Upside-Down Growing Organically

                                         

 

Many people are limited on amount of room they have to grow plants. Hanging containers are a major help in many cases. Hanging containers have been used in a conventional fashion in many ancient cultures for both looks and for crops. For years a small group of growers have been growing plants not only out of the top of the basket but out of the bottom with great results.

 

Advantages:  

 A wider variety of plants in a small space. This will allow you to grow many things that are not possible in small areas in any other method.

 Growing out the bottom of a hanging container allows you to grow plants that you would not otherwise be able to grow out of the top of a hanging basket. Vine like plants and plants that grow tall can hang down so you can care for them easily.

 It keeps the plants above the ground and away from many soil and air borne pathogens. Insect like ants that colonize aphids have a difficult time getting to hanging plants. Many other insects and pathogens that wind spread across the ground are less apt to infect hanging plants.

 You can grow companion plants in the top while growing vegetables out the bottom. This can give you further protection against insects and diseases in some cases and work to improve flavors in other instances. There are many articles on the web about what plants grow well together and work to protect each other.

 It helps reduce fertilizer waste thus reducing pollution. Using either dry or liquid organic fertilizer you can carefully control what you use so there is little or no runoff to damage the environment. Watch your weather forecasts so you do not have excess rain after you fertilize.

 Helps eliminate overuse of water. You can see when you plants have enough water and after you watch them for a while you will know how much water to give them each watering and how often they will need to be watered. If you have more than a few drip water systems are handy to have.

 If you are growing vegetables you will learn to appreciate the clean produce you get.

 

Disadvantages:

 More frequent watering. Because of the limited space for roots and evaporation you will find that hanging plants require more frequent and regular watering. Drip irrigation systems work well with this type of growing.

 Weather damage. Strong winds can be a problem. You need to make sure you have a place where you can put them to protect them from wind damage if possible. I have never had any problems but it can happen.

 Weight can be a problem. If you are trying to grow full size tomatoes or cucumbers it is going to take a basket that can handle as much as five gallons of soil. Many people use five gallon buckets with a hole cut in the bottom. This mean very strong supports.

What to Grow:

 Tomatoes of the small to medium varieties are some of the best things to grow. Look for ‘Indeterminate’ varieties so they do not all ripen at one time.

 Beans of all types.

 Cucumbers

 Small varieties of eggplant

 Peppers of all types

 Okra – Okra has very nice large blooms and can be very decorative as well as good to eat.

 In the top you can grow companion plants such as herbs that work with the plants you have growing down. Flowering plants like Marigolds work well with some vegetables.

 Strawberries work well in lined baskets to where you can grow them out the sides and well as the bottoms. A large basket can easily handle six or more plants.

 

Methods:

Containers – There are as many things that can used to grow as the imagination will allow. Many use standard hanging pots which they have drilled a hole in the bottom. As I stated above, five gallon buckets are used for heavier plants while smaller ones can be used for smaller plants. Some use coir lined baskets for many things with great success. There are a number of containers made especially for upside-down growing.

Growing media – Again this is something that everyone has a different opinion about. Some use potting soil, others use a potting mix (soil less) or sphagnum moss. Just make sure what you use is totally organic or approved for organic growing.

Holding Plants in Place – if you are using a basket that has a coir liner you can just work an opening in it. It you are using a pot with a hole in the bottom you will need to put some newspaper, a section of coir, a coffee filter or some other material that will hold the plant in place till it has developed a good root system.

Setting the Plant – getting the plant into the hole without damaging the roots can be a problem. I solved this by placing the roots on a section of heavy paper and folding it around the roots to for a funnel. All you do then is slip the funnel through the hole and the roots are in place without any damage. I usually leave it in place till I get the first layer of potting mix on the bottom of the container.

 

Feeding Your Plants Organically:

Healthy happy plants grown to where you are getting the best balanced end product is not difficult but it does require more than just applying N-P-K. Organic growing is about balance and growing the way nature had intended.

Feeding a plant for maximum output means imputing most of the nutrients it needs through the root system. To do this you have to understand that plants work very closely with beneficial biology in the soil or media you are growing in to do many things for it.

There are many more nutrients that a plant needs beyond the Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium (N-P-K) in most fertilizers.

A sufficient quantity of organic material in the soil potting mix to allow the soil biology to do its work providing the nutrients in a way plants can use them.

 

 Beneficial biology – most plants you will be growing form a relationship the fungi in the media you use to enable to plant to more efficiently gather the food and water it needs. These are called mycorrhizal fungi. Some work external to the roots while others enter the root itself and help transfer nutrients to the roots. This allows the plant to get many trace elements that are difficult for plants to assimilate. There are other beneficial soil fungi that inhibit harmful pathogens to a point where they have little or no effect on you plants. There is bacillus that takes nitrogen that plants cannot absorb and change it into a form that they can use. All the while this biology is breaking down the organic material in the soil so both the biology and plants can feed on it. For complete plant health in organic growing soil biology is vital.

What most do not think of the beneficial biology that is on healthy chemically free leaves and bark that can protect plants from disease and insects.

 

 Plant Food – We have been taught by large chemical companies that if you give your plants plenty of  N-P-K they will thrive and give you great crops. You can get large crops but the end product is not as balanced in nutrients as balanced organic growing plus they are much more susceptible to insects and diseases.

