Double Bucket Upside Down Tomato




Introduction: Double Bucket Upside Down Tomato

This instructable is an easy to build upside down tomato planter using 2 five gallon buckets.  This planter is superior to commercial units- because of the extra capacity this planter provides.  The extra capacity results in a larger root system, which translates into a larger plant.  Also there is greater water holding capacity which means less frequent watering.  I produced over 40 pounds of tomatoes with this planter in one season.  My location is eastern North Carolina

Step 1: Step 1 Tools and Parts

tools needed:

drill with 3/8 inch bit

Parts needed

2 five gallon buckets
2 3/8 inch stainless steel bolts 1.5 inches long and matching  nuts
1 heavy duty eyebolt
1 heavy duty s hook
Osmocote 14-14-14 slow release fertilizer, 1 pound package
potting soil, most any kind will probably work, but i find that metro mix 360 is excellent
one tomato plant

epsom salts- to provide magnesium if lower leaves begin to yellow
gypsum or landplaster  (Calcium sulphate)- to supply extra calcium if blossom end rot occurs

Step 2: Step 2 Assembly

-Cut a 6 inch round hole in the bottom of the upper bucket
-on this same bucket drill two 3/8 inch holes 180 degrees apart and up 3 inches from the bottom of the bucket

-next,  get the other bucket (the lower one)  and cut a 3 inch hole centered in the bottom
    this is the hole where the tomato will be inserted
- Drill 2  3/8 inch holes at the top of this bucket 180 degrees apart and 3 inches down from the top
- Depending on the design of your bucket you may have to drill the 3/8 inch holes a little higher or lower than 3 inches, just make sure
   that the holes are drilled at the same height so that when the upper bucket is lowered into the bottom bucket the holes will line  up          properly for the bolts to go through

Step 3: Step 3 Planting

-Set the bottom bucket on a flat surface and fill about halfway with potting soil.  Mix in 5 tablespoons of osmocote.  Make sure the soil is moist, otherwise it will flow out of the bottom of the bucket when you lift it up.
-Continue to fill the bucket with soil
-Now set the upper bucket into the bottom bucket
-Align the 3/8 inch holes and insert the bolts and hand tighten the nuts
-Fill the upper bucket with soil to within 5 inches of the top
-Add 5 more tablespoons of osmocote to the top of the soil
-Hang the unit in a sunny location and high enough so the tomato can grow down without hitting the ground
-Water until it begins to drip from the bottom hole
-Make sure your tomato plant is well watered before planting
-Take your tomato plant and squeeze the root ball so that you can insert it into the bottom of the bucket
-You don't have to be too delicate, the roots can take some abuse
-To hold the plant in place stuff some newspaper around the plant into the hole

Step 4: Step 4 Summary

-Remember that at first the tomato will need water only sparingly.  However as the plant matures and has lots of fruit you will need to add lots of water-over one gallon per day.  On a mature plant I like to water until it drips out of the bottom hole.
-Fertilize monthly with 5 tablespoons of osmocote



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    23 Discussions

    I just finished building two of these. If you're buying potted tomato plants, make sure to buy the smaller (3" or so) potted variety. I bought a 6" and had a really difficult time getting the roots in the container intact.

    Finally, i found this particular project. Thank you for sharing your idea with us.

    I do not know if this could help the water problem/soil retention problem, but it seems that this could be solved using mycelium (mushroom roots) I suggest using oyster mushrooms as they are easy to grow and tasty.. The mycelium would have a combined advantage of breaking down anything the plant cannot break down, would also hold down humidity and provide additional growth material for the tomato plant.

    Cool Project! I am growing some stuff in hanging pails as well. I am growing plants both in the bottoms and the tops of the buckets. My crops include various tomatos (determinate & indeterminate), Various hot peppers, cucumbers, honeydew melons, watermelons, pumpkins, parsley, sage, basil, strawberries, and sunflowers. My two big issues are Blossom End Rot and trying to keep everything watered. My current efforts are focused on trying to install a timer based watering system. I put some photos of my efforts on my Facebook page:

    I am a beginner, so please excuse my ignorance. Why not just plant the tomatoes around the top of the lower bucket, hanging over the sides, 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.

