Friday, January 18, 2008

Indoor vegetable garden with Topsy Turvy planters and window boxes

DID YOU KNOW? This is by far the most popular page on Going backward, moving forward. If you like this, my post on indoor composting might also be helpful.

Felknor Ventures 82506 Topsy Turvy Upside-Down Tomato PlanterOne cool product that I've had the pleasure of using is the Topsy Turvy Upside-Down Tomato Planter. It's kind of an experimental product as is, and I was using it in an even more experimental way. I got the Topsy Turvy so that I could utilize the vertical space in my indoor container garden. Not being able to grow a garden would have been the bane of my college dorm room existence... but I wasn't about to let someone tell me that I couldn't do it.

I had a couple of things going for me. First, I had a south facing window, which means I had sunlight for the greater part of the day (although, the inconvenient placing of a tree stole part of it from me). Second, I had very wide windows.

I couldn't just hang my Topsy Turvy planters in any old way, since I was renting the dorm room and would have to pay for any damages. What I did was, I got a wooden dowel from the local lumber yard, and Adjustable Shower Rod End Flanges from the local hardware store (these have rubber ends, and you twist them to add more tension, and thus secure the wooden dowel in the window sill). The link for the flanges is just an example, they actually only cost me $2-3 at the hardware store. I then cut the dowel to size -- the saw on my pocket knife, no less--according to the directions that came with the flanges, and then secured it in place. I drilled a large hole through a board and placed it in the middle of the dowel to add extra support for the planters, as they can be quite heavy.

With the Topsy Turvy you either have to get plants that are already started, or start them yourself. You cannot grow from seed inside the planter. Add some soil to the planter, shake most of the dirt off of the plants roots, and insert the plant according to the instructions that come with the planter. Soil will settle after you water it, so be sure to add more than you think you need (or add it after you hang the planter).

Here's a shot of my freshly planted garden, which includes my tomato and cucumber plants inside the Topsy Turvies (they're not just for tomatoes after all), and then green onions, lettuce, radishes, and Parisian Market carrots (which grow round like radishes rather than long like typical carrots) in window boxes. My tomato and cucumber are both early season varieties so that they don't require as long (or as much sun) to mature and they're also compact varieties that have been developed to grow in containers in tight spaces.

And a few from later in the season when growth had really taken off (it's not the best photo in the world, but you can sort of see some of the small cucumbers in the second photo):

Unfortunately, this was my first attempt at container gardening, and it was indoors to boot. I was guilty of both over and underwatering my plants. I did combat this some with the Topsy Turvy by cutting the top off of a gallon jug, and then cutting small holes into the bottom which I stuffed with bits of paper towel. I could then just keep the jug filled up and it would slowly wick water into the planter (this also kept water from dripping all over my window sill, since it didn't land in the window boxes as much as I would have liked).

On top of the watering issues, the tomato just wouldn't put on very impressive fruit. Got quite a few blooms, but there was either a lack of sun, a lack of fertilizer, or both. That didn't surprise me though. We had an unusually cool and cloudy summer, so even outdoor tomatoes struggled.

Ultimately, what killed my Topsy Turvy plants was the fact that I had to move during the growing season. Because the plants grow out of the bottom of the planter, they're very difficult to move over long distances... especially if you have no way to hang them up once you get where you're going. The plants were severely damaged in the moving process and never recovered. I'm eager to try again this year though, because I should be able to stay in one place throughout the growing season. After all, my indoor veggie garden wasn't a total failure:

DID YOU KNOW? This is by far the most popular page on Going backward, moving forward. If you like this, my post on indoor composting might also be helpful.

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