The Upside Down Tomato Garden

If you like fresh tomatoes in your salads or cooking then you will know that it is sometimes difficult to find good tomatoes at the supermarket. Growing your own tomatoes has some great advantages ie. the tomatoes themselves are generally tastier, juicier and definitely fresher, on the downside it also takes some effort to produce a nice crop of succulent tomatoes.

Using grow-bags of tomato compost is a bit easier than digging and weeding a vegetable patch but then they take up space and they are not always that convenient. A great solution is the upside down tomato garden that has become very popular of late. You may already have seen some ads for upside down tomato planters such as the one in this image and wondered what the heck it was all about – growing tomatoes upside down! You may see this being called a myriad of different things such as – ‘upside down tomato garden, ‘upside down planter’, ‘topsy turvy planter’ (topsy turvy is actually a particular brand of the many upside down planters designed specifically for growing fruit such as tomatoes upside down).

All these terms relate to slightly different variations of container for growing your tomatoes upside down. The general idea is that the plant grows downwards suspended in an upside-down container. This has certain advantages over conventional methods, namely:

  • They are generally less work than a vegetable patch since there is no digging and weeding involved. They even have an advantage over grow-bags since you don’t need to worry about using stakes to help keep the plant upright.
  • You don’t need a garden or even a patio or balcony area to use them, you can even hang them indoors in a light spot.
  • Since they are not in contact with the ground they generally suffer less from soil borne diseases, damaging insects and fungal growth, and garden visitors who may like to eat tomatoes too will have more of a problem getting at them.
  • Tending them is a bit easier since you hang them high enough not to have to bend down and they tend to get alot of air circulation which they like.

One other advantage of using a upside down planter is that the soil can warm more quickly, and you can get a tomato crop 2-4 weeks earlier than those planted in the garden.

How to use an Upside Down Tomato Gardenupside-down-tomato

You can either buy ready-made upside down planters or make your own. (see our article on How to make an upside down tomato planter). It is not that difficult to make your own planter if you are the handy type but you will probably want to buy a ready made planter since they are becoming both quite widely available and reasonably priced.

One thing to be aware of with the fabric type of planter – such as the Topsy Turvy hanging planters – is that they tend to only last one season. Buying a planter made of plastic is generally a better investment since they generally stand up to several seasons of weather.

One issue with the upside down planter, as with any other hanging garden, is ensuring it is kept well watered. Some of the more expensive planters – such as the EarthBox planter – are self-watering but if you are on hand to water the planter every day or two then a cheaper planter will be fine. One tip is to make sure you add some water retention granules – such as vermiculite – to your compost that you put in the planter, this will help ensure that the soil retains some of the water rather than just flushing straight through. Companion planting tomatoes with Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis) is helpful in repelling tomato worm, whitefly and asparagus beetle, and other other complementary plants like basil and parsley can be planted on top of the tomato garden.

Some other issues to be aware of are:

  • some of the stands on the newer models of the upside down tomato garden are plastic and not quite as strong as the metal legs on the older models.
  • some models can also be a bit top-heavy and prone to tipping over, especially on a windy day, so one tip is to load the base and/or anchor it to something sturdy.

All in all, the Upside Down Tomato Garden is a great solution for growing tomatoes in places that you normally couldn’t grow a garden, so give it a try.

Disadvantages of Growing Tomatoes Upside Down

Several gardeners I have spoken to seem to frown on the idea of growing anything upside down. A few considerations you might call disadvantages:

  • A few people I have discussed upside down growing methods with believe that tomatoes, like all fruit/vegetables, naturally dislike growing upside down and therefore feel that you are actually giving the plant a disadvantage by hanging it upside down. There is some debate over this, but the bottom line is that a lot of people have had good results with inverted growing methods and I think that speaks for itself. One common belief is that some varieties such as cherry tomatoes and other smaller fruited types of plant seem to be better suited to thee methods.
  • Tomato plants do need a certain amount of sun exposure to grow and ripen the fruit and having the planter above the plant will obviously make it more difficult to get sun and light. To try and negate this problem you can ensure that your planter, or garden, is well placed, in an open area that receives a good amount of sunlight.
  • While you could argue that an upside down garden or planter is less work in terms of digging and preparing a vegetable patch, there is obviously some work involved in preparing the planter, especially if you do not have any existing fixture on which its convenient to hang a planter. Upside down tomato gardens tend to be easier in this repect than a planter such as the topsy turvy, since they are generally supplied with a hanging frame, but of course the trade-off is that they are more expensive. If you are using a large planter then lifting this full of wet compost can often be a two-person job and you need a sturdy fixture from which to hang it, especially when you consider that hanging planters can move around alot in a heavy wind and can exert alot of stress on their anchor

Ready-Made Upside Down Tomato Gardens

There are generally two upside down systems, the hanging planter and the garden. The upside down garden systems such as that sold by Hammcher shown in the image tend to be more sophisticated affairs and are more expensive than a planter which are simpler and cheaper by design and be easily made yourself (see making your own tomato planter).

