Jun 282011

Homemade topsy-turvy style planters for veggies

Do you have a hard time finding a good spot to garden? Is your yard too shady? Do you live in a apartment and want to avoid evection for digging up open spaces for your veggies?

Well…you might try gardening in a bucket. Give your vegetables a unique look at the world…let them grow upside down!

Everyone has seen the commercials on TV (usually on the midnight to 3am infomercials) for a trademarked, patented product called a Topsy-Turvy, usually promoted as a tomato planter.

Well, I don’t sell Topsy-Turvys here at JuicyMaters, and there are several veggies other than tomatoes that you can grow using the upside down, hanging method, and you can save money on the contraption to grow them in as well by making it yourself.

First, I’ll give you a step-by-step way to make a homemade “topsy-turvy” style planter for as little as .065…yes, that is 6.5 cents…and then we’ll take a look at what you can plant in them in the next post in the Family Homesteading category of JuicyMaters.


The container

This can be whatever bucket or container you have laying around that will hold at least two gallons. One gallon is marginally big enough, but you will have to water far more often AND you will lose a planting opportunity I’ll tell you about in the next post…”Tomatoes aren’t alone…9 plants that love growing upside-down”.

If you can’t use a “found” container, buying your bucket is the only real expense involved in making your bucket garden. When all else fails, a 2 gallon white plastic paint bucket from Home Depot is a good, cheap choice, costing around $2.00 each…but you can do better than that, right? After all, you can buy a cheap Topsy-Turvy knock off for about $4.00, and you want to save 90% of buying one, not just half the cost.

Another reason to stay away from the factory made hanging planters is planned obsolescence. Whether they are made to fall apart quickly on purpose or not, they will rarely last more than one season. It makes sense to acquire them as inexpensively as possible, since Homestead financial resources need to be spent on durable goods, not stuff that falls apart.

Free containers can be paint pails (safety note coming), empty coffee containers (really small, but usable), and the orange “Homer” Home Depot 5 gallon buckets we all have laying around. Another excellent source of free buckets is the bakery department of your local supermarket. Bakeries use a LOT of icing, and a supermarket bakery doesn’t make it’s own…icing, that is…it comes on a delivery truck and is in 2-3 gallon food grade plastic containers.

When picking bucket garden containers, you need to keep a few things in mind:

1.) You are growing food. Vegetables. Plants…that can absorb chemicals and poisons that will remain in the food you grow. For this reason you need to be careful what any containers you use originally contained, and that you clean them out GOOD.

2.) A plant root ball, especially tomatoes, is fairly large with lots of small roots, which means it, along with the dirt around it, holds a LOT of water. That root ball, and the dirt around it in a 1-2 gallon bucket, is heavy when properly watered. Don’t use lightweight plastic containers (like gallon milk jugs) as they will break easily, especially where you cut holes for the handle rope.

3.) The whole idea of making your own topsy-turvy type planter is to save resources. We all have TWO types of currency we can spend…time and money. For that reason keep durability in mind when choosing a container and the materials it is made of. Choose plastic containers with the sun (UV radiation) in mind. Some plastics are not UV resistant and will become very brittle and may break in less than one season. Metal containers, like VERY WELL CLEANED paint pails will rust. They will last for more than one season, but not much and you’ll spend time replacing them on a regular basis.

4.) Color matters, and not just in looks. In the south we have a long, hot growing season, and color is not so important, but the north has shorter seasons and the growing season is generally cooler than in the south. For this reason, if you live in the north your hanging veggie garden needs to be a dark color to absorb heat. Vegetables love heat, and a can of dark colored spray paint…we all have a partial can left over from another project, don’t we?…will help give your plants the heat they love.

With those details covered, let’s make a bucket garden container, OK? If your bucket garden is going to be using a plastic bucket, the only tools you’ll need are a sharp knife and a pair of pliers. You can throw in a drill with a large sized bit to make it even easier.

Unbuilt homemade topsy-turvy

These are the two items you will need…a bucket (hopefully found and free) and a sponge…the cheapest sponge you can find. I get mine in three packs at Home Depot in the paint department for 39 cents a pack, or 13 cents a sponge…but it gets even cheaper. One 3.5×5 inch sponge gets cut in half, making the sponge cost per container 6.5 cents.

