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Hardiness Zone: 6a
Tami from MO
Some folks swear by this method, while others swear at it. Essentially, growing tomatoes upside down in bags or buckets is an inexpensive do-it-yourself version of some of the more expensive systems, like the Topsy Turvey planter, that are now offered to consumers in garden catalogues. The theory is that growing tomatoes this way produces bigger yields and affords fewer problems with insects and disease. In addition, no pruning, no weeding, and no staking is required and the plants benefit from increased air circulation. As long as you have a sunny spot, it's a great way to save on garden space, or for apartment dwellers, to maximize the limited space of a balcony or patio. The bags can be hung from S hooks attached to eaves or railings, or by suspending them from shepherd's hooks, or even clotheslines.
I have never tried it, but the idea is simple. Get yourself a sturdy plastic bag (it needs to be able to hold a large amount of wet soil) or a 5-gallon bucket with a metal handle. Carefully slip the tomato plant into the hole (roots first) so that the leaves are sticking out the bottom. Holding the plant in place, start filling the bag (or bucket) with a lightweight soil mix (try a mixture consisting of 50% damp sphagnum peat moss, 30% compost, and 20% perlite). Fill in evenly around the plant and tip the bucket carefully upside down to test whether or not the plant is securely anchored into the soil. Some people place a paper towel around the plant's roots or place a sheet of newspaper on the bottom of the container before pushing the tomato plant through. This helps keep it from slipping out of the hole while you're adding soil. Fill the rest of the bag to within an inch or so from the top. Hang in a sunny spot and water as needed from the top.
Keep in mind that small fruiting varieties will be lighter. Also, tomatoes like heat. Cover the top of the soil with a layer of mulch or fasten a dark-colored cloth over the open end of the bucket. This will hold in moisture and heat, and help keep insects out. I've also heard of people planting annuals on the topside of their buckets to help hold in moisture and make the apparatus look more attractive. Double duty! Other container ideas include large plastic nursery pots, burlap sacks, or 2-liter soda bottles. Make sure you water frequently, like you would with any container-grown plant.
I haven't grown tomatoes in black plastic bags, but I HAVE grown them in sacks of peat moss. This was an idea I saw on the TV program "Crockett's Victory Garden" years ago when I was living in a garden apartment with a tiny little back yard. Take a plastic sack of peat moss and lay it flat on the ground. Using a knife or some other sharp tool, punch holes all over the sack.
Now turn the sack over and cut a couple of square holes in the sack, just big enough to plant your tomatoes in. When you have added your tomato plants, water it thoroughly. Because of the drainage holes in the bottom, you don't have to worry about over-watering. The plastic will hold in the heat and moisture. I used two sacks--four plants--and had enough tomatoes to share with neighbors and friends.
I've used the Topsy-Turvy bags for growing tomatoes with some success but if you do try it make sure the pole you hang the bag (or bucket if using the bucket method) is 'strong', lol-I ended up needing a 4"x4"x12' with five foot of that 12 in the ground, and a very heavy duty bolt to hold up all that weight!
I grew mine two spring-summer seasons in North-West Georgia, I don't know if that made a difference. I did get some very tasty beefsteak tomatoes from the bags but no better than I got from the plants I had planted in the ground. And interestingly, the pests seemed more interested in the Topsy-Turvy 'maters, I was surprised to see how easily the critters shimmied up that 4x4.
I will say that the cherry tomatoes I grew in hanging baskets were a marvel! I do think the dark container is what made the difference in attracting and retaining the heat at the roots, and I think because the baskets were on my porch railings I gave the plants more attention-no critters and I checked several times a day.
Here in the UK I put the big tomatoes in the ground and stake them-haven't tried the bags or buckets here and don't plan to because it didn't seem to make a difference back in GA. The cherry tomatoes grow here just as well in the baskets as they did in GA, and look very pretty too.
I have a friend that uses black plastic bags and a old tennis racquet to grow his tomatoes upside down and he got a lot of meters, fastens the bag to the racquet, puts the plant in and ties it to hold it and fills the bag with planting soil, he uses a coffee can lid on top to help hold moisture in, the racquet is nailed to a post, this holds it out and away so the plant can bush out, it worked and I'm going to try it this year.
Please re-explain the tennis racket/plastic bag set-up. I can't figure out what you describe.