You’ve probably seen this idea before, I’ve tried it in years passed and had marginal success. This year I took some time to research different methods and judging by my tomato plants, I think I got it right! So I’ve compiled some basic tips to making your planter successful.
MATERIALS: Empty 2 Liter Bottle, String, Scissors, Soil, Plant
The first thing is to wash your 2-liter so that sticky corn syrup doesn’t start to mold around your plant.
Then cut the bottom of the bottle off, leaving as much of the 2-liter as you can. I found that the simplest way to do this is to take some crappy old scissors, heat the end of the blade over a candle and stab it into the bottle making a hole you can fit your scissors through and then cut the rest of the way. Using this same method, I then punch 3 holes evenly spaced around the edge that was just cut. If you are going to make multiple containers it’s easiest to do this to all the bottles at the same time because the scissors stay warmed up.
One of the biggest issues I’ve had in the past was the bottle heating up too fast and drying out the soil. I’ve tried covering them in burlap and scrap fabric, but it didn’t help much. This year I spray painted my bottles with a matte white paint and it has worked out wonderfully. A white fabric covering would probably also work, but be more time consuming. The key is to have something that reflects the sunlight.
I also learned that starting a plant from seed inside the bottle only confuses the plant. I put small pickling cucumber seeds in a couple bottle and the leaves grew up into the soil! So use a small starter plant, even a little more mature plant works. We had a tray of 2 foot cherry tomato plants sitting around for weeks and since their stems were stronger it was much easier to push the plants through with little damage. Of course it can be done at either stage.
You can use any kind plant that has small fruits, like cherry tomatoes, pickling cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, small eggplants, etc. I strongly recommend putting a companion herb on the top of your planter. This will not only make your plant healthier, but also help keep the soil from getting scorched. For the tomatoes I put basil on top and both plants are going wild. I have dill on the cucumbers, horehound and basil on the peppers.
It’s just so cool to watch the plants grow from both directions. I love watering them too (which you will have to do every day in the summer since the container is so small), you can just watch the water trickle down through the bottle. You should try an upside down plant, they are great for saving space, you don’t have stake them and they grow in incredible directions. I will post more about these once I my peppers and cucumbers really get going! (check it out here)
*UPDATE* Tuesday October 9th, 2012
After a summer full of upside down 2-liter experimentation, I’ve learned a lot and would like to update our overall experiences. Herbs work great! Cherry tomatoes do well for most of the summer, but eventually the roots fill the bottle. Peppers did fine as well and they are still producing fruits, but we didn’t get nearly as many peppers in the bottles as in the ground. Thai Hot Peppers did the best, because they are tiny and high producers; however I’d say the plants in the ground produced at least 5x as many peppers. Same thing with a huckleberry bush we tried in one, it only produced a few berries. The cucumbers started out great and then just died, but we harvested plenty of dill from the top of those bottles.
All the containers still have herbs in the top section, so now we are letting them go to seed and planting the perennials in the garden. I think the upside down 2 liter is great for experimenting with. And the tomatoes work out alright. But the space is just too small for most plants to reach their potential. I guess upside down buckets could be the answer.
Personally I may still use 2 liters for herbs next year, and hang them on our fence. It’s still a good way to save space, and keep pests out.