Cut sponge for bucket garden

First, cut the sponge roughly in half. Don’t worry about being exactly half or having a straight line cut. Obviously I didn’t worry about it, and mine work just fine…

Bucket garden sponge prep, step 1

Next either cut or drill a hole in the middle of the half-sponge. Two important things to remember at this step. First, it is easier to cut or drill the hole BEFORE you get the sponge wet. Drilling the dried sponge actually removes material and gives you the hoe you need, while trying it on a wet sponge just pushes material out of the way and it springs back when you finish drilling. Second, don’t skip this step and not drill a hole. A slit is not enough, as it allows the swollen sponge to press on the young plant’s stem.

Bucket garden sponge prep, step 2

Now is when you wet the sponge…BEFORE you cut a slit in it. The cheapo sponges I use are thin and brittle, and if you try to cut a slit in it from the hole you drilled to the edge while it is dry, the sponge may “break”…and nobody wants a broken sponge, right?

Bucket garden hole location

Now it s time to cut a hole on the bottom of the bucket. If you are using plastic bucket there is probably a mold mark like this on the bottom, and this mod mark is just the right size. If you are using a bucket that doesn’t have such a mold mark a hole the size of a silver dollar is the right size.

Everybody has a silver dollar to use to measure with, right? If not, go with 1.5 to 1.75 inches.


Bucket garden, hole in bucket.



The hole doesn’t HAVE to be perfectly round, or exact in size. Think like a government worker…just get it close.

Bucket garden handle, step 1

Using the knife, cut the plastic handle roller off of the metal handle. It’s awkward so you need to be careful doing this or you can easily get cut.

Don’t ask how I know this.

Bucket garden handle, step 2.

Using the pliers, bend a little “dimple” in the middle of the handle, with the dimple pointing up. This keeps the bucket from sliding from side to side and tilting over when in use.

Bucket garden, planting a tomato plant

The homemade topsy-turvy type planter is done, so let’s plant something. Slide a plant stem into the hole in the now VERY wet sponge.

VERY GENTLY ease the leaves and stem of the plant through the hole in the bucket from the inside.

Bucket garden, plant in the bucket

When you look down in the bucket you’ll see the sponge covers the hole in the bucket, keeping the dirt in the bucket, and you’ll see the exposed rot system.

Bucket garden with plant instaled, from bottom, outside of the bucket.

Looked at from the bottom, you can see the plant greenery hanging out and can also see that the sponge covers the hole well while supporting the rot system of the plant.

Bucket garden, filed 2/3 with soil

Fill the bucket 2/3 full of soil…either well composted material mixed 50/50 with dirt, or a bagged planting soil from your local garden center. If you choose a bagged soil, be sure you get a potting mix, not a garden mix. Topsy-turvy style upside-down planters drain water real well (duh! There’s a hoe in the bucket!) and potting mixes hold water better than garden mixes, keeping your plants better watered.

A well-watered plant is a happy plant, and a happy plant will feed you better than an unhappy one.

Bucket garden...growing!

Now…sit back and get ready to enjoy a sammich. What kind?

A JuicyMaters sammich, of course! I’ll have mine with Miracle Whip and a slice of onion, thank you very much.

Coming: We’ll look at what you can plant upside-down besides tomatoes.


All about Bob the nutjob!

Bob is a N Georgia blogger, homesteader, yurt liver, self-sufficiency nutjob, pig farmer, political activist, politician baiter...and the best damn cook you know that doesn't make a living at it.He can be followed onTwitter. You can also "Like" our Facebook page.

  4 Responses to “Gardening in a bucket…growing plants upside-down. Part 1, making the planter”

Comments (4)
  1. I grow vegetables in galvanized buckets, which are sold here on the site http://apromera.com/ . It is very convenient and practical. Garden takes up little space, and the harvest is always very high. Organic vegetables from his garden is very tasty and healthy. The harvest can be collected even in the winter. A great opportunity to engage in the cultivation of vegetables in their home or farm, and collect a few harvests a year.

  2. I went to your website. Do I have to buy a pallet full to get those prices, and do you ship to the United States?

  3. I am interested in any gardening tips for growing in containers. Please send me newsletters Thank you

  4. Christy…I’d love to have you on the newsletter list. Go over to the right side of the page and sign up for either of the newsletters…or both! I know you think you already did, but the records show you forgot to but a check in the box(s) of the newsletter(s) you wanted.


 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


(required, but I don't share or sell it...promise!)