Tomato Factory, 1 Month Update


Sunsugar Blossoms

One month into the season and the plants are looking great.  I am really impressed with the Wisconsin 55 variety; blossoms and fruit all over the plants.  They are a bit ahead of the Early Girls, but not by much.  Dreams of BLT’s are filling my head.

LaRoma and Sunsugar varieties are getting fruit on them as well.  Most plants have grown to the top of the tomato cage and have continued on through the hog panel fence.

WI 55 Blossoms

Sunsugar Plants

LaRoma Plants

Early Girl Plants

Tomato Factory, an Alaskan Bucket System installation

Tomato Factory

an Alaskan Bucket System installation

Four years ago now I created my very own tomato factory after discovering the Alaska Bucket System.  I cannot say enough good things about this method of growing tomatoes.  With a small initial investment in equipment and some time, you can set yourself up with a tomato factory that will produce year after year.

It all started with a Facebook post that led me to Alaska Grow Buckets self-watering garden system website.  There are many ways to grow plants in a bucket; after much research, I concluded this was the one I was going to use.

The concept

My installation and tips

Like most projects of this sort, there is room for modifications and deviations from the materials list.  I would highly recommend the following:

  • Bucket LidsBuy the bucket lids; use instead of black plastic to cover buckets.  Cut 4″ hole in center.  Remove seal underneath for better fit over cloth bag.
  • hose & clampsUse cheap garden hose and hose clamps to connect buckets instead of the vinyl tubing.  Depending on how many buckets you have, a 25′ hose goes a long way.
  • Do not trim the handles off of the bags fabric bagslike the video illustrates.  Those handles are needed later on to removed the bags at the end of the season.  The handles makes it much easier to haul off to a composting site.  They are quite heavy when they are water-logged.
  • Use the correct drill bit type when drilling holes in the buckets.
  • It may or may not occur to you to place two plants in each bucket.  I did the first year and it was a tomato jungle.  Stick to one plant per bucket.

Main system components

Walmart has the fabric bags for $.50 ea.  I found colanders at a dollar store.  The buckets and lids were purchased from Home Depot.  I did order the float value and rubber grommets from  Those two parts are pretty specific and I couldn’t readily find them elsewhere.  The rest of the materials I purchased from Menards (Home improvement store).  The fittings are the same as home irrigation system; Rainbird is the a home irrigation system sold at Menards.  If you want to hit the easy button, you can order kits from store.

Loading a bucket

I use Pro Mix for the grow medium.  Pro MixIt has performed well year after year.  I start by emptying a bag into a wheelbarrow.  The 2 cu. ft. bags expands to 4 cu. ft.  Be sure to rake out the chunks and fluff up the material.  I put 1 cu. ft. of grow medium in each bucket.  There is a process…

  1. Drop colander in bottom of bucket.  You may have to trim handles off for proper fit
  2. Drop synthetic fabric bag in; fold over rim of bucket.
  3. I use a medium size pot for filling my buckets for two reasons.  First, it helps regulate the amount I am loading in and second, it works great to tamp down the material.
  4. Drop some material in the bottom (half the pot); then wet it down thoroughly.  Dump the rest of the pot; insert pot into bucket and tamp down.  Some water will come out of the ventilation holes in the bucket.   Tamp down firmly, but not excessively.
  5. Remove pot and sprinkle a 1/4 cup of fertilizer.  I used Schultz 10-12-12 slow release.
  6. Load pot up with material and dump into bucket.  Tamp down with pot.  Remove pot and wet down with hose.  You have to keep all layers wet so do not skimp on the water.
  7. At this point, your bucket should be 2/3 full and ready for the second layer of fertilizer.  sprinkle a 1/4 cup of fertilizer.
  8. Fill pot up again with more material.  Tamp down, wet with hose.  Repeat until bucket is full.
  9. Wet down top material some more.  I cannot emphasize this enough.
  10. Place lid on top.
  11. Create cavity in the grow material and insert the plant.  Lift lid and pack the material tightly around plant.
  12. Drill three holes for the tomato cage.
  13. Insert tomato cage.  Done.  Next bucket!

