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OFB opinion poll #1. May 28, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben wants to know what you think. Specifically, I want to know what you think about upside-down tomato plants. Our friend Ben saw a whole lotta those this past weekend while plant- and potting soil-shopping at local nurseries. And I’m not happy about it.

We all know those horrible plastic bags of soil that you hang up and dangle tomato plants out of, sort of like a sausage that suddenly sprouted upside down. And now there are hanging “baskets” (you may think of baskets in terms of white plastic, but not our friend Ben) with holes in the bottom, out of which the hapless tomato plants hang helpless like the victims of Ghengis Khan or Vlad the Impaler. One ingenious retailer had even planted basil in the tops of these hanging planters, so you could presumably enjoy tomatoes and basil from the same container.

Our friend Ben just doesn’t get this. If God wanted tomatoes to hang upside down, He’d have given them monkey tails and sent them into trees. Mind you, I don’t see anything wrong with growing tomatoes in containers; see our earlier post, “The container tomato trial,” to find out about our own experiments with this. But there’s quite a difference between growing tomatoes upright in a container and having them hang upside down from the bottom of a bag or “basket.” I realize that it means you wouldn’t have to cage, stake, or otherwise support the growing plants. But frankly, that’s not a huge deal.

However, trying to water a container that’s high enough off the ground to allow a tomato plant to grow to its full height (or length, I suppose, in this case) would be a big deal. It would be an even bigger deal to try to hoist a container that’s roomy enough for deep-digging tomato roots to spread out. Our friend Ben thinks you’d need a support as strong as an arbor to hold one up, and a half-barrel-sized container swinging from on high strikes me as Monty Pythonesque. Not to mention the unfortunate truth that fullgrown tomato plants aren’t the most aesthetic botanicals on the block. Foliage yellows and spots, and often falls off; tomato hornworms make their stealthy way onto stems and leaves. Do you really want a mass of that hanging down in your face?

Well, maybe you do. Somebody’s definitely buying these hanging tomato gizmos, or the nurseries wouldn’t be selling them. That’s why our friend Ben is asking for your opinion. Do you use them? Do you like them? If so, sound off and change my mind. If not, let me hear from you, too: We right-side-up-minded gardeners need to stick together!

Note: For some very astute observations on tomato-growing habits in general, see David in Kansas’s comment, which unfortunately wound up with our earlier post “Frugal living tip #21″ rather than here.

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1. EasyTomatoes.com » Blog Archive » OFB opinion poll #1. « Poor Richard's Almanac - May 28, 2009

[...] posted here: OFB opinion poll #1. « Poor Richard's Almanac Share and [...]

2. Lzyjo - May 28, 2009

I tried the hanging basket type last year. They suck! Bought two, followed the instructions, got one tomato in October or November. Perhaps it was the 100% coir soil they sent along. They suck, they suck, they suck! And they’re expensive to boot. Won’t be buying anything similar. If I had to grow containerized toms, I would try a hydroponic setup in a Rubbermaid bin.

Interesting idea (re: hydroponics), lzyjo! And yikes re: your experience. ONE tomato?!! I’ll bet you’re right about the coir.

3. Joy - May 28, 2009

I have to admit to being curious about these funny things .. but not curious enough to buy any ! Now after reading your very astute points on what this is like .. well I don’t think I will go “there” with them. I do container veggies and they seem to do the trick for us nicely !
So my vote is NO on the upside down, scary tomato creatures : )
P.S. This time last year we were in the middle of our “raccoon adventure” she had “kids” in our attic and had the nerve to dig up my pepper plants, leaving the tomatoes alone .. maybe they weren’t her type ? haha

She was probably just waiting for the tomatoes to ripen!

4. nancybond - May 28, 2009

For the person with limited space, say, someone like Moi who gardens on a balcony, the hanging tomato plants are very attractive. Think vertical, I’m told! A tomato plant will grow very nicely in a 1-2 gallon-sized container; my Dad used to grow cherry tomatoes in one-gallon containers in his greenhouse — not upside down, of course. ;) I’m going to try at least one this season, so I’ll give a report on my success or failure. Growing the basil on top is a brilliant idea! Spaghetti sauce in a basket! Hee. Apparently, pests are fewer and, as you already pointed out, no staking is required. Could be an interesting experiment!

Let us know how it goes, Nancy! I’d think you wouldn’t have many pest problems on your balcony in any case—I’m thinking back to my container-laden balcony garden in the old apartment days, and the only “pest” I remember was my beloved tree toad, who took up residence in my Japanese maple one year after managing to make his way to the second storey! Glad to hear that 1-2 gallon pots are big enough and you don’t have to go for 5-gallon containers. My ‘Sungold’ is already setting its first tomatoes now on my deck. I’m ecstatic!

