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Upside-down tomato plants solve space problems

Wednesday, June 17, 2009 | 12:00 p.m. CDT; updated 7:23 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Do you enjoy the taste of a homegrown tomato? Do you have a small area to garden or basically none at all? There is no need to be discouraged. Try your hand at growing upside-down tomatoes!

This may seem an unusual way to grow tomatoes, but there are several benefits to hanging your tomatoes in buckets or planters. First, the air can circulate better around the plants so there are almost no problems with disease. Second, the tomato doesn't rot as quickly as it would if it grew on the ground. Third, animals that would normally eat the tomato will have trouble getting to it. You will need to use the smaller variety of tomatoes or ones that are suited for container gardening.

To make the upside down containers, use 5-gallon buckets with tight fitting lids. Scrub each one out with soapy water and make sure the handle is attached securely. Cut a two-inch or larger diameter hole in the center of the lid and one in the bottom of the bucket. With the bucket upright and lid off, cover the hole in the bottom with a coffee filter or scrap of fabric so the soil won't fall out when you turn the bucket over. Fill the bucket full of lightweight potting soil. Lay another coffee filter over the soil where the hole will be, put the lid on and turn the bucket upside down.

Cut a slit through the filler in the hole and plant a tomato seedling. Place the bucket in a sunny spot and keep it well-watered. When the tomato plant is about a foot tall it can be hung up by its handle on something very solid that will support its weight.

Tomatoes are a popular home garden crop. They are rich in vitamins A and C and low in calories. Tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, which has been linked to the prevention of many forms of cancer. Tomatoes grow best when they receive full sunshine and when they get lots of water. A tomato is 95 percent water so they need a lot of it to grow and develop fruit. Soak the soil thoroughly and often if they are in containers.

In order to be successful growing tomatoes in containers, you need to choose those varieties that are suitable for container growing. These varieties usually have a reduced growth habit and won't grow too large for a container. Most varieties of tomatoes are suitable for container growing.

One advantage of growing tomatoes in containers is you can also control the fertilization needs, which enables you to add a companion plant or two to a larger container. Grow a tomato plant with a basil plant, a parsley plant and a pepper plant for a great start on a salad.

Cucumbers, squash and peppers can also be grown in containers. For container varieties of cucumbers consider: Salad Bush Hybrid, Bush Champion, Picklebush, Midget Bush Pickler. For squash consider: Butter Bush, Bush Table Queen, Bushkin Pumpkin, Bush Acorn, Black Magic Zucchini. Most varieties of peppers do well in containers.

Once you've harvested your tomatoes, be sure not to refrigerate them or they'll lose their flavor. Use them a day or two after picking. Homegrown tomatoes won't keep as well as store bought because they are bred for flavor, not for storage.

Enjoy your crop and make a note of what worked well for you and what didn't, so you can ensure success for next year.

Here are a couple of useful Web sites:

Upside-down tomatoes

Growing tomatoes in containers

Tomatoes in general

Barbara Michael has been a Master Gardener since 1993, and she serves as the Master Gardeners’ liaison to the Community Garden Coalition and serves on its board. She enjoys container gardening and houseplants. She can be reached at bam626_us@yahoo.com.


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