Upside-down Tomatoes on the Cheap

I cannot tell a lie! I didn't plant both of the tomatoes in five-gallon buckets. The one on the right is the liner from a fancy garbage can that had busted and a friend of mine was throwing out. She offered me the inner liner and I said yes because I just knew that it would come in handy for something. Yes, I am a true scavenger--I mean recycler! Anyway, it turned out I was right. It is an excellent tomato planter complete with bale for hanging. Note the rock on top of the makeshift lid. I had to weigh the lid down because I found that a wren had started digging out a cavity and building a nest shortly after I hung it up!

My parents and many of my friends are trying those upsidedown tomato thingys made of Mylar and wire.  There is hole in the bottom that you stick the tomato through so its top hangs downward and then you fill it with a soil-less mix and water it. The top has an opening so that you can water it without removing the cap. You hang it from something sturdy and watch it grow.

I wanted to try my hand at growing tomatoes upside down but didn’t like the price tag. I knew that some people have been using this method since the 1970s with five-gallon buckets, so I thought I’d try making my own out of what I had around the place.

No shortage of five-gallon pails around here. (I got my last stack from a local microbrewery for free.) I drew a three-inch circle in the center of the bottom of each container (Next time, I would make the opening a little smaller.) My husband cut the holes with a jigsaw.  I cut a slit in a section of newspaper and laid it in the bottom of each pail. I nipped off the side branches of my tomato leaving only a few branches around the growing tip and slid the tomato’s root ball and bare stem through the hole (from the outside of the pail) and up through the slit in the newspaper in the bottom of the pail. (Once surrounded by soil inside the bucket, this bare stem will produce lots of roots!) The paper formed a collar around the stem to prevent muddy dirt from falling out when I water.

As you can see, the newspaper collar is doing a pretty good job of keeping the soil mix from dropping out of the planting hole in the bottom of the bucket. I would make the hole smaller next time and maybe use corrugated cardboard for the collar.

Next, I added potting soil that I had made: one part top soil, one part peat moss, one-half part perlite, and two parts rough compost (about the texture of peat moss). It is a good idea to get another person to help you when you fill the container. It is a bit awkward to hold the root ball while balancing the container on the edge of something and filling in around the plant with potting mixture.

I put lids on my containers and hung them up before watering. You could do without lids, but I didn’t want birds building nests in the top of the pails! I also wired the bales of the buckets to the supports we hung them from so they wouldn’t swing off during a thunderstorm or high wind.

The tomatoes I chose to grow upsidedown are indeterminate (not patio or husky container-type hybrids) end-of-the-season bargains. One is a cherry and the other is a mystery plant that had lost its tag. (At 64 cents, I was willing to be surprised.)

I’m watching them grow now. We’ve been having perfect tomato growing weather. Hot and humid 80°F plus days and nights in the 60°F range. I’ll keep you updated. Begonia

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