5. Daphne Gould - May 28, 2009

I don’t use them. They frighten me a little. That much soil is really heavy – especially when it is wet. I could just see myself putting one up and having it come down on top of me. It seems much safer to grow things in the ground or in pots on the ground.

I agree about the heavy soil and the danger of it crashing onto and breaking something, be it a patio table or a child’s head, Daphne! And I just don’t like the look of them.

6. The Tomato Stake - May 28, 2009

The best way to support your tomato plants is with The Tomato Stake.

http://www.thetomatostake.com

Easier to use than metal cages or upside down planters, stronger than bamboo and won’t rot like wood stakes. The built-in twist-tie supports make tying your tomato plants easy!

7. Ratty - May 29, 2009

My dad and I were just talking about these a few days ago. He’s been a farmer all his life. He said he’s been a little curious about these things so he looked at one. He told me for the price they aren’t really very good. Maybe prices are better in other places. He said he’d rather hang a bucket than use one of these.

The bucket would probably be both roomier and sturdier, Ratty! Thanks for an informed view.

8. VP - May 29, 2009

What’s wrong with growing them in a hanging basket instead? Of course that would mean we wouldn’t be buying yet another product would we!

As you can tell, I’ve not tried one, but I am curious on how they compare with the hanging basket option…

Ha! So true, VP! The issue with hanging baskets, or any hanging container, is twofold in my view: space and weight. When I was getting my masters in horticulture, my veggie textbook showed a photo of a tomato root system, and I’ve never forgotten it. It looked like there were miles of roots, and if memory serves, they extended down at least 12 feet! Trying to fit all that into a hanging container of any type seems futile to me. And trying to give the poor plant enough space to at least make a reasonable root system would mean a huge container with a ton of potting mix (from a minimum 5-gallon size to a half-barrel), which even when not wet would weigh a tremendous amount and when wet would be hazardous to support. Plastic hanging baskets with plastic hooks are particularly treacherous because they become so brittle. Just this spring, one of my giant epiphytic cacti crashed to the ground (fortunately landing unharmed in my greenhouse bed) when the plastic hook snapped. And even a normally big hanging basket is quite heavy when watered, as you know if you’ve ever been as stupid as I am and tried to move one after just watering it. Yikes!

9. VP - May 29, 2009

Interesting – I met up with some other veggie growing bloggers at Oxford Botanic Gardens last year and we all remarked on how small the pots were for the tomatoes in their conservatory. Apparently they can survive with a much smaller root run than we think – hence the popularity of using grow bags for growing tomatoes in this country. Hanging baskets are often suggested for varieties like ‘Tumbling Tom’ and other cherry fruited tomatoes, though as you say even these smaller fruited ones must weigh an enormous amount when the trusses are fully formed!

Most people here seem to put up a pretty secure hanging basket structure – there’s lots of sturdy ornamental metal arms for fixing onto walls and fence posts to encourage us to do so! Wicker and rattan baskets are also very fashionable at the moment.

I think you only water a hanging basket once and then try to move it don’t you? Those lengthened arms serve as a salutory lesson when you pot them up the next time! ;)

Thanks for the followup, VP! And you’re quite right, there’s something I’m always forgetting, which is that you can make do with a shorter root system if you’re faithful about fertilizing. I myself like to work all kinds of organic components into the soil when I pot the plants up, like compost, mushroom compost, and earthworm castings, and then am just horrid about fertilizing with anything more than a splash of liquid seaweed for the rest of the year. For heavy feeders like tomatoes, that’s obviously not nearly enough, especially if the plants are growing in a confined space! And that’s very good news about the sturdier hanging baskets and supports. Just as with good gardening tools, I’m sure it’s worth the investment to buy something that will last!

10. VP - May 30, 2009

Absolutely – restrict the root run and you’ve got to give them a lot more care and attention. I too am a devotee of liquid seaweed feed – it even smells like it’s doing some good when you mix it up!

Ha! So true!

11. gravitygarden - June 7, 2009

Container or bucket gardens are pretty easy to get started with.

I created an upside down bucket planter within 10 minutes.

It only cost be a $1.50 and is working nicely. You can take a look at my step by step pictures if interested.

http://gravitygarden.com/bucketgarden/?p=351

Gravity Gardener.. 

Thanks, GG! Very helpful!


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