Bucket stability upgrade

In years past a strong thunderstorm would inevitably hit and lay some of the buckets down; damaging and often breaking some of the plants.  I’ve secured the tomato cages to the deck with string with some success.  This year, though, I placed hog-panel fencing along the top and zip-tied the tomato cages to it.  This results in a super-rigid support structure for the plants and should reduce damage.

I don’t know that it is necessary, but I use two float-valve buckets; one for each size – 9 buckets each side.  It is nice to have a backup bucket as well if one float valve were to fail.  I could easily hook them all up to one bucket.  The 55 gallon rain barrel makes a wonderful water reservoir.  I have a hose attached to it from the water spigot for easy filling.  On hot humid days, 18 buckets can go through 55 gallons of water in a few days.  Sounds crazy, but they do.

Tomato Varieties

I’ve planted a few different varieties over the years.  The ones that I have had great luck with are Juliet,  Sweet 100’s, Sun Sugar, Lemon Boy and La Roma.  I tried some larger tomatoes and didn’t have the best of luck.  Last year I tried Brandywine and Black Sea Man, but they didn’t grow well for whatever reason.  This year I planted some Early Girl and Wisconsin 55.

Here are some photo galleries from previous years.




What do you think?  Ready to give it go?  I highly recommend this system if you love fresh tomatoes.



Bealick Mill

After driving through Killarney National Park we made our way east on N22 toward Macroom where we met Bealick Mill on the River Larney.  This water-mill dates back to the early 19th century.

Bealick Mill

The location of this mill is very important in Bealick Mill MapIrish history for other reasons as even the mill’s name is derived from “Bealach Leachta”, a route used by local saints. There are also standing stones nearby which commemorate the battle of Bealach Leachta, a legendary battle fought in 978AD.

Bealick Mill


Cork and Macroom Direct Railway Stamp
I.B RedGuy’s Fine Stamps

The present building , erected in the early 19th century as a corn mill, served the surrounding parishes. Hardings of Firville, local landlords, were the first owners. Macroom-Cork Direct Railway transported the produce to the Port of Cork for export.

Macroom had electric street lighting from 1890, courtesy of SamuelBaldwin’s solid fuel generating system. It was one of the first towns in Ireland to enjoy such a luxury. The Town Commissioners decided to upgrade the service in 1899 and Macroom & District Lighting Syndicate installed a water powered generator at Bealick, which was now known as Looneys Mill. The mill supplied the town’s street lighting until the advent of the Electric Supply Board in 1935.  Francis St. Aubyn Horgan of Firville bought the property in 1936.  He used the water power his foundry, Macroom Engineering Company which manufactured manhole covers, road signs etc. up to 1964.



Killarney National Park

Killarney - Hillcrest Farmhouse Irish Breakfast
Hillcrest Farmhouse Irish Breakfast

Killarney National Park was just to the east of where we stayed in the Black Valley.  A section of the Ring of Kerry (N71) runs right through the park.  We had not explored it at all during our two night stay at Hillcrest Farmhouse, other than the sheep pastures that were just inside the park boundaries a short walk from our B&B.  On our 10th day in Ireland we woke up, readied ourselves for a long travel day, packed up the car and consumed another terrific Irish breakfast.

We visited the sheep one last time on our way out of the Black Valley.  They were quite entertaining each time we visited them.

Killarney National Park, near the town of Killarney, County Kerry, was the first national park in Ireland.  It was created when Muckross Estate was donated to the Irish Free State in 1932. The park has since been substantially expanded and encompasses over 25,425 acres of diverse ecology, including the Lakes of Killarney, oak and yew woodlands of international importance, and mountain peaks.  It has Ireland’s only native herd of red deer and the most extensive covering of native forest remaining in Ireland. – wikipedia

The park roads boasted some magnificent views.  One specific spot is so grand that  it was given a specific name: Ladies View.  Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting visited this spot during the royal visit in 1861.  There is a nice gift shop, cafe and bar for your convenience.  Great coffee.  This is where I found the best price on a wool zip up coat.

Ladies View

Just down the road a wee bit from Ladies View is a castle ruin and church.

As we drove through the park more, it became very clear that we could have spent another day in this area.  The scenery was wonderful.  Unfortunately, we had to move along and get closer to Dublin where we would fly back home in a few days.

