Pros: space-saving features, no stakes needed, large planter area, can grow more than tomatoes
Cons: must consistently water the planter or soil dries
I enjoy unexpected gifts. A friend surprised me by giving me an Upside-Down Tomato Garden from Hammacher Schlemmer. I enjoy gardening and like to try new things. Since I’ve never grown tomatoes upside-down, I knew this would be fun and a unique item in my garden.
What Is Special About This Planter?
This planter is an upright rectangle shape. The base is weighted with either sand or water and has five support poles that hold the large square planter in place 52” above the ground. The top of the planter is filled with soil where one can grow peppers, other vegetables, herbs and flowers. The bottom of the planter has four holes in it where tomatoes are inserted to grow upside-down.
A benefit of this garden is that the one planter serves two purposes (a top garden and tomatoes that grow from the bottom), making economical use of the planting area. The manufacturer says that growing tomatoes this way allows them to air ripen without rot. It’s a neat concept!
Since this planter is so compact, it is ideal for areas with limited space. For instance, this garden is perfect on a balcony, patio or in a garden for added growing space.
What Comes In the Box?
The box weighs about 19 pounds and measures 25 3/4” high x 26” wide x 10 1/2” deep. It contains the following:
* 1 plastic base
* 1 plastic planter
* 2 pieces of 3” PVC pipe
* 8 pieces of 3/4” metal pipe
* 1 red plastic plug (for the base)
* 1 sheet of assembly instructions
The base and planter are constructed of a strong black plastic. All four sides of the planter have an embossed image of tomatoes and peppers along the sides.
I decided to place my planter at the edge of my main garden in the backyard.
It took me 25 minutes to assemble the Upside-Down Tomato Garden. The one sheet of instructions is brief but contains the basics in an easy-to-understand layout. The sheet includes a line diagram of the various pieces and how they are to be assembled. One paragraph describes how to put together the planter.
It’s important to assemble the planter on a level surface. Make sure the planter is exactly where you want it since it will be difficult to move after assembly. It is easy to put together. Connect the two pieces of 3” diameter PVC pipe and insert into the center hole in the base. Next slide together two metal pole pieces. Since there are eight pieces, you will end up with four poles. These poles are inserted at the four corners of the base.
When all the poles are in position in the base, set the planter atop them, sliding it onto the poles. Make sure all the poles are aligned properly.
Next fill the base with either sand or water. The base measures 23" square x 4 1/2" high. At first, I was going to fill the base with sand. But I thought it might be difficult to fill the 23” square base with sand, plus it would take a lot of sand to fill the base. The instructions do not say how much sand would be needed. It was simple to fill the base with water. I placed the hose in the hole at the top corner of the base and let the water run until the base was filled. Then I closed the hole with the red plug. Assembly is finished.
Now it was time to add soil to the planter. The planter measures 25” square x 7” deep and holds 80 pounds of top soil. I used a variety of soils in the planter, using partial bags of planting medium that I had leftover from earlier planting projects. Then I raided my compost pile and added some to the soil mix.
Planting My Sky Box
My father came up with the name Sky Box for this planter, and I’ve used it ever since. This garden is literally growing in the sky, 52” from the ground.
I prefer to grow my plants from seed. As a rule, I start my seeds indoors under lights and transfer the plants into the garden when the weather is warm enough.
I knew I wanted to grow pepper plants in the top area of the planter and thought that marigolds would be a good addition to help keep pesky insects from making homes in the soil. (Ants in my area are notorious for invading anything with soil. By the way, I haven’t seen a single ant in the planter with the marigolds growing there.) I also had four small tomato plants about 4” high. This planter has cut-outs to house four additional tomato plants if desired. Just punch out the cut-outs for a total of eight holes for tomatoes.
