly enough to last all day. Most of the time, I would be able to keep them hydrated but there was a lot of waste as the the water would run through the plants after an hour or less. Going away for the weekend meant severe drought damage.

I made my own planters in the style of the planters named after a popular planet and marketed by a company with at least one trademark attorney, and that was the best thing to happen to my balcony. I could be relaxed about watering and my vegetable plants thrive. This year, I finally figured out how to give the hanging tomato planters a reservoir without adding weight to the planters and losing dirt volume. After setting up this system, 100% of the water is going into the plants. There is absolutely no run-off waste.
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Looks cute, but .. what is it for???? how does this improve on nature somehow?

ondoratmo3 years ago
I wanna ask you something about the sprinkling.
is it an automatically sprinkling or you must open the faucet from water reservoir??
thanks before.
shanej0073 years ago
I tried this, but I couldn't get the tomatoes through the bottom hole... Seriously, awesome idea and well written.
cyndielou3 years ago
my mom has been growing upside down things for yrs and years......way before any topsy turvy stuff came out. she did find out she had to water daily, so she put layers of newspaper and hay or straw like mulch in the top of the bucket to cut that down. there has never been any crop failure. she even had 1 ~5 gallon bucket with tomatoes at the bottom, and sweet potatoes growing from the top. that was interesting as the bucket was filled with taters. that's my 2 cents!
asiedentopf5 years ago
This is a great project and idea. There is only one problem I see with your containers...they are made of a type of plastic that is NOT UV (Ultra Violet) stabilized and in the sun they will break down and come apart. It may take a summer or 2 but they will. Maybe use Black containers instead. Also, rather that hanging them from those weak handle use a regular plant hanger that cradles the container. Thanks for sharing!!
velvel (author)  asiedentopf4 years ago
The planters are disintegrating as you predicted. I knew you were right when I first read your comment, it's just that I already had them up. I haven't yet decided what to do about it. Maybe the rope cradles as you mentioned.
People who properly maintain their boats know: the sun will eat your stuff though you can protect it with a varnish or paint that resists UV light. Local hardware stores sells Marine spar varnishes and paints for less than $16 per quart. One brand even makes their product in a spray can. Paints can make your DIY project look pretty.

If you don't use the whole quart, ensure preservation of the leftovers by pouring into a compressible plastic bottle, squeeze out air and screw tight the cap.

May the tomato be with you.
 Are the black versions of this UV stabilized?
adammw_803 years ago
My dad and stepmom did something similar, but they reported their plants started Curling up instead of growing down. Did you have an experience with this? Thanks!
velvel (author)  adammw_803 years ago
They will always try to grow "up." Your best bet (for next time) is to use tomato varieties known to have more flexible stems.

They will eventually hang down when the fruit gets bigger. Until then, you can give it some help and try to train the stems downward so they won't snap under the weight when the fruit comes.
doccat53 years ago
I just add a coffee filter with a slit for the root then add the sponge. The dirt stays in and it's super easy to water. The hangers with tomatoes did much better than the one's in the main garden this year. We had very high temps for a very long period of time. Just couldn't get enough water to the one's in the regular garden. But I got enough of the buckets to do some canning. Sure was good in Jan/Feb ^-^.
aw764 years ago
wow, well really impressed by the setup....i understand why the lowest point of the reservoir needs to be higher than the lowest point of the wick, but i dont understand why the
"The reservoir should also be shallow enough that the water at its highest level is below the dirt. "????

have there been any improvements or problems since u posted this?

awesome job...thanks
hspam aw764 years ago
If the water in the reservoir is above the dirt level then the water will flood the bottom of the planter. This will cause a pool of water in the bottom of the planter and and may cause the roots to rot or the water to flow out the hole the plant is coming out of. The idea is that if the water is only touching the wick then the wick will "wick" up only enough water to keep the soil moist not wet. I hope I make sense.
Motta4 years ago
This is just GREAT!
pmartinez4 years ago
Thank you, I've been thinking to do something like this, very professional and nice looking.
Wow this looks amazing, and I love the instructable, very thorough with tons of picture tags. I love it. I think I will make these for the next our next house when we change duty stations! I'm so excited. Thank you!
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velvel (author)  LetsExplodeSomething4 years ago
Why are you here?
Is that a question or a confrontation?
velvel (author)  LetsExplodeSomething4 years ago
Your comments are neither positive nor constructive. It is clear that you haven't read this Instructable. I'm not sure what your interest is in commenting here.
Even if it is patented, why would I want to go spend money on it when I could have the accomplished feeling of building it myself? (and probably for less than the commercial product)
to support local business and the economy which is in the gutter
A valid reason, but not good enough for me to avoiding building it since I already own a majority of the parts listed. What parts I don't have I would buy from the local hardware store. Which while it wouldn't have the same financial impact as a bigger purchase, also supports the economy and local businesses. Thus allowing me to save money and support my family in these hard times until I can find a job. At which point I would be able to better support the economy by purchasing one or two of these, should the need arise. BTW velvel, this is a well done 'ible regardless of it's patent status, and will be very helpful. Thank you for sharing. :)
frogmama5 years ago
I'm planning on making some up-side-down planters this year and really like those waste baskets - but looks like they aren't available anywhere anymore  :(

