Upside down tomatoes - another (cheap, simple) way

Picture of Upside down tomatoes - another (cheap, simple) way
Drip irrigation funnel into tomato bucket 05-25-09.jpg
Tomato buckets NW corner of porch 05-25-09.jpg
Tomato buckets NW corner of porch from yard 05-25-09.jpg
Tomato buckets NE corner of porch from yard 05-25-09.jpg
I like the idea of fresh vegetables - particularly tomatoes - but don't like the idea of spending lots of time tending to a traditional garden, so the idea of growing tomatoes upside down appealed to me.  Spending $10 apiece for commercial upside down planters did NOT appeal to me.  Besides, I knew I could create a better product myself.

I used and combined several ideas I saw on as well as other websites.  I acquired a number of 5 gallon "pickle" buckets with the lids to use for this project.  Being lazy, I combined the upside down planters I created with a drip irrigation system with a timer that COULD be the subject of another Instructable, except there are plenty of commercial websites that explain adequately how to create such a drip irrigation system.  I combined that drip irrigation system with a "funnel" made of a one liter pop (soda) bottle with the bottom cut out "funnel style" to collect water from the drip irrigation system and channel it into each 5 gallon bucket planter.
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Step 1: Preparing the 5 gallon bucket

Picture of Preparing the 5 gallon bucket
Again, you need a 5 gallon "pickle" bucket WITH the lid.  Lids for these buckets fit tightly and will hold well.

Use a 2" hole saw, drill a hole centered on the BOTTOM of the bucket.

Now take a double layer of paper towel and place it FLAT inside the bucket, covering the 2" hole you just drilled.

Fill the bucket all the way to the top with your planting soil.

Snap the lid on the bucket tightly.

Now invert the bucket with the dirt inside, the lid snapped on tight, so that the bottom with the 2" hole you drilled in the bottom is facing up.

Using a sharp knife, cut an "X" into the paper towel so that you can access the dirt underneath.

I used tomato seedlings purchased from the hardware store, and planted them into the dirt in the bucket, pushing the seedling through the hole in the bottom of the bucket  and paper towel "liner", then arranged the paper towel back around the tomato seedling.  Leave the planter on its lid for the next 10-14 days, giving the tomato seedling a chance to grow and develop so that its roots expand in the planter/bucket and "lock" the plant into place so that it can be inverted.
jackriley772 years ago
do you think that eggplants could grow upside down in those?
pcvellen2 years ago
I've seen another instructable that uses two buckets bolted together to give the roots even more space. Does anyone here think that's necessary, or will one bucket suffice?
I am a beginner, so please excuse my ignorance. Why not just let the tomato plants grow through holes in the lid, hanging over the sides at the top of the bucket, which would allow several plants in each bucket (obviously on the sunny side) and give a greater length of stem for fruit to grow on ?

But here's a thought anyway: Hang the bucket from a spring balance, (spring scale in the US ?) and this will give an indication of when (and how much), watering is needed.
weblar (author)  ElectroFrank3 years ago
To some extent, your suggestions would work. However, by planting your tomato vines upside down, you don't have to stake or otherwise support your tomato vines. You COULD allow your vines to drape over the bucket planter as you suggest, but you'd create a weak spot at the base of your vines where the tomato vines made a 180 degree turn from the top of the planter and draped over the sides.

Perhaps I don't understand your question, but I don't see how growing the tomato plants either upside down or draped over the sides of the bucket/planter would give a greater length of stem for fruit to grow on, either way.

Furthermore, tomato vines use a tremendous amount of water. By closing up the top of the bucket and using an automated drip irrigation system to "inject" water into the closed bucket/planter, you can control the amount of water used by your vines without a lot of daily involvement on your part. You could do the same with a spring balance/scale, but unless you automated that system, its going to take a lot more participation on your (the gardener's) part.
By growing over the side of a hanging bucket, there is the additional length of stem equal to the depth of the bucket, which is not available if they come out of the bottom.  But having thought about it some more, the weight might tip the bucket a few degrees to one side.

