Gone are the days of planting seeds in the ground and hoping they will grow. Now, you can control everything, including lighting and temperature, with the use of hydroponics. Your hydroponic tomatoes will taste incredible!
Hydroponic tomatoes: In the last few decades, hydroponics has really taken off as a growing method. In particular, hydroponic tomatoes have proven themselves as an easy crop to start with. If you are ready to dive into hydroponics, there are important aspects to consider. First, you will need a space large enough to grow all your crops, as well as an adequate setup that has access to electricity and water. Then, you will need all the equipment, including growing trays and lighting. Tomatoes need a lot of nutrients, in particular nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. You will have to purchase a special grow mix for your tomatoes. There are many benefits to growing hydroponic tomatoes. They grow at almost double the rate of garden tomatoes and you don’t have to worry about weeds or pests. Furthermore, you can grow tomatoes year-round. While the initial setup of hydroponic tomatoes can be a bit costly, if you are interested in this endeavor as a hobby or a small business, it will quickly yield profitable and flavorful results.
What is Hydroponics?
When we think about growing food, we typically think about a plot of land and some plants growing out of it. There is a growing season and a harvest season and the need to constantly be on the defense against pests, disease, and weather patterns.
However, there is an alternative, called hydroponics. With this system, plants are grown inside a temperature-controlled area, without the use of soil.
Instead of soil, the plants receive a nutrient solution from a water source. The roots are supported in a different manner than dirt and there is a lot more control with growing your plants.
Benefits of hydroponics
If you’re unsure of why to grow tomatoes hydroponically, there are many useful benefits to consider.
Plants need a lot of space to grow. This is mostly due to their root system, as they need adequate soil area for their roots to spread out and if they are too close to each other, they won’t get enough nutrients.
With hydroponics, everything is calculated and you need a lot less area for your plants. Therefore, even though they grow indoors, you need a lot less area than a traditional farm.
Less water use
Even though hydroponics uses water as the main nutrient source for plants, you actually need less of it. This is because the water in soil quickly dissolves elsewhere and very little of it actually goes to the plants.
Water is a growing concern. The main reason why people go hungry around the world is that there is not enough water to maintain crops, which leads to food shortages.
With hydroponics, the water stays with the roots of the plants. This increases the efficiency by up to 98 percent.
Less worry about climate
There’s nothing more frustrating to a farmer than to see all their hard work destroyed by a freak heatwave. With hydroponics, plants are grown inside where the temperature is controlled.
You don’t have to worry about harvesting before an early frost or even waiting until the ground warms up.
In fact, with hydroponics, you can grow crops year-round, instead of having to plant and harvest at specific times of the year. This is much more efficient.
With traditional farming, a large bulk of crops is lost to disease, pests, and weather changes. However, when you can control the environment your plants are growing in, you can ensure that you have a much higher yield.
There is less waste and all your labor pays off in the end. Plants are usually larger with hydroponics.
You might think that with a larger area to grow plants, you will need to spend more time, but the opposite is true with hydroponics. Just think about all the time you spend pulling weeds in a garden, as this is completely eliminated.
Everything is controlled with hydroponics, and one setup usually only requires one person to run the area.
Soil is actually a finite substance. Topsoil is rich in nutrients but as forests are cut down and the oceans rise, we actually lose access to soil.
Instead of using more and more soil, or spending time creating it through compost, hydroponics eliminates the need for it completely.
Fruit and vegetable crops can take an agonizingly long time to mature. This is because the soil and the air both need to warm up in order for the plants to really grow. However, hydroponics uses a consistent temperature.
A grower controls how much light a plant gets, how many nutrients, and how much heat. As a result, plants can grow almost twice as fast as traditional methods.
This means you can have double or triple the rate of crops with hydroponics.
Can you grow tomatoes hydroponically?
Yes, you can definitely grow tomatoes in a hydroponics system. In fact, they are some of the most common crops grown this way.
One of the benefits of growing tomatoes is that they self-pollinate. This means that one flower of tomato has everything it needs to produce fruit.
Other plants require pollination to get pollen from a male plant to a female one. For this to happen, pollinators such as bees and butterflies are imperative.
While you can hand-pollinate fruit, it is much easier if you don’t have to, and with most varieties of tomatoes, this is not an issue.