    1 reply

    Both are great ideas. I am now experimenting with the spring scales. I just hang the scale between the top hook and the handle on my top bucket. After a thorough watering the entire unit weighs 50 pounds. You can gauge your watering needs as you say- 1 poiund of water equals 1 pint, and 8 pounds of water would be 1 gallon- which is the rate I now use at this stage of the plant's development. You can also keep a good record of your harvest this way. Just read the scale before you pick and then read after you pick to get the total. I use a sharpie marker to keep such records as planting date, water applied, fruit harvested. I just mark this data on the side of the bucket with my sharpie pen. Preliminary resutls look good using the scales inline permanently, however I don't know if the constant weight will stretch the spring and skew the results- time will tell

    I tried this with just one 5 gallon bucket with a smaller 5 quart bucket right side up on top to wick out water. It worked until the tomatoes were almost producing, then they got mosaic virus and died. My theory is the dirty water dripping out of the bottom and down the tomato stem infected the plant. The other problem was the limited root area - about 3 gallons, which would have stressed the plant once it was bigger.
    Using 2 buckets full of dirt would definitely solve the root ball issue. Having the water reservoir outside of the bucket(s) would help, and keep the root temperature moderated a bit, especially in the summer. How to make that donut shaped reservoir is the puzzle. That and figuring out to hang it.

    Just a tip, instead of cutting large holes in the bottom of the bucket or stuffing with newspaper. Just use the top of a two-liter bottle. Cut a 3/4" hole big enough to thread it into and use it as a funnel to run the vine through from "inside" the bucket. It should hold the small plant and keep any soil from dropping out.

    Please, add more photos, of how you build the buckets together.

    I have read that the commercial upside down planters have some sort of water retention sponge. I like yours so much better in every way (aesthetically, as a home made thing not an ugly commercial thing) but I wonder if I would need that sponge material and if so what it is and if I could just buy that material.

    5 replies

    I have never used a sponge material and it all seems to work fine. The extra capacity of this system really makes the sponge irrelevant. Thanks for the nice comments. I will shortly be posting a new instructable that automatically waters the bucket with arduino based control- it gives outstanding results as the plant is never over or under watered, the moisture stays at a constant level.

    I have had a few of those and the sponge seems to only be for plugging the bottom hole so the dirt doesn't fall out yet be soft enough to allow the plant stem to grow in size over time.

    You think that's the only purpose of this sponge material? I've never bought one of those commercial upside down things, because they look so tacky (I am a snob), but several things that I have read said that the sponge was there to retain water and that keeping the whole set-up hydrated was a problem. Thinking further on that, I wonder if the larger containers used in this Instructable would make keeping up the hydration easy enough to just forgo the sponge.

    I was going to ask why dirt didn't fall out of this set-up, but I didn't want to be rude. I would maybe add the fiber net someone else mentioned or even a bit of heavy duty plastic with an "X" cut to keep stuff from getting washed out.

    The sponge is a disk about 3 inches wide by 1 inch thick with a slit or small hole in the center. ( I don't have the foam anymore and don't remember about the center hole. ) Perhaps it prevents a bit of evaporation from the bottom but, the top has a much larger hole and no foam or cover so I don't see how this would help in any significant way.

    That's really good information. Thank you so much. I think that I'm going to make one of these. I'll report back!

    Many thanks to slachem.

    I'd suggest adding just a little perlite to the mix, i find it really helps with water retention.

    it'd also make it a bit lighter :)

    i would suggest too either red or black buckets too and red paper

    red light helps tomatoes and a black bucket stay warmer and allow longer growing season in the fall

    and if any issues with squirrels try the orange and red/yellow heritage tomatoes etc - the critters don't think they are ripe yet hehehehe

    and you can use an old piece of hose cut and draped above various planters to hook up and allow dripping watering too

    2 replies

    Apparently the Squirrels here in the far SE corner of Texas are COLORBLIND!!!!

    Every year they regularly attack my tomatoes even while they're GREEN.

    On the green tomatoes, they only eat a small hole, apparently quiting when they realize that the fruit is not ripe.

    Of course that ruins the tomatoe as the insects then get into the open wound during the rest of the growing/ripening process, or the wound rots.  And I've tried everything I could think of to "SEAL" the holes [vinyl window screen "patch" over the hole, sealing the interior with fingernail polish, etc., etc.], AND NOTHING HAS WORKED. 

    Once the outer skin has been penetrated, the tomato begins to rot and is usless except for fuel for the compost pile!

    Huh!  Spell Check won't fully open.  It forms the window and then "freezes."

    Buckets aren't very translucent, it is only a small % of the daylight hours that the colored light would reflect onto the plant so it doesn't make much difference, nor does the root temperature from a black bucket, the primary reason growing seasons end is lack of sun and frost dates.

    I like your bucket solution - I've got to try this myself. :)

    TIP: In the past I've tried the upside-down tomato plants and used a piece of fiberglas screen with a small "X" cut in the center of it (where the plant is pushed through) to keep the soil from running out when a lot of water drains through (like during summer storms). It seemed to work well and was a good use for old screen.

    QUESTION: Have you used determinant (bush-type) or indeterminant (vining) tomatoes? It would seem that this would be a good solution for the vining-type that tend to get out of hand when planted in the traditional method.

    Great instructable!