Note that as I filled the planter with soil, I also positioned and planted the tomato plants. Since they are designed to grow upside-down, they need to be planted first. As I fussed with placing the 4” plants, I had a feeling they were too small for this box. Their root system was not developed enough to spread out on either side of the planting hole. It was a challenge anchoring them in the box without having them fall through the holes. I guided the four plants (one plant per hole) so that they hung upside-down from the bottom of the planter.
Then I added the rest of the soil to the planter box. I planted four pepper plants, about 5" tall, in each of the corners and scattered another four pepper plants throughout the planter. Then I added the smaller marigold plants that would produce yellow flowers. The marigolds were tiny plants about 2” high. I scattered them throughout the box. In the past, I have had mixed luck with marigolds and wasn’t expecting them to do much. Afterward, I watered the Sky Box well with water mixed with liquid fish emulsion fertilizer.
How My Tomatoes Grow
I soon discovered that the 4” tomato plants did not do well in the planter. Two out of the four plants quickly died. I needed larger tomato plants. It’s been ages since I bought tomato plants from a store, but I journeyed to Lowes and bought two Early Girl and two Celebrity tomato plants. They were about 10” to 12” tall.
Carefully, I dug a crater above the hole where the dead tomato plants had grown. Then I inserted one Early Girl and one Celebrity into the holes, making sure not to break their branches. Surprisingly, I had no trouble with the operation. I gently hosed down their dirty leaves and made sure to drench the soil.
You are probably wondering what I did with the remaining two tomato plants. I decided to experiment. I planted them in my garden to compare how the tomatoes grew in the two different locations. Meanwhile, the other two original 4” tomato plants died. Now it was just the Lowes tomato plants in the planter.
Back to the Sky Box. Within a day, the tomato branches started to grow upward toward the bottom of the planter. The tomatoes were instinctively righting themselves. As the tomatoes aged and produced fruit, the weight of the tomatoes gradually pulled the branches downward. Still, the branches did not completely straighten from the weight.
Now you are probably wondering about those Lowes tomatoes in the garden. I planted them, then placed a tall tomato cage around each plant and staked the cages into the soil so that they did not shift. As the tomato plants grew, I made sure the branches were contained within the cage. No part of the plant dragged on the ground. This is how I usually grow my tomatoes.
I picked my first ripe tomato from the Sky Box this week. None of the Lowe’s tomatoes in the garden are turning ripe. The Early Girl tomato plant in the Sky Box currently has four green tomatoes on it. The Early Girl in the garden also has four green tomatoes on it. The Celebrity tomato in the Sky Box has no tomatoes on it. The Celebrity tomato in the garden has eight green tomatoes growing.
During the growing season, tomato leaves have a tendency to turn yellow and then brown. The garden tomatoes have clusters of dead brown leaves. However, the tomatoes in the Sky Box have no yellow or brown leaves.
Also, during a horrendous thunder storm with lots of wind, one of the large branches on the Celebrity garden tomato pulled free from the cage and is now resting on the ground. The Sky Box tomato plants look bushy, healthy and unharmed. They are not touching the ground, and the planter has never tipped over. It's very stable.
How About the Peppers and Marigolds?
Remember those tiny marigold plants that I had grown from seed? They are huge. Mammoth. I have never grown marigolds this vibrant and healthy. The flowers have taken over the planter.
Meanwhile, the pepper plants are only about 8” tall. They are being ambushed by the super-active marigolds. I keep pinching marigold branches out of the way to make sure the pepper plants receive their allotment of sunlight. Instead, the marigolds grow more robust … and bushier since I’m pinching the branches. The pepper plants look anemic in comparison.
So What Is the Verdict?
One thing I noticed is that I had to regularly water the plants in the Sky Box since the soil dried quicker than the soil in the garden. The instructions also say to water daily and add fertilizer once a month.
I like the Sky Box planter despite my mixed growing experiences. I’m looking forward to using it against next year. This time I’ll place fewer marigolds in the top portion of the planter and will grow a different variety of pepper. I’ll also use larger tomato plants from the start so that there is no need for replanting.
