March 24, 2011 - My Bucket's Got a Hole In It!


Due to popular demand, I give you The Bottomless Tomato Buckets:

As I explained earlier, I use the five gallon sized BOTTOMLESS buckets for my tomatoes, simply to raise them up off the ground. That way I can plant crops (like lettuce, spinach, carrots, bush beans, etc) in the same bed, and they're not smothered by tomato foliage. In other areas of the yard, I use them to raise the tomato plants high enough that they aren't hit by the lawn sprinklers. I do fill the buckets with fresh compost rich soil and several amendments before planting my home grown plants. The buckets also make the plants really easy to hand water with the hose. I do build a trellising system for them, as the buckets alone would topple from the weight of the mature plants.

You'll need:

five gallon bucket
6" plate or bowl, or a steady hand, for drawing a circle
Sharpie pen
jigsaw (coping saw or keyhole saw would work)
2 heavy duty cone type tomato cages (no wimpy ones, please)
1"x2" stakes 8' long for indeterminate tomatoes

Turn your bucket bottom side up. Draw a circle, about 6" in diameter, on the bottom of the bucket, leaving about a 2" rim around the edge.

Using a good sized drill bit, drill a couple of holes side by side on the circle, so they make one oblong hole large enough to insert the blade of the jigsaw.

Insert the jigsaw blade and cut out the circle.

Turn the bucket upright, and insert the legs of your tomato cage into it. Mark where the legs touch what is left of the bottom. You might have to bend the legs out a bit to fit snugly on the bottom rim. Mark where they touch. Remove the cage and drill holes where you've marked. I also drill small drainage holes all around the rim.

Set the bucket in its permanent place in the garden, and insert the legs of your first tomato cage into the holes you drilled. Push the cage firmly into the ground, preferably until the bottom ring of the cage rests on the top of the bucket.

Fill the bucket just over a quarter of the way with a mixture of soil and compost. Dig in whatever amendments you want to use for good tomato growth. I dig in a mixture of egg shells, a couple of aspirin (because I read it somewhere), and some old calcium tablets and multi-vitamins/minerals that are past their use by date (can't hurt!). I pulverize everything together in a coffee grinder and sprinkle the powder into the planting hole. I also dig in a bit of fertilizer. I buy whatever I can find at Lowe's or Ace Hardware, and I'm not too picky about it, but try to keep it at least semi-organic. Last year it was some stinky Lily Miller stuff that was mostly chicken manure. Then I add more soil/compost mixture to the bucket, filling it up about 1/2 way. I leave mine at a level where my seedling, when planted, is just below the top of the bucket. The bucket protects the (already hardened off) seedling from wind damage, which is a problem where I live. As the plant grows, I remove the bottom leaves and add soil to the bucket, which gives the plant a really sturdy root system. I end up with about a 2" space at the top of the bucket for watering.

After you plant the tomato seedling, drive the stake in next to it.

At this time, I place another heavy duty cone shaped cage upside down on top of the bottom cage, and wire them together. I forgot to add the second cage to some of mine last year. I had the stakes all screwed to the eaves when I discovered my error, and instead of taking them back down, I ended up pruning and tying those tomato plants. Lash the ends (legs) of the top cages to the stakes, tepee style.

Secure the stakes to something rigid! The setup I have in my garden is not the best. I didn't want to have those steel posts in an X shape, but this bed is sitting over the spot where our maple tree was removed, and we couldn't pound the posts straight down due to big roots underneath. They had to go in at an angle, then be attached to the bed. The 8-foot 1"x2" crossbar was wired to the posts, then the stakes were screwed into it.

Now go ahead and plant on each side of those buckets!

Here I have mature lettuce, with newly seeded carrots (under the board) replacing the earlier harvested lettuce. The other side of the buckets is planted with bush beans. The boards over the carrots keep them moist until they germinate. They MUST be checked daily, and removed as soon as you see some green carrot tops emerging.


  1. Thanks for the excellent tutorial!

  2. Genius! I am getting my notebok an...awe heck I am printing this so I won't forget anything. I haven't started my beds yet as it's so wet. Is that an excuse? Thank you for sharing all this knowledge.

  3. Oh wow, this is so impressive Granny! I can't wait to try this!

  4. I'm impressed! I can't wait for it to dry out here so I can give your buckets a try! Thank you for the detailed directions...I did a cut-and-paste to save in my garden file.

  5. Wow - thanks! That is very impressive.

  6. Great way to plant tomatoes in with other veggies in beds. I like my SWCs, but this is great!

  7. Good tutorial! Thanks for all the pics! I'm now sold!!

  8. I think that I'm going to call you Granny the Engineer!! Great post with nice details.

    I like the I will have that song stuck in my head all night!!

  9. great! what are the dimensions of your bed with the 4 buckets?

  10. I've been out working in the garden all day, and that stupid song won't get out of my head!

  11. OK, I'm gonna do this. Are those plastic buckets?

  12. thanks Annie's Granny,
    also, i was wondering what you do with all that "extra" soil from the buckets at the end of the season.

  13. I love your system Granny. It looks like some mad engineer has gone crazy in the garden. EG hasn't been rubbing off on you has he?

