Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Anatomy of a Tootsie Bucket

Every year I set up a Tootsie Bucket with a cherry or pear tomato, and every year afterward I do a facepalm and remember that I was going to actually document it this time.
Hey, I finally remembered!
For the back story, see that first link where I explain how the bucket got its name.  It's a self-watering container that my dad made me a kit for years ago, and I've been using it ever since.
And now I'm going to show you how to make one, too.

This is last year's bucket, with a Riesentraube cherry tomato planted in it.  I set it handy to the deck, so I could grab a tomato or two on the way by.

So, let's roll up our sleeves and get started!

First you'll need a bucket.  Mine is a five gallon pickle bucket, which you can sometimes get from your favorite restaurant for the asking.  (If they garnish their plates with a pickle, they'll probably have a bunch of leftover buckets kicking around.)  If all else fails, you can buy a bucket at the hardware store.  Four gallon bucket, five gallon bucket, doesn't really matter.  My dad has even used plastic storage tubs that he got a good deal on.
Drill a hole in the side about 5 inches up from the bottom.

Next you'll need some lengths of pvc pipe.  (If you're lucky, you've got some scraps just laying around.  Or one of your friends does.  Ask around.)  The longer piece is for the fill pipe and is the 1" diameter size - you'll need a piece that's a couple of inches longer than the bucket is tall.  The shorter wider piece is 3" diameter and about 6" long.  Dad cut a series of slits in one side of this (probably using the same chop saw that he used to cut the pipe itself.)  Since you've still got the drill handy from drilling the hole in the bucket, you could just drill a bunch of holes in the pipe instead.
(And I'll point out here that I've been using these parts for many years now, so they're stained and grungy looking.)

Next you'll need some rocks.  I use some that I originally picked out of our driveway.   Every year I rinse them off and re-use them.  You'll need enough to fill the bucket to a depth of 4-5 inches.  Small rocks, pea gravel, whatever.

 And since you've got rocks, you'll need paper and scissors as well, of course.  (Sorry, no lizard or Spock.)

Cut the bottom off a brown paper bag, then cut out a circle as big around as your bucket.  Don't sweat this too much - it doesn't have to be exact.  I usually just cut a square roughly the right size, fold it into quarters, then into eighths, and cut off the pointy corners.  Unfold and you've got a circle.  Ish.

 Now fold it up again because you forgot you actually needed a donut.  Cut a hole in the center roughly 3" in diameter.  Ish.

Now, some assembly required.  Set the 3" pipe roughly centered in the bottom of the bucket.  Stand the fill pipe up next to the edge.  (Note:  I discovered that it's a good idea to put the fill pipe somewhere near the hole in the side of the bucket.  I'll explain why later.)
Carefully dump in your rocks around the pipes, leaving the 3" pipe empty.
(And I got to this point with this the other day, then had to bail because a sudden thunderstorm blew in.  I ran into the house just in time for the power to go out.  High winds, rain, crash boom zap.  You know.  Spring.  So the rest of the photos were taken today, as I finally got back to the project.  There's about an inch of water in the bottom of the bucket in the following photo, leftover from the storm.  I decided there was no point in dumping it out, since I'd just be filling the bottom of the bucket with water later anyway.)

Now, take that circle (ish) that you cut out earlier and push it down into the bucket, fitting the center hole around the 3" pipe and tucking the edge around the fill pipe.  (You could cut out an area for the fill pipe, but it's really not worth the trouble.)

At this point, you can dump some time-release fertilizer on top of the paper circle.  I thought I had some, but couldn't find it, so I skipped that step.  It's optional anyway.  It just means that I'll water with a fertilizer solution now and then over the summer, instead.)

Now, mix up a big bowl of dirt.  I used a combination of garden soil and compost, about half and half.  Use what you've got - garden soil with potting mix, compost, whatever.
And this next part is very important.  If you're small like me, set the bucket where you're going to want it to be for the rest of the summer.  It's about to get very heavy, and unless you've got someone strong to move it for you, you're going to be stuck with it In. That. Spot.

Fill up your bucket.  Don't pack it down - just fluff it in.  Stop about an inch or so from the top.

Now we put the cover on.  I use a circle (ish) of black plastic that is on its 4th year or so.  It's enough bigger than the top of the bucket that it hangs down 4 or 5 inches all around.  There's an X cut for the fill pipe to fit through, and an X in the center for the plant to fit through.  Tie it down with a couple of turns of string.  I used jute twine, but anything will work.  Twine, string, rubber bands.  Whatever you've got.  Duct tape would probably work, too.

The view from the top.

Now slap a tomato plant in there and you're good to go.

Now, grab the garden hose, fill with water through the fill pipe until you see water starting to drip out the hole in the side of the bucket.  And that's why I advised you to put the fill pipe near the hole - so you could see what was going on.  (I didn't do that the first year - I had to keep peeking around to the back of the bucket to see if it was full yet.)


This year, I've got a Sweet 100 cherry tomato that I bought at Agway, since we didn't get any heirloom cherry tomatoes started.
But I'm still going to call it a Tootsie Bucket, since Sweet 100 Bucket just doesn't have the same ring to it...


Angie said...

Thank you for the tutorial! Very cool idea and no weeding. :D

Tari C said...

A homemade Earthbox-cool! And way cheaper too. Thanks for sharing!