More views of the park





Ring of Reeks

There is another ring beside the Ring of Kerry.  Widely known for cycle tours, the Ring of Reeks boasts some outstanding beauty.  There are more official maps the outline the cycle route; the map below is my own account of the path we traveled.

Ring of Kerry & Ring of Reeks

The roads in this area are very narrow, hilly and full of curves.  You are definitely off the beaten path here away from the coastal roads.  The scenery is amazing.  We happened upon a fox that was up to no good; the farmer dispatched it and hung it on a fence.  As we were traversing these roads we came upon a farmer working his dogs and baby sheep along the road from one pasture to another.  This was a welcome travel interruption and fun to watch.  A prime example of getting off the beaten path.  There is so much to see; a wonderful surprise may just be down the road a wee bit further.

Molls Gap

Top Cross

Black & Bridia Valleys




Dingle Peninsula MapPerched on the westernmost tip of Ireland — and Europe, for that matter, residents are fond of saying, “The next parish over is Boston.”   –

The Peninsula

The Dingle Peninsula is named after the town of Dingle.  It is the northernmost of the major peninsulas in County Kerry. It ends beyond the town of Dingle at Dunmore Head, the westernmost point of Ireland and arguably Europe.
– wikipedia

The Town

Dingle Town is on the south coast the peninsula. The landmass to the south of the town offers protection from the ravages of the Atlantic Ocean.  The harbour is home to the Dingle fishing fleet. The town is one of the most visited in Ireland. Its narrow streets are dotted with fine fish restaurants, art galleries, craft shops selling local pottery, clothing made from hand weaved cloth, sculptured figurines, gold and silver jewellery. The town has a large number of pubs where nightly entertainment is available, in particular traditional Irish music where musicians can just wander in and join in the session.

Even though we stayed in the area for two days, we didn’t spend much time on this peninsula.  We made our way to Dingle Town after a loop around the Ring of Kerry.  It is only a wee bit of a deviation from the ring to the north and west.  The southern peninsula road (N86) boast some magnificent views.  One noteworthy area is near Annascaul (photo below).Road to Annascaul

The town itself is very bright and cherry.  The town centre was quite busy even in April.  We parked at the waterfront and browsed the shops and harbor.

The Harbor

The Black Valley was more our speed.  It wasn’t long and we were on our way back there, but not before stopping for a pint.  We found Knightly’s Bar & Restaurant in Castlemaine.  Pretty sure fish and chips happened at some point even though there exist no photographic evidence of the event.



Blind Piper Pub
Blind Piper Pub

Caherdaniel is a village in County Kerry, Ireland, on the Iveragh peninsula on the Ring of Kerry. It is on the southwestern side of the peninsula, facing onto Derrynane Bay.  Derrynane House was the home of Irish politician and statesman, Daniel O’Connell. It is now an Irish National Monument and part of a 320-acre National Park.

DERRYNANE BAY & BEACHDerrynane Beach is part of the national park and it is pretty amazing.  A welcome stop along the way to take in some salty Irish air and stretch our legs.  We were very lucky when visiting beaches in Ireland.  We always seemed to arrive at low tide.  The receding water made very interesting designs in the sand.

Skellig Islands

There are sightseeing trips to the Skellig Islands from Derrynane Harbour daily during the Summer season.  We were a wee bit too early to take advantage of such excursions.

Both of the Skellig islands are known for their seabird colonies, and together comprise one of the most important seabird sites in Ireland, both for the population size and for the species diversity. Among the breeding birds are European storm petrel, northern gannet, northern fulmar, Manx shearwater, black-legged kittiwake, common guillemot, razorbill and Atlantic puffin.  There are typically 4,000 or more puffins on Great Skellig alone. Red-billed chough and peregrine falcon can also be seen.

The surrounding waters have abundant wildlife. There are many Grey sealBasking shark, minke whale, dolphin, beaked whale, and leatherback sea turtle have also been recorded. The islands have many interesting recreational diving sites due to the clear water, an abundance of life, and underwater cliffs down to 60 meters (200 feet).

The last scene of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was shot on Skellig in July 2014.  Additional filming took place there in September 2015. The remains of the Skellig Michael monastery appear in the film, representing an ancient Jedi temple.