  14. Dianefaith, they are heavy plastic 5-gallon buckets.

    Donna, I dump it out into the other veggie beds. Of course, if something grown in them happened to be diseased, I would get rid of the possibly contaminated soil.

    Daphne, I think a little of EG rubs off on all of us!

  15. Great idea! I like the idea of getting the plants high off the ground that would sure help keep the soil from splashing up on the leaves.

  16. Wait, the holes are intentional?

    Drat. I was about to start calling you Liza, Dear Liza.

    I was so willing to be your Henry. Oh well, such is life.

  17. Brilliant, as always, Granny! And I love the Ricky Nelson's such a shame he never could kick those drugs and get his stuff together. Another that never reached full potential cuz of the stupid drugs...

  18. Thanks for the details. I will be sending a link for this blog entry to Larry so that he can prepare my buckets. I saw two buckets on the side of the road yesterday and if it had not been rush hour, I would have stopped to get them for my garden!!!

  19. I am really liking this idea for my cramped garden this year. But I can't do the cages. Do you think the buckets would tip if I skipped that step and just ran my usual trellis to stake the plants to?

    I suppose I could bang in a stake or section of rebar down the center for added stability. But that must be heavy once filled with soil.

  20. Kelly, don't even try it unless you can firmly screw the long stake to something secure! Even just the cages, pushed way into the ground, will not keep those heavy plants from toppling. The only other way I've kept them secure was to pound in those metal fence posts (T-posts), then center the bucket so the post comes right up through the hole. That's how my determinates were planted last year, and why I had six fence posts with no fencing ;-)

    Check out these two posts...the plants had stakes pounded into the ground.

  21. oh oh oh! as soon as I saw the name include 'hole in the bucket' I, too, started singing in total southern twang "There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza! There's a hole in my bucket dear Liza, a hole!! With what shall I patch it dear Henry, dear Henry? With what shall I patch it dear Henry, with what?" ......... This could go on for awhile you know!

    Ribbit- I am SO glad there's another person in the world that knows that song too! heh

    I LOVE this idea for the tomatoes.. but those heavy wire tomato cages go for almost $4 a piece down here!! ugh. No way I can do that with all the tomatoes I am hoping to grow this year!!

    You already started your beans too?? Goodness I better get off my butt and get busy!! I only just planted my peas yesterday and I still have tomatoes and peppers to start.. and and and.... oh boy..

  22. NO, NO, NO, Wendy! I have not planted beans, and won't for at least another month! Those are photos from last year's garden! Heavens, I hardly have anything green showing here. It's still freezing at night! Go to that link in my sidebar, my planting calendar, to see what you can plant and when.

  23. Oh, Wendy, I buy those large tomato cages at Wal-Mart for under $3 each. I'm thinking they were something like $2.69. They aren't super strong like those $$$$, but they held up fine with my huge indeterminates for two years in a row.

  24. Tomato cages are like $9 in Australia! which is same as US$9 too.

    I had a stack of tomato buckets going thanks to yoru inspiration but they got attacked by the dreaded virus that seems to hit the tomatoes no matter what. Im very nearly giving up on tomatoes which is a shame but unless someone can provide a solution not much point. so your lucky there.

    anyhow for the old buckets and with Autumn just starting here, ive removed what was remaining of the tomatoes (remember the tomaotes never really grew solid so the root system was pretty scant).. and have just started my Basil Buckets, Lettuce buckets, radish buckets and coriander buckets.. just topped existing soil with extra mix and goodies. And they are all doing well. Something about container gardening thats easy.


  25. SydneyGardener, I have no solution for the tomato problem. Daphne spritzes her plants with "a mixture of worm compost tea and aspirin (3/4 of a tablet per gallon of water - aspirin has been shown to switch on a tomato's own disease fighting mechanisms). If it is a very wet year, I alternate the above spray with Seranade. Seranade's active ingredient is a bacteria that destroys spores."

    I'm not a fan of the cone shaped tomato cages, but that's what I have. I wish I had concrete reinforcement wire cages that would fit down around the buckets.

  26. Thanks for the tips.

    I will give tomatoes a go as its hard to resist. Sometimes even 2 tomatoes on a plant is better than none. It was a very wet Sydney last summer.

  27. SidneyGardener, you might even add some corn meal (NOT corn gluten, just plain cornmeal like you use in the kitchen), about a half cup or so, to that compost tea + aspirin. Just soak everything in a bucket of water, then strain it and use as a spray on the leaves. Corn meal tea is a natural fungicide. Can't hurt, might help.

  28. Awesome idea! I will have to give the buckets a try with my tomato plants! Thanks for sharing!

  29. Just when I think I've seen all the good ideas, I find something else. This is a wonderful idea. Even though my beds aren't built yet, I'll be off to find some buckets so I can hoard them, er, um, stash them, until the gardens are ready.

  30. 1st Man, just remember...buckets topple, even when the tap root has grown into the soil below. They must be tied to a stake or fence post. I like to pound in metal T-posts and just drop the empty buckets over them, then insert the cage and use zip ties to secure the cage to the post. Nothing topples that way!

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