Do you realize that I am inept for your sake? That's right, I constantly screw things up so that you don't have to. And this time I set out to save you $19.95 plus shipping and handling.You've seen the television ads for the upside-down tomato growing system. Frankly I thought it was nuts, right up there with gravity pulling all your body's toxins to your feet where they can be removed with duct tape. If God had intended tomatoes to grow upside-down, he would have planted them in Australia.

Then an editor told me he was trying it, and it is against my religion to argue with people who sign my checks. Besides, I checked upside-down tomatoes on the Web and found many people swore by the method. Still skeptical, but I decided to give it a try.

In the television ad, they put soil in the contraption, plop the tomato in - five seconds - and hang it from a hook already conveniently placed on a pergola joist. Then they go inside for three months, emerging only to pick dozens of round, red, ripe tomatoes that look suspiciously as if they were tied onto the plant. Nothing to it.

All it needs is something to hold soil and hang someplace. I can do that without spending $19.95 plus S&H, regardless of the "but wait" freebies they throw in for only the additional shipping and handling, which is always more than the extras are worth. I was sure I could.

A five-gallon pail, available all over for free or nearly so. That should do it. Just some simple modification.

Visualize this. The pail will hang by the handle with the top open, but the tomato, for some reason I don't really grasp, must grow out the bottom, like the old daffodil joke. That requires a hole. No problem. I have a hole saw. It just took me half an hour to find it and another hour to free the nut of rust. That done, it took only seconds to make a 3-inch hole in the bottom.

I turned the bucket right-side-up, put a piece of cloth temporarily over the hole, and filled the bucket with a light weight mix. I used compost and Perlite and a generous dose of time-release fertilizer.

So far so good. Now I had to turn the bucket upside down again without dumping the soil out in order to plant the tomato. I have a couple of lids for five-gallon pails. You'd think they'd all be the same size, wouldn't you? The bucket I had was about a half inch bigger around than the lid I had. That's what duct tape is for. It isn't weatherproof, but it only had to hold for a few days while the tomato got established.

I flipped the bucket, the soil settled like cereal in a box, and I had a 3-inch gap in the bottom, or the top, depending on how you look at it. I topped it off by tediously spooning soil into the hole and pushing it as well as I could off to the sides.

Since it is late in the season, I had potted my excess tomatoes up. It is not easy to plant a 5-inch root ball into a 3-inch hole. After some expert smushing, I managed. It would be much easier with a tomato fresh out of a six-pack.

I set the pail aside, with the tomato still pointed the way nature intended, to let it get established for a few days before the next flip.

Meanwhile I went to put a stout hook in my pergola, but I suddenly realized that I don't have a pergola. I needed some place to hang it, and everyplace that was possible was wrong. You can't hang it from a tree or a porch or a sofit because they would all shade this sun glutton.

I settled on the south east side of the garage, but that required a very sturdy iron bracket. The pail was heavy. I found just what I needed at a garden center. For $19.95. I removed the duct tape and the lid and put my tomato up. If it is still alive in August, I'll tie some tomatoes on it and take a picture.

o Duane Campbell, a nationally known agricultural expert, can be reached at R6, Box 6092, Towanda, PA 18848 or by e-mail at dcamp@chilitech.net for questions or comments.

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