If you watch much television, you have most likely seen advertisements for an “amazing” product called Topsy Turvy. The premise is that you grow tomatoes upside down in a hanging container filled with potting soil.
Well I bought one to try it out. Yes I know it is not a kitchen tool or gadget per se, but I have a real thing for garden fresh tomatoes. I just had to know if this odd device could save my plants from nature’s beasts, who feast on my garden.
I know that gardening experts mock the Topsy Turvy, but they don’t have to deal with my situation. For that matter neither do most of my neighbors.
You see, my house is located next to a larger wooded park complete with deer, raccoons and other creatures who love to eat whatever we home owners put out. Add to that, the unique orientation of my house on our plot of land prevents me from fencing off my yard. Oh I could do it if I wanted to spend thousands of dollars and end up with a prison like fencing system but who is going to do that just to grow vegetables.
I tried to create small spaces to grow vegetables, but the deer would push over or go under the fencing I created and destroy my plants. Whatever the deer didn’t eat, raccoons and squirrels would gladly consume.
After spending too much money on various fences, sprays and every remedy known to man, I gave up on vegetable gardening.
However I have great difficulty in finding a tomato, even at farmers markets, that has a great garden fresh taste and this led me to try the Topsy Turvy.
The Sales Pitch
The Topsy Turvy® Tomato Planter is the unique and innovative way to grow your own fresh fruits and veggies. As Topsy Turvy® hangs upside down, gravity pulls the water and nutrients directly from the root to the fruit, giving you a deliciously ripe tomatoes! It’s simple to use and saves time and space. Just hang it up, place any tomato plant in the planter, add your favorite potting soil, and water daily. The sun warms the plant like a greenhouse, the root system grows and thrives inside the planter. Plus, hanging in the air helps reduce ground fungus, harmful bacteria, cutworm damage, use of pesticides, digging & weeding and backbreaking work.
Topsy Turvy The Reality
I bought my Topsy Turvy from a local hardware store, which sells many “as seen on TV” type products. I got it home and opened the box and began to read the enclosed material.
The first thing you need to plan for, BEFORE buying one, is where will you hang the planter and how will you hang it?
I planned to put mine under a covered porch area in hopes of discouraging the pesky deer from eating the plant. This portion of the porch has boxwood shrubs in front, which I understand deer are not fond of; the area is also blocked by a small plant stand.
You will need either a very sturdy pole or support rig. I was able to place a heavy duty screw in the ceiling of my porch to support the weight. This planter, with soil, water and plant can weigh up to 30 – 40 lbs. This is also a factor for installation as not everyone will be able to hang it by themselves. In my case, I very nearly erred in not allowing for enough clearance from the ceiling to water it.
The second thing you learn is that the instructions do not include information about every item in the box, chiefly, the foam/sponge disks. Unless one calls the company and asks what they are used for, which I didn’t, you will never find out that it is to be used to divide the soil into sections for moisture retention. I learned about this after installation by reading online forums. And lest you think that my instructions were a rare fault, check the forums and you will see that all the products ship without this information.
I, in my ignorance, instead left them out and proceeded to set up.
I bought a tomato plant from the local market. It was already about 6″ high and was an indeterminate tomato plant. Indeterminate varieties of tomatoes are also called “vining” tomatoes. They will grow and produce fruit until killed by frost and can reach heights of up to 10 feet although 6 feet is considered the norm. They will bloom, set new fruit and ripen fruit all at the same time throughout the growing season. I felt this system would be most conducive to this type of plant rather than the bush or determinate tomato.
I had installed the screw as securely as possible into the roof of the porch, then put the plant inside the Topsy Turvy container and placed the soil on top as directed. I left the correct amount of space in the top as directed, about 2-3″ of space for watering. You will probably need to add additional soil to the planter as it will compact down after successive watering. [Note: The additional soil will give the plant more room for root expansion.]
I then hung the planter and watched anxiously. I was happy when the planter survived the 1st night still attached to the porch roof and equally relieved after subsequent winds and storms.
Since my planter is under cover and receives only morning and partial afternoon sun, I am finding that the watering schedule is very different from the directions in the package. If your Topsy Turvy is exposed to the full sun, you will need to water almost daily. The container is really just a thick plastic bag and would get very hot during the afternoon.
The plant grew quite quickly and as you would expect, the branches rose up to meet the sun. I started it in mid-May and it had blooms and set fruit within a month.
As the fruit got bigger, my first fear was realized, the branch bearing the fruit fell under the weight and split. I have not touched the branch, deciding to see how the fruit matures.
As of this writing, the fruit remains, but has not grown much or matured further.
I probably watered the tomato too much when the heat came on for fear of drying it out and have vowed to modify the schedule based on gut feeling about the moisture levels.
As for the other claims about disease, pests, etc., I have noticed that the plant does seem healthy and moisture does seem to be easily dried by the breezes. Speaking of moisture, given the design, as you water the plant from the top, the water will drain out onto the plant itself. Knowing this, I would refrain from nighttime watering to reduce the risk of fungus. Plus the area below the plant will of course get water and some soil spilled on it. You may want to put some form of tarp or bucket underneath to collect the dripping.
Also, you may find that the drain holes in the firm plastic bottom ring do not match up with the plastic planter holes. This may cause drainage issues and require you to poke some new holes in to allow for adequate drainage.
Summary So Far
At this time I am fairly pleased with the product. I think the instructions need to be reworked to include every part and potential issues.
Like any television product, the reality is not as simple as they want you to believe.
I will post more Topsy Turvy updates as the season progresses.
Click here to read the Late Summer Update.