Upside-Down-Right-Side-Up Tomato Planter

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About: I'm a middle school science teacher going on 17 years in the classroom. I've taught 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. I'm constantly looking to improve my instruction and Instructables is one of the places I sear...

I am a 7th-grade science teacher and the leader of a club called "Urban Growers". We meet Friday afternoons throughout the year and there is always plenty to work on in the garden. This round of clubs, I have a group of students who are very ambitious and wanted to create something new for the garden. Their only restriction was that I wasn't going to buy anything for them so they needed to reuse items we already had on hand.

After finding an old 5-gallon bucket, they started brainstorming. Somebody suggested an upside-down tomato planter and the wheels started turning. Before long, they had a plan.

Supplies:

Step 1: Gather Materials

Materials needed include:

  • Drill
  • 2" hole saw drill bit
  • 5-Gallon Bucket
  • Potting Soil
  • Tomato Plants (x2)
  • Rope or Chain to hang the bucket
  • Something to hang the bucket from

If you're interested in growing your own tomato plants, stick around until the final step for some hints and tips.

Step 2: Prepare the Bucket

Make sure the bucket has been rinsed and cleaned. I would NOT use a bucket that may have contained anything hazardous. Our bucket came from the cafeteria and contained dill pickles. The smell was a little overwhelming so the boys rinsed the bucket a few times and got to work.

Using the 2" hole saw, cut a hole in the bottom of the bucket. Many buckets have a center point visible in the bottom from the mold that can help be a guide.

Step 3: Add the Tomato Plants and Potting Soil

Using a tomato seedling, carefully thread the plant through the hole. Once the plant is completely through, remove the solo cup from the root ball. It's best to give a little squeeze to the cup (like making a sand castle) and the cup should come right off.

Next, add potting soil to the bucket. *One thing we learned is that it's important to know where you're planning to hang the bucket before you begin. The bucket will become quite heavy after adding the soil. Also, it's hard to put the bucket down because there is a plant hanging out of the bottom.

After filling the bucket with soil, the students wondered if they could add another tomato plant to the top of the bucket. I couldn't see why not so they added a second tomato plant.

Step 4: Hang Your Bucket

This was by far the hardest part and the step you need plan ahead on. I estimate the bucket weighs around 50 lbs. As stated in the previous step; it's important to know where you're planning to hang the bucket before you begin. The bucket will become quite heavy after adding the soil. Also, it's hard to put the bucket down because there is a plant hanging out of the bottom. Having assistance with this step is important. No one wants to admit they sustained an injury trying to hang a tomato plant on their own.

Luckily, we have vertical hydroponics grow towers in our greenhouse built within a U-Track frame. The frame is easily capable of handling the weight of the planter.

We used a heavy gauge chain from our school's maintenance department to hang the bucket. I helped the boys carefully hoist the bucket into place. Be aware the plant will get bigger and heavier as the season progresses. It also gets heavier after a good watering.

The students are planning on building a structure outside in the next few weeks so the plants have more room to grow and won't overheat in the greenhouse with the high summer temps. I'll do my best to update their progress with the build and the success of the upside-down-right-side-up-planter.

Optional: Decorate your bucket! The boys didn't care, but if you wanted to dress up your bucket it's pretty simple. All you need is some fabric and a hot glue gun. Cut the fabric to the correct size or wrap it around the bucket and trim off the excess. Something with bright colors might help attract pollinators?

Step 5: Grow Tomatoes From Seed!

Tomatoes have to be one of the easiest plants to grow from seed.

Mix some seed starting soil in a bucket with water until the soil has the consistency of a moist sponge. Add the moistened seed starting soil to a propagation/seed starting tray. I like this sturdy brand because I can use it year after year. I'll also pick up the tray inserts to prevent a mess when watering.

Use a sharpened pencil and poke a hole in the center of each cell. DON'T go too deep! I will usually only go as deep as the sharpened part of the pencil. Once you reach the paint on the pencil, twist and pull it back out.

Add a seed or two to each hole. There are so many different types of tomato seeds to choose from! Having a tray with 50 or 72 cells is a great way to figure out what you like the best and a great way to share plants with friends and neighbors. Order your seeds from a company like Seed Savers Exchange so that you can save seeds from the varieties you enjoy most.

Place the tray under a 4-foot shop light (LED's are a great option). As long as the light is only an inch or two above the soil, there is plenty of artificial light for them to grow super strong. Don't worry about placing a plastic dome over the top because your lights will be too far away and the seed starting soil holds plenty of moisture.

About two weeks after your seeds germinate and are looking healthy, they will outgrow their little cells and need to be transplanted. Now it's time to give them some potting soil with the nutrients they need to take off. You can purchase small pots to transplant into, but I usually use solo cups. Don't forget to write the variety of tomato on the side of the cup for identification and poke a few holes into the bottoms of the cups to let water drain out (no wet feet). When transplanting, bury the stem all the way up to the bottoms of the first true leaves. The little hairs on the stem will turn into roots and will make your plant much stronger.

Harden the plants off by putting them outside in a mostly shaded area. You can also put them out on a cloudy day. After two or three days they are ready for full sun.

