Organic Gardening

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Gardening in Small Spaces: My Topsy Turvy Tomato Planter

7/23/2010 11:46:35 AM

Tags: growing tomatoes, small space gardening

Gardening in small spaces on a small budget can be challenging. I’ve longed for a garden of my own for years. This year, my “garden” is a single Topsy Turvy tomato planter.

My husband and I are both full-time students during the school year, which means that we live on very little money. We share a small, two-bedroom apartment with a little porch big enough for two chairs and a tiny gas grill. We don’t buy organic foods, despite our deep desire to do so. We don’t have our own garden — where would we put it? Despite all of that, we are both strict vegetarians, and cheap convenience food is rarely an option.

About a month ago, we were shopping at our local food cooperative — the only place in our area that sells hard-to-find vegan foods like seitan and tempeh — and we realized that Topsy Turvy Planterwe needed a tomato for one of our recipes. Driving to another grocery store would have been a waste in more ways than one, so we decided to splurge and buy one of the local, organic tomatoes at the cooperative.

The recipe only called for half of the tomato, so I cut up the rest for us to eat. For the next hour, we “oooh”ed and “ahhh”ed over how amazing this tomato tasted. Then, for the next week, we told our friends and families about our magical tomato. I guess when you get used to the regular tomatoes from big chain stores, a single organic tomato can change your life.

Despite our life-changing experience, we still won’t be able to afford organic tomatoes or grow our own garden for the foreseeable future. Fortunately for us, we can afford a Topsy Turvy tomato planter, and we even have enough room on our porch to let it grow. Topsy Turvy is an upside-down tomato planter that can be hung wherever you find room.

We bought our Topsy Turvy from a grocery store close to home in early May. That grocery store has a garden center outside, so we walked right over and bought a bag of soil and two tomato seedlings. A couple of hours later, our Topsy Turvy plant, which my husband lovingly named Tom, was ready to get growing.

Tom had a bit of a rocky first month. He survived a handful of unseasonably cold nights, but he looked a little bit worse for the wear. We watered him diligently, but his yellow flowers would bloom and then die without offering us a single tomato. We feared the worst: that Tom would be a naked tomato plant come June.

Our fears proved themselves unfounded when, on June 11, I stepped outside and saw not one, not two, but five small tomatoes growing on Tom. I rejoiced and dragged my husband outside to celebrate our little-plant-that-could’s success. Not even a week later, Tom was growing nearly 20 tomatoes!

On July 16, Tom gave us our first ripe tomato. I was so excited that I ate it like an apple. Since then, we’ve picked five more tomatoes (I used a couple of them on top of a pizza made from this amazing bread recipe), and we estimate that we’ll probably pick about 15 more before Tom is worn out for the season.

The organic tomato that I mentioned earlier carried a pretty hefty price tag. If we end the summer with 20 Topsy Turvy tomatoes, our bounty will more than make up for the cost of using this product — the Topsy Turvy tomato planter cost around $10. We have every intention of growing more tomatoes next year using this same method, and we may even add a strawberry or hot pepper planter.

Topsy Turvy planters have become extremely popular. Are you using an upside-down planter to grow food or herbs?

We want to know how you handle gardening in small spaces. Tell your story by posting a comment below.

Lindsey Siegele is the Senior Web Editor at Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Find her on .

Photo by Topsy Turvy 

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Kate Daiger_1
8/11/2010 11:26:01 AM
I've bought some Sky Planters from and they are awesome! I use the smallest Sky Planter for herbs and have had great success with basil, rosemary and mint. They look really cool too - always a conversation piece when people come over for dinner. I highly recommend!

Victoria Bean
7/26/2010 8:25:56 PM
We have 2 topsy turvy planters, which are new to us this year. We live in Seattle and put them out in early May - WAY too early! They hung on by a thread until mid-June when it warmed up. They are going gangbusters now. We have used our organic worm compost and worm tea to fertilize, and plenty of water (evidently, the bags can dry out quickly) and they have recovered beautifully. I read that if it gets too hot and they look wilted, you can wrap them in tin foil to deflect the heat. I also read you can fashion a drip waterer using a soda bottle or large plastic cup with holes poked in the bottom. Fill with ice cubes for a slow watering on hot days. We also have a container garden using plastic bins about 2'x3' that we bought at Target. We poke holes in the bottom and use the bin lid as a drip pan underneath. We put highly ammended potting soil in (worm castings, alfalfa meal, kelp powder, lime, chicken manure) and we are growing amazing greens in these containers on our covered porch. They don't need too much light or water, are virtually pest free and taste incredible.

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