I don't think the bend in the stem would be weak, as it would have naturally grown that way, and would progressively grow stronger as the weight below it increased, and the loading would be the same tensile force over the bend as at the top of a directly hanging stem.

The watering would work the same, as the vines would just go through holes in the lid.  The other great advantage of this system must be that ground-based insects and slugs won't find it.

I'm thinking it through because I hope to get around to doing this.   Home grown always tastes better than shop bought.
weblar (author)  ElectroFrank3 years ago
One thing you and i COMPLETELY agree on is that fresh home-grown tomatoes taste SO MUCH better than anything you can find in a store.

That being said, while not claiming to be a tomato plant expert, I'm not sure the vine is going to grow any longer, whether planted upright and hanging over the edge of the planter or planted upside down - I think the plant is going to grow as long as it is genetically pre-disposed to grow.

I also think that if the bucket is hung (as mine were from the edge of my porch roof), ground-based insects and slugs won't be much of a problem since the tomato plants aren't in contact with the ground.

However, and for whatever reasons, it seems like when tomato plants (or for that matter, other plants) break in the wind, it is where the plant makes bends. I have no scientific explanation for why that occurs (perhaps there is some botanist who reads Instructables who can comment on that); but both since either staking tomato plants or planting tomato plants upside down avoids such bends in the tomato vines, it seems to result in a relatively strong tomato vine. And since I'm basically lazy and don't like to keep up with keeping my tomato vines staked, I've come to appreciate planting my tomato plants upside down.
dembody weblar3 years ago
I have found that if you grow tomatoes out of the bottom of the bucket and something like cucumber or watermelon out of the top, the plants growing down from the top will wrap their tendrils around the tomatoes growing upwards from the bottom providing support for the tomatoes.
weblar (author)  dembody3 years ago
That sounds like an interesting growing method - I looked at the pictures you posted on Facebook, and your method seems to support ALL the plants growing out of the bucket/planter.
bmiller13 years ago
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karlpinturr4 years ago
Nice! - A simple way to achieve a counter-intuitive result.

So simple, in fact, I'd almost wonder if it needs an Instructable... ;-)

I assume that the tight-fitting lid is the 2nd most important thing... - the 1st being certain that your 'bucket' has never held (for example) weedkiller...?!

But, apart from trying to find something more aesthetically pleasing, I may well give this a go...

Hmm, old hanging baskets might work - except that they dry out too easily, causing your tomatoes problems like splitting when they do get watered (irregularly in my case).

Or maybe I could 'PlastiKote' the 'buckets'? But that's expensive stuff, and I don't know how toxic it may be to plants.
weblar (author)  karlpinturr4 years ago
Living here in farm country as I do, I've never seen chemicals such as weedkiller transported in 5 gallon open top buckets, but such chemicals are usually sold and transported in smaller opening "pourable" containers. However, you are correct: you should consider whatever was originally stored in the buckets you propose to use before planting tomatoes in them.

Your point about watering your tomato plants is also well taken - that's why I made use of the automated drip irrigation system to keep my plants watered daily. Tomato plants need lots of sunlight and regular watering to thrive.
Actually, neither have I seen weedkillers, etc. in such containers - it was just a clumsy way of making the point for those who might not think of it...

As was the watering point, really - well, that and thinking as I typed...

Which is not necessarily a bad thing, since I've now realised (typing this) that I ought to figure out some sort of irrigation system if I'm going to stand any chance of a harvest this year, given the hotter summers we've had over here, and my record for missing watering in even the cooler years.
weblar (author)  karlpinturr4 years ago
That's why I built the drip irrigation system around the perimeter of my porch. There are days I am away, too busy or simply forget to water the plants around the porch (not just the tomato plants), and the drip irrigation system takes care of that on a daily basis without much bother on my part.