There are many very good organic fertilizers on the market in both the dry and liquid form. Some of them contain a number of the trace elements that needed for balanced plant growth. Most organic fertilizer has very low nitrogen numbers compared to synthetic fertilizer. What you need to know is that 1% organic nitrogen is equal to about 6 ½ % of synthetic nitrogen. It is much more difficult to nitrogen burn a plant with organic fertilizer. Liquid hydrolysate fertilizers have high amounts of amino acids and other things beneficial to plants that go well beyond standard fertilizer.

Seaweed in either dry or liquid form can add many of the trace elements you need for good growth and quality produce.

Molasses works well with the biology in the soil to help feed plants and has high levels of sulfur.

Natural Humates that have not been heat or chemically treated can add biology, food to keep the biology alive, many needed trace elements in addition to Humic and Fulvic acids.

Compost teas can be good but I would be careful of home made teas used on food type plants if you are not knowledgeable about what to put into the compost and the temperatures needed to kill E-Coli and other harmful biology.

 

Water, Light, Temperature and Air:

Water, light and air are vital components of growing plants.

 Water – Basket grown plants need to be watered more frequently than most types of growing. If you are just growing down and do not have plants in the top many cover the top to conserve moisture.

 Light – Know the plant you are growing and give it the light it needs. For most plants morning and/or afternoon light is best with protection from mid day direct sun.

 Air – Air movement is very important to plants in it is the way they get rid or oxygen and gain CO2. Air movement also holds down insect infestations.

 

Recommendations:

General Potting Mix – A good general use potting mix is a loose and open mix comprised of ten (10) parts peat moss, ten (10) parts Ground pine or fir bark, and ten (5) parts perlite.  To this, I add one-half (1/2) part dry natural Humate.  This mix allows air to penetrate, holds water well, is light weight, and provides a good basic environment for your plant roots to grow and prosper.

 Peat Moss – I use Florida Peat Moss because it takes less biofuel to get it to my location. There are many other good Moss sources; use the one closest to you.

 Fine pine and/or Fir Bark – This is available in most garden centers.

 Perlite is an amorphous volcanic glass that when heated sufficiently it expands greatly making it light wieght and able to hold large quantities of water.

 Natural Humate - can supply many of the things needed for good soil health.  As an organic material it can furnish ‘Stabilized Organic Material’ that can help build soil structure by adding water retention to sand or by loosening clay up to where it will hold water. It can add ‘Beneficial Soil Biology’ and the food the biology needs to survive till it is established. In ‘Plant Nutrients’ by adding many trace elements in a plant friendly form. AgriPro  by TurfPro USA (www.turfprousa.com). is a 100% organic product that adds soil biology, food for the biology to live on and many trace elements.

 

Fertilizer and other amendments /additives:

 Fish hydrolysate fertilizer contains all the vitamins, proteins, amino acids, enzymes, growth hormones, and micro nutrients naturally found in whole fish. The nitrogen and other nutrients are chelated, so they are readily available for the plant's consumption. Hydrolysate Co of America, LLC  produces a fresh water hydrolysate from farm raised catfish that meets most organic growing requirements.

 Natural Humates contain Humic and Fulvic acid, many trace elements and beneficial soil biology and food for the biology. They can lock up harmful chemical compounds in the soil and reduce them to less harmful substances. They can reduce your use of fertilizer by holding in till needed and reduce water usage because they can hold many times their weight water. Organic Products Company produces a dry product called AgriPro  that I use in the potting mix. It is 67.7 % Humic acid and will act as a naturally agent to chelate (to make plant available) nitrogen.  They also make a liquid Humate products  that I use as a foliar spray and as a drench. Both are found on (www.turfprousa.com) .

 Kelp and other sea plants also contain relatively concentrated amounts of plant auxins, growth regulators and stimulants, such as indole-3-acetic acid (IAA), gibberellic acid and cytokinins. I use North Atlantic kelp by Maxicorp Seaweed ( www.maxicrop.co.uk/ ) that I get from a local hydroponics store.

 Other Organic Fertilizers besides fish hydrolysates come in a very wide range of products from blood meal to alfalfa meal. They very greatly in the amount of N-P-K they contain so you need to find which one fits your application and growing style.

 Compost Teas have can be very useful but, be careful of what is used in the tea brewing to avoid harmful pathogens plu they have a very limited shelf life.

 Worm Tea has many benefits and works well as a soil additive.

 Herb Teas are becoming very popular, especially for pest control with elements such as chamomile, yarrow tops, oak bard and stinging nettles, to name a few.

 Molasses can provide carbohydrates to feed soil biology, plus it is a good sticking agent.  It also is a good chelating agent and contains a number of essential elements.

 

When buying products for eco-friendly growing read labels carefully to make sure you are getting Verified for organic growing product.

 

If you have any questions please contact jloepp@turfprousa.com  or call (407)340-7639

On-line sales contact www.ecofriendlyonline.com or call (407) 963-6001

                   

Intellectual property of J.R. Loepp - All rights Reserved   3/2009

 

Web Sites for Organic Growing:

 www.soilfoodweb.com

 www.attra.ncat.org/

 www.rodaleinstitute.org/

 www.verdant.net/food.htm

 

3026A 9/17/10

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