Click on photo to enlarge.
The dark green "bars" are 6' metal T-posts (fence posts, heavy duty). They are crossed because there are the remains of a maple tree underneath the bed and we couldn't pound them straight down. We ended up crossing them, then drilling holes through the Ts at the bottoms and screwing them into the boards that form the beds. We wired them together where they cross. We erred in that the bed is just a bit longer than 8', so the horizontal 8-foot 1"x2" doesn't quite span it. It was supposed to seat in the Xs. We had to drill holes in the board and just attach it with zip ties. Last year we wired everything together, but I dismantle it in the spring to empty the buckets, and I felt snipping the cable ties would be much easier than removing all that wire.
1. The entire bed was given a few inches of compost, which was scratched into the top six inches or so. Remember, the buckets are bottomless and the roots of the tomatoes will go right on down into this soil. Also, there will be crops planted all around the base of the buckets, which is the object of using them.
2. Set the nearly bottomless buckets into place. I use 3 or 4 buckets in this 8' long bed. Last year I felt four were a bit crowded, so this year I'm only doing three. I have done as many as seven, but never again! See: why I use bottomless buckets.
3. I use heavy duty cone-type tomato cages. I try to poke the prongs down into the ground until the bottom ring sets on top of the rim of the bucket, but sometimes they're stopped by those pesky tree roots. I have holes drilled in the nearly bottomless buckets for the prongs, so I don't add the soil to them until the cages have been installed. If you're going to just push the prongs through the large hole in the bottom, you should go ahead and fill the buckets first.
4. Add your planting medium. I use a mixture of half garden soil and half composted manure. I mix in some perlite, probably 1-2 quarts of it for a wheelbarrow full of soil mix. Then I add to the wheelbarrow, and this is just my personal preference, a pint or more of egg shells that have been pulverized to a course powder in the food processor, aspirin tablets equal to two per tomato bucket and some old calcium tablets (10-12) that have passed their use-by date, all of which have been pulverized with the egg shells. I also add a half cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer, a slow release mostly organic variety (contains chicken poo and a bunch of minerals). This year I even mixed in a packet of powdered milk. Don't ask me why, it just seemed like a good idea. A cupful of corn meal (regular kind you cook with is fine, NOT corn gluten) and a couple of cups of alfalfa pellets also get mixed in. That just about covers everything! That is the concoction I used last year, and the plants grew huge and heavy with fruit.
I only fill my buckets about half full, then add extra soil mix as the plant grows. The bucket provides a good environment for the young plants, sheltering them from wind and keeping them warm.
5. Add a second tomato cage, inverted, to the top of the lower cage, and wire or zip tie them together. I actually used wire fence clips and attached mine permanently with about 8 crimped clips per set of cages.
6. When your double decker cages are all secured, run the horizontal bar (8-foot 1"x2") from one side to the other. Wire or zip tie it to the posts at the ends and in the center.
7. Pound the 8' long stakes down the middle of each bucket (you'll need a ladder and a helper). Check them for plumb and attach them to the horizontal cross bar with screws.
8. Gather the prongs of the top cage together and secure them with a zip tie, tepee style. Don't fall off the ladder!
9. Secure the cages to the X-fence posts with zip ties, pull them all good and tight so the cages don't move.
10. Using heavy garden twine or cotton clothesline, tie it horizontally about every 8-10 inches up each side. The tomato branches can be tucked in to keep them under control. This is similar to the Florida Weave, only it's done before the plants are in the ground.
11. When it's warm enough, plant your tomato deep. Add soil to the bucket as the plant grows. I keep removing the bottom leaves until I have about a foot of bare stem showing above the bucket, then I do no more pruning.
So there you have it, Granny's tomato fortress!