(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on July 24, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Last year my three tomato plants did very well. They produced fruit, boundless numbers, all green and beautiful, and the minute they began to turn slightly red, the squirrels, rabbits, dogs, cats, mocking birds and probably mosquitoes feasted upon them, one by one. And it wasn't as if the critters were hungry, because they only took a small bite out of each slightly red tomato, and threw the rest to the ground. When I took my morning coffee walk, there I would find them, all smashed to smithereens with one little bite missing. I swore I would never plant another tomato, those critters could very well plant their own.
This spring rolled around, and I had no tomato plants. I would beg, borrow, buy or steal, but I would not grow a tomato. Until Mother's Day, when my son said: "Mom, I ordered a couple of those Topsy Turvy® tomato planters for you, they should be there in a week or so."
And so they were, all nicely packaged in boxes looking about the size of a hardcover circular book. I opened the first box, unsure of what to expect, unwrapped all the wires and pieces and held it up in front of me. It uncoiled itself and looked for all the world like a giant slinky covered in green plastic. The instructions that came with it were fairly clear. I was told how to open the planter up, add the small pencil sized stemmed plant to the partially split styrofoam circle, poke the whole thing through the hole in the bottom, then add the soil. So if the plant is poking out of the bottom, that means it will need to be in it's hanging position first, otherwise putting the soil in on top of it would crush the plant below. Smart thinking, Sharon, hang the thing up first.
Now the instructions warned that it would be heavy when the soil was added, yep, so true, so we better have it in its exact home to be before even thinking of the plant that would be growing from its bottom. I have a post to which my trellised potting bench is attached. It is well grounded, sitting in cement, and seemed to be strong. Another wooden post stood in the yard, and at one time held one end of a clothesline, so it would be a good place to put a second planter. I attached a metal plant hanger from each, but had to have help from dear son to do so, since he is much taller than I am, and I was determined to get the planters up high and away from the critters. Of course, having done that, I had to stand on a ladder to add the soil. (I think detailed mental images are important in learning experiences!) Let me tell you, the start up for this wonderful planter is not for the faint of heart.
The soil does not come with the planter, nor does the plant, so that is something to consider. I used Miracle Gro® potting soil with continuous release plant food first, adding it to the bottom where the roots would be. Then I added some homemade compost that had been brewing for a year or two, and finished off with a mix of more of the potting soil plus a bit of topsoil added, just to get the soil mix up to within the required two inches of the top rim. I think it worked!
So I had the hangers up, one tomato in the one by the potting bench, and one pepper in the one on the clothesline pole, both filled with soil, and now it was time to attach the round tops. Difficult. They were a little hard to center and to fit onto the wired rim, one finally found its rightful place, but the other is still a little off kilter. Having done that, it was time to water.
There are mixed opinions about watering, some say a couple of gallons a day is fine, others say more, still others, less. There is no way I could hold a gallon of water up above my head to water either of them, so I use the water hose and sing a song or two, and I figure since they have not wilted yet, that might be working. I really have no idea how much a song or two equates into gallons. But neither the pepper nor the tomato has complained. I do know that quite often, with the roots of the plants at the bottom, a short supply of water will not dwindle down to them quickly enough to prevent some wilt. So water, and water often and a lot, would be my advice.
Strangely enough, by about the second day those pencil sized stemmed plants began to curl upward from the bottom, reaching their heads to the sun, and once that happened, it was off to the races for both of them. Those things grew by leaps and bounds and bloomed like crazy. Today I am watching two wonderful tomatoes and two even bigger bell peppers forming on the vines. I am also eyeing the tiny ones that are just now forming. They aren't quite ready yet, but my mouth waters whenever I walk past them.
I had only one worry during the growth spurt when the pepper plant decided to turn its head upward and hit head first into the bottom of the planter. Pepper plant stems are stubborn, and I was afraid it would break in my hands if I forced the issue. I left it alone for a day or two until it was finally long enough to reach the rim of the bottom of the planter then I gently suggested to it that it might be nice if it continued its trek out beyond the rim. And so it did.
I don't know if you have tried these topsy turvy upside down planters or not, but I thought it an adventure worth sharing. If I have a problem, it might be yet to come, because my tomato planter hanger seems to be bending a bit downward with the weight of the planter, and all the water just adds more weight. If bending is all it does, that'll be fine. It won't hurt the tomatoes a bit.
There is no ending to this story just yet, but in another week or two, I might be enjoying the fruits of my labor. The only part I dread is at the very end, when it is recommended that the planter be emptied of all its pounds of soil. You'll find me on the ladder again scooping, one little spoonful at a time. The planter must be stored away for the winter, and with Kentucky's unpredictable weather patterns these days, that's a pretty good rule to follow for most things.
And by the way, I have seen no critters eyeing my upside down tomatoes yet. I might have won this battle. I'll be sure to let you know.
One week later: Here's a tiny update for you, I made black bean/corn salad today, and in it I chopped up the very first of my bell peppers. I am telling you, it was worth waiting for. The second one will be ready soon, and I am watching some very healthy looking smaller ones as they form. The bad news is that one of my tiny green tomatoes is missing. I know the culprit is out there somewhere, is it possible I have a flying squirrel in my yard? i am keeping a close watch, and I'll let you know. The black bean salad was excellent though!
All photos are my own.
TopsyTurvy® tomato planters and TomatoTree® are registered trademarks of Felkner Ventures LLC. They are quick to answer questions, too, by e mail or by phone.
There is also a thread in the Tomato Forum on Dave's Garden that might interest you. It is of another's venture in Topsy Turvy gardening.