Spice things up in the garden by going upside down

Has the recent hot weather just about driven you crazy? Crazy enough to try upside down gardening? I say try it and see what happens.

Growing crops that dangle upside down is an idea that has become popular. Perhaps you have seen the commercials for the "Topsy Turvy" planters on TV. Has that aroused your curiosity?

I am here to say you can try this unique gardening method on the cheap. You can make you own planter easily, quickly and frugally.

Here's what you do to make it yourself:

Step 1 - Get a 5-gallon bucket and lid. You can find these at hardware stores for a fairly low price. Sometimes you may be able to get them from restaurants or delis. You can even use a plastic kitty litter container.

Step 2 - Drill a 2-inch hole in the center of the lid and the center of the bottom of the bucket.

Step 3 - Place a screen on the bottom of the bucket and fill the bucket with soil.

Step 4 - Put screening over the soil in the top of the container and put the top on.

Step 5 - Flip bucket upside down; now it is on its lid. Pull out the screening and put a tomato plant inside the 2-inch hole. Water and then add soil, if needed.

Step 6 - Allow the plant to grow to a height of about 12 inches. You want the plant to get established before you turn it upside down.

Step 7 - Flip the plant over. It is now upside down. Hang it by its handle on a hook.

Step 8 - This is very important. Don't forget to water and fertilize. These containers may dry out quickly, so be sure to check the soil frequently for dryness.

Results are generally better if smaller tomato plants rather than larger ones are planted. Bigger tomatoes are too heavy and put too much stress on the vine. This causes the stalk to twist and break.

Tomato varieties are labeled determinate and indeterminate. Horticulture experts recommend choosing indeterminate ones for upside down gardens. Determinate tomatoes are stubbier, with rigid stalks that produce all the fruit at one time. This could weigh down and break the stems. Indeterminate varieties have more flexible, sprawling stems that produce fruit throughout the growing season. This staggered tomato production is less likely to be susceptible to gravity.

Don't think you must limit yourself to growing tomatoes. Leggy crops like cucumbers and peppers are also options. Try an upside down herb garden. Do try experiments and determine what works for you.

The advantages of upside down gardening are: it saves space; there is no need for stakes or cages; it foils pests; there are minimum weeds; there is efficient delivery of water and nutrients; and it allows for greater air circulation and sunlight exposure.

That doesn't sound so crazy, does it?

For more information on gardening, contact The University of Arizona Mohave County Cooperative Extension at 101 E. Beale Street, Kingman, (928) 753-3788, or send e-mail to mohavece@cals.arizona.edu.