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As can be seen by the image here, this garden structure – by Hammacher – comes as a self-contained unit without need for erecting a stand or installing a fixture for suspending a planter. However, you could argue that they are nothing more than a portable grow bag suspended upside down. I’m not sure if they provide as much benefit as a hanging planter such as the topsy turvy planter seen in the image to the left which is perhaps more portable and space-saving than the tomato garden which requires some convenient floor space to erect it.

felknor-ventures-topsy-turvy-hanging-tomato-planterThese hanging tomato planters seem to be more popular than the garden generally, mainly because of costs I imagine and also because they may be considered more practical for people living in apartments where they are generally less intrusive ie. they can be suspended from a strong wall bracket on a small balcony or rood terrace helping conserve floor space. I have even had one of these planters growing indoors in my conservatory during the winter suspended from one of the cross beams.

Personally, I use alot of tomatoes in my cooking and use both the tomato garden and some planters. I find that the Topsy Turvy or Felknor Ventures planters are equally as good but I have become quite adept at making my own planters now so haven’t bought one for a while, although I use the 4 I have still have. I did also try a Felknor Ventures Tomato Tree but found it a bit too much effort to assemble to be honest so my advice would be to avoid that one.

Dealing with Problems

Refer to our article on growing tomatoes to learn about dealing with blight.

Shade Sails

Shade sails are designed to provide outdoor protection from the sun and use a flexible membrane, tensioned between three or more anchor points, similar in form to a ships sail, hence the name. Sun canopies and sun awnings are designed to provide the same protection but are just slightly different in design.

Some Facts
Shade sails first became popular commercially in Australia around the early 1970′s to provide an effective cover against the sun’s harmful UV rays but they have been around in a practical sense far longer than that. Ancient Egypt and Greece, and later the Romans, all employed large covers of fabric to provide sun cover. This was especially true for armies recovering or preparing for battle and who needed to keep out of the draining effects of the burning midday sun.

Shade sails have become very popular in hot countries like South Africa and Australia and have become an almost compulsory installation in schools and some public areas in those countries. As the world’s population has become more and more aware of the dangers of UV exposure, the practical use of shade sails has become appreciated and the increasing commercial viability of shade products means the industry has grown to the point where you can now buy shade sails that are not only practical and functional, but are also stylish, giving your garden or commercial outdoor area a fashionable look.

Buying Shade Sails, Sun Canopies and Awnings
There is a growing number of manufacturers coming onto the market, especially in China who are marketing shade sails at very competetive prices but beware that they are often of poor quality materials and will not last long if tensioned on a permanent basis. Its also important to check the fabric manufacturer’s guarantees of UV protection rating since some sub-standard polyethylene types don’t offer as much protection from the sun as they claim.

Modern shade sails are mostly manufactured from high density polyethylene which is a very strong and flexible knitted fabric. These modern polyethylene fabrics were specifically developed to provide protection from the sun, and in so doing they are manufactured with UV protection ratings. These fabrics are also designed to allow air to circulate, promoting a cooler environment, but this means that some fabrics do not always offer adequate UV protection as we have already said. If your supplier does not know what UV rating their sun shades are then look elsewhere.

Technology Shade sails are generally made from knitted fabrics which allow it to stretch in 3 dimensions, which is why it can be tensioned to make different 3 dimensional shapes. The knitted fabric of the quality materials allow the some air flow which means they don’t allow heat to build up beneath them and help create a cooler area beneath.

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Installation
Shade sail shapes vary from triangular to to polygons, and by installing different shapes, colours and sizes, tensioned and overlapping in different ways, you can add a fun theme to your sunshade installation. Shade sails and awnings are tensioned usually by means of either a stainless steel turnbuckle or a pulley system fixed at each corner of the sail. For permanently fixed sails and awnings, the turnbuckle provides the best means of applying tension to the canopy. For sails and sun canopies that are to be used on an occasional bases, the pulley system is more practical since it can be set up and taken down in a couple of minutes.

 

Here are some other good examples of shade sails being put to good use:

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This shade sail really compliments this classy deck area

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Not the prettiest sails but very practical

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Shade sail doing its job over a sunny patio

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A collection of shade sails of varying size and color

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Shade sails over a the swimming pool

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Classy shade sails for a classy pool side

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Shade sails compliment this contemporary home