For those who like the frosted white wastebasket look, though, the Dollar Tree has some similar shaped frosted garbage cans that would probably work, but you'd have to drill holes for the chains.
fegundez15 years ago
this one rocks, I have had a few problems getting the plants to thrive. For some reason they dont grow as well as the ones I hang rt side up. I will keep trying though as I hate to fail!!
blaskos5 years ago
Do you have a total price that this costs. What you did looks awesome and i just want an idea or ball park range so i can figure it out. Im thinking about trying this or doing a hydroponics set up, do you have any suggestions which would produce more fruit for tomatoes? Also, it will be in my basement since its coming to winter time!
velvel (author)  blaskos5 years ago
I built it gradually in iterations over a few years, so I don't have an exact price tag. For sure under $100. Hoses and PVC pipes are cheap. Connectors and caps can get expensive - $2 here, $5 there - it all adds up. From what I understand, hydroponics generally yields better volume but has smaller margins of error. Soil is much more forgiving. Good luck!
HobbyistX5 years ago
Its always good to see green instructables, but I have a problem with the current fad of upside-down planting: plants don't like to grow upside-down! Plants are phototropic and gravotropic meaning they make significant effort to grow upwards in response to gravity and illumination. Plants grown upside-down are invariably less healthy than plants grown right-side-up, as they expend considerable energy trying to orient themselves. Show me a photo of an upside-down plant that isn't all twisted up and sickly looking, and I'll show you a photo of a plant that was only just recently turned upside down.
I'll second that. In spite of this being all fun and cool - any green project that does not support plants' health is a bit selfcontradictory imo. Anyway - would be nice to see if you (velvel) or others actually have managed to grow a decent healthy harvest with a low failure rate? Personally, I sort of doubt it and If that indeed is not the case - well, then I don't really see the point...
velvel (author)  stengah5 years ago
I will post updates, for sure, including pics when the tomatoes start coming in.
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velvel (author)  puppylinux5 years ago
Not at all. The plant would break before getting sucked out through the hole. But the plant won't break. The stem and roots are plenty strong.
best of luck on the get in the garden contest!
drwarm5 years ago
How does the dirt stay in the basket? ie why doesn't it just fall out the hole in the bottom? Is it because you make a small circle in the foam/gravel etc for the stem of the plant to go through but the rest of the dirt just sits on top? I don't really get why then you have a 1/4" hole (plant hole) for the stem to come through. Sorry it might be really obvious!
velvel (author)  drwarm5 years ago
I guess the dirt stays in the basket because it "just does." The loose bits fall out when you first put the plant in and then everything else is just stuck. The dirt sticks together a lot better than sand in an hourglass. I'm sure more bits fall out over time, but nothing to jeopardize the plant.
In his design he puts a PVC pipe "collar" around the hole the plant passes through. So things can't easily get washed out.
I've never done this myself, but I'm told you plant your tomatoes in it, care for them for a week or so, then flip the basket over AFTER the root ball forms so the root ball can hold the dirt in the bucket.
Hey. I love this Instructable! I am trying currently to put it together using supplies I am able to collect from work (hospital). The best containers I've found to use have been one liter bottles that I am going to cut the tops off. They have a nice size hole in the bottom that perfectly fits a 60 cc syringe that I am going to use as the "piping". My question is do you think these liter bottles will be large enough to house a tomato plant? I am also going to give this a shot with something a little smaller like a basil or other herb plant
velvel (author)  crocodialrock5 years ago
It's possible, but I think tomatoes would do better with larger containers. But if that's what you have, give it a shot. Heck, even if the container doesn't fulfill the plant's potential, the plant would do well for that container's potential. Your best bet for tomatoes would be with a bite-size variety. Herbs could work, but I read that they do better with a little water stress instead of consistent moisture. Good luck!
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