So after this growing season, I will empty the soil from the planter, drain the water from the base, and disassemble the planter. I’ll store it in the garage until winter gives way to spring.
This Upside-Down Tomato Planter was a gift. However, I know it came from Hammacher Schlemmer and cost $69.95. The box is labeled with the shipping information. Hammacher Schlemmer shipped it via UPS in the original carton package.
I enjoyed using the Upside-Down Tomato Garden. This is a great way to make better use of limited space. The planter box is large enough to plant flowers, herbs or vegetables. The marigolds I am growing in it are the best marigolds that I have ever raised. The vote is still out regarding how well the tomato plants produce in this planter. Next year, I will experiment with different varieties of peppers and tomatoes ... and definitely cut back on flowers. I’m looking forward to using this planter again next year.
Update -- September 9, 2006
Another year of gardening is sliding into the past as autumn approaches. I enjoyed using this planter again. In the top, I planted four marigold plants in the center and nine pepper plants surrounding the flowers. I also planted four tomato plants in the bottom section, selecting the largest of the plants that I grew from seed.
The marigolds did quite well. Despite planting only four of them in the planter, they once again tried to take over the space. Marigolds love this skybox!
The pepper plants did well, too. I have collected an average of three peppers per plant. I also planted the same variety of peppers in the garden. The peppers planted in the garden grew bigger. However, the peppers in the planter tended to turn from green to red sooner. (In case you aren't familiar with peppers, red peppers are sweeter and usually cost more to buy in the store.)
Tomato harvesting was better this year. All four tomato plants survived and grew well. Even the plant I accidentally pulled out of the planter a month after planting it. I just stuck the poor thing back into the soil, and it continued to grow. I planted the same variety of tomatoes in the garden, too. The garden tomatoes produced a few more pieces of fruit per plant, and the plants are larger. However, I'm pleased with the results of the upside-down tomatoes. I'm still not convinced the upside-down planter is the best way to grow tomatoes ... but it's fun!
Update -- December 3, 2007
I took the planter down this year for the winter. This is the first time I've noticed any aging of the materials. The plastic cap that fits in the hole of the base is brittle. I went to remove the cap to empty out the water, and the cap started to break apart. I left the fragile cap in the hole and emptied the water out through the smaller holes in the base. This worked fine. I'll be using this planter again next year.
Update -- May 18, 2010
This tomato garden still looks virtually new. The materials it is constructed from (other than the cap mentioned above) have held up very well. Despite my mixed results from gardening in this planter, I still love it. Marigolds are my best crop. Tomatoes have not done very well for me. This year I am trying peas in the top portion of the planter. So far they are doing well. The peas are forming tendrils and look healthy.
A reader asked me for a tip list using this garden.
1. Use good soil in the planter box, and add fertilizer to the soil.
2. Use established, healthy plants. The seed I have directly sown into the soil is pea seed.
3. Water the planter soil every day (unless you are in a climate where the soil doesn’t dry out). Here, the soil rapidly dries … so watering every days is a must unless it rains.
4. Fertilize the plants according to the directions on the fertilizer package. Once you plant, the box will need periodic fertilizing.
I hope you found this review useful.
Enjoy your day,
Please read my other reviews:
Droll Yankee Flipper Bird Feeder -- squirrel proof
Swan Tuff and Flexible Garden Hose
Gilmour Advanced Variable Oscillating Sprinkler
Craftsman Weed Digger
Craftsman Anvil Pruner
Fiskars Power-Lever Bypass Lopper
Step 2 Grass Hopper Wheeled Garden Stool / Cart
Rubbermaid Tool Tower
Cook’s Garden (online store)
Park Seed (online store)
Burpee Seeds (online store)
Rubbermaid Big Max Storage Shed
Black & Decker Cordless Battery Mulching Lawnmower
Copyright 2005 Dawn L. Stewart