After two to three more weeks they will be ready for their final resting place. Pick a sunny spot and consider some cages or stakes to keep them up off the ground.

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21 Discussions

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ElizabethLeona

7 days ago

I love it. I have a "topsy-turvy which is planting ex: tomato plants upside down, it is made of a plastic material, not sure what it is and has a cover on the top that I lift to water or whatever. I have several tomato plants and had a good experience planting that way but never thought about a bucket, that is fantastic but even more fantastic is planting on the top also. Congrats, great idea. It just cross my mind to add ventilation to the bucket ( like greenhouses that have the windows in case it gets too hot). I am going to try before I fill the bucket with soil, to add several venting holes on the sides and before filling the bucket with soil insert some material (in my case, maybe a stocking or light shade material so I won't lose any soil or water. I guess I will have fun with it. Thanks for sharing

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xsolara1

13 days ago

One important thing to remember is to keep it watered properly .... if sun beats on the 5 ga. pail will dry out fast. ( I speak from experience :=) )

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JacobaP3xsolara1

Reply 8 days ago

Feel if plant stay wet always not swiming but good wet if it dry out it sit the grouth back.

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Biodynamicxsolara1

Reply 11 days ago

Thanks for the first hand advice. It's easy for me currently because I have students to help. I'll keep this in mind when summer vacation starts in a few weeks.

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zpsajk

13 days ago

As all plants are reaching for the sun, you will get some hook-shaped stems
from underneath the baskets, a new experience for the class; you can't fight nature.

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Biodynamiczpsajk

Reply 11 days ago

I noticed that today. That bottom plant wants to grow upwards so badly!

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JacobaP3Biodynamic

Reply 8 days ago

Surley it will grow towards the heat turn always the bucket: it give time for plant to grow in roots stronger to give better fruit!

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JacobaP3

8 days ago

Well done!

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robertlfulton4

Tip 12 days ago on Step 5

with the weight you might need to use a triple chain or rope instead of the regular handle , I have had some handles break

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Biodynamicrobertlfulton4

Reply 11 days ago

Agreed. The bucket has started to squeeze in where the handles attach. I know the plants are going to get bigger and I'd hate to lose them when they look so healthy. I'll have the kids problem solve a solution.

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screamingeagle

18 days ago on Step 5

Hi Guys, I was a high school teacher in the U.K for nearly 20 years. It was nice to see your project and instructable. Just a suggestion but when you are filling and planting the 'right way up' plant find a couple of concrete blocks and place them on edge, or such like , place them a few inches apart (so the plant does not snag on them) put the bucket on the blocks and fill. No need to hold the bucket. Well done guys, enjoy your gardening.

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Biodynamicscreamingeagle

Reply 14 days ago

Great suggestion! I saw your username and assumed you were one of my students. Our mascot is an eagle and the radio station at school is called screaming eagle radio.

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screamingeagleBiodynamic

Reply 12 days ago

I'm a little old to be one of your students but back in day I would have loved to have been one of your students. Screaming eagle is a tattoo that I have on my arm hence the user name.
Updates on the progress of the plants would be great.
Keep up the great work, keep the kids interested it will serve them well in the future.
Fondest regards

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obillo

13 days ago on Step 5

You're always safe with buckets from restaurants, luncheonettes and cafeterias: food has to be put into food-grade plastic. If the bucket smells, scrub out w/hot water and baking soda. FYI Screamingeagle's suggestioin anticipated mine re supporting bucket on blocks. Also I'd like to get away with a smaller hole. Think 1" will do if you're careful. Adding another plant to the topside is a good idea.

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Chefmike66obillo

Reply 12 days ago

I agree. Also, a couple of days outside, exposed to the Sun's UV is a pretty good free deodorizer for this sort of thing.

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Mrsimpo

12 days ago

What a good idea, I can see those boys using this in the future to grow their own tomatoes and other plants at home.

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OculumForamen

12 days ago

Great Project! You've inspired me to go and plant myself a bucket filled with tomato plants, and I think I might do the same with a bucket but instead, of tomatoes, I will put strawberry plants in one. To think of having fresh strawberries all summer long, that would be awesome!!!! Thanks so very much for inspiring an old man to get off his butt and do some apartment gardening, A nice rail hanging planter would be useful for chives and green onions even celery would do well. Hmmm. I think I might be able to grow a whole bunch of stuff! thanks again! ;)

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Dennyd1004

13 days ago

I tried the upside down bucket tomatoes a few years ago. Mostly as an attempt to keep horned worms off my plants. I don't like using pesticides. They did ok but I wasn't happy with the tomatoes they produced. They were tough and not much flavor. I assumed at the time I didn't water them enough. But for areas where you don't have a place to plant tomatoes, or anything else, this is a good option.

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gm280

19 days ago

Please do up date as the plants grow. Interesting to see how well it goes and the kids' reactions to the tomatoes it produces.

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TeresaM7gm280

Reply 13 days ago

Yes, please. And how the plant progresses. Tomatoes can get very large, so I'm wondering if a 5 gallon bucket is big enough for two and still get a good crop. Thank you!