Tomatoes are also generally easy to grow. They are happy growing in the right conditions and because you can control those conditions with hydroponics, you are almost always guaranteed success.
What to Consider with Growing Hydroponic Tomatoes
Choosing Your Hydroponic System
The first, and most important consideration is how to grow your tomatoes. While all hydroponics systems use water, there are different setups. This is perhaps the most confusing aspect.
Ebb and Flow
With an ebb and flow system, you have your tomato plants set up with a tray of water underneath them. Then, water is pumped from a separate water reservoir underneath the tray and then pumped back when there is an overflow.
A set timer programs when the tray floods with water, and how often this happens throughout the day. It is an efficient method and does not need a lot of oversight.
Another common hydroponics system is the drip method. In his case, the plants are suspended and their roots hang down so that they reach a tray of water.
Water is pumped, not into the tray, but overhead so that it drips down the plant, through the roots, and into the tray. There is then an overflow drain that cycles the water back into the main reservoir.
Selecting a Growing Medium
Even though the soil is not used with hydroponics, some sort of growing medium is important. This provides structure to the plant and its roots.
Coco coir is made from coconuts, specifically the outer husk of it. It is actually a byproduct of the whole industry, which makes it an inexpensive and environmentally-friendly option.
One of the main benefits of coco coir is that it retains water really well. So, if you want your plants to remain moist between irrigation cycles, this is a great option.
Within these clay, pellets are small pockets of air. The pockets make for good drainage, so are a good option if you are concerned about too much moisture.
However, because of the drainage, they don’t hold water in between irrigation cycles, so you may need to increase the frequency of them.
Perhaps the most affordable option, you can find gravel just about everywhere. It drains well and is easy to clean.
While gravel won’t absorb water and is therefore useful, it is not as common a substance. This is because it won’t keep roots moist. However, if you have a drip system, it can be more beneficial.
There are different coarseness options for perlite, so you will want to choose the right one for your setup. Perlite is made from the lava flow and is easy to find.
It is very lightweight and absorbs a lot of water, which then slowly releases into the roots. However, perlite floats in water so it is not the best option for an ebb and flow system.
If you go the route of sawdust, you will want to make sure it is not too fine, as this will simply float on the top of the water. Coarser sawdust, however, is a good option as it will absorb water well.
Just make sure you don’t pick random sawdust. It can’t be chemically treated and there are some types of sawdust, such as Western red cedar, which is actually toxic to plants.
Choosing Fertilizer and Nutrients
Because your tomatoes won’t be grown in soil, they will need enough nutrients to help them thrive. Overall, tomatoes actually need a lot of nutrients.
This is actually why tomatoes do so well with hydroponics. In a typical garden, after you grow tomatoes, they leave the soil depleted from nutrients. You will then need to pack that area full of more nutrients to sustain a crop the following year.
Tomatoes need the three major nutrients, which are nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. In addition, they need micro-nutrients such as magnesium.
The good news is that there are many brands on the market that cater to tomato hydroponics growing. The bad news is that too much choice can be overwhelming.
It’s best to go with a nutrient package that is all-in-one, especially if you are just starting out. There are many major brands that you can count on, such as Botanicare and General Hydroponics.
Lighting is important as you want to mimic natural sunlight but in a more controlled manner. Also, there is a fine line between growing your plants and burning them.
Ideally, you want your lights to remain on for 12 to 18 hours of the day, which is a lot more sunlight than your plants will get outside.
Lighting used to be an extremely expensive part of hydroponics, as the energy required to keep them on so long quickly adds up. Now, however, you can use LED lighting which is far cheaper to power.
However, LED lights are an expensive investment. Fluorescent lighting is cheaper in the beginning, but your energy bill will be higher.
You will want to consider the scale of your hydroponics system, as well as your local energy costs. Also, you may be able to save some money if you can find second-hand lights that still have life left in them.
While some plants don’t need support, tomatoes definitely do. Once the tomatoes start to grow, they will need ample support, especially as the roots are not supported by soil.
Moreover, hydroponic tomatoes are larger and have bigger yields. Therefore, they will need even more support.
You will want to find a trellis system that is tall enough for your tomatoes to grow on. Different varieties will reach different heights, so do your research to understand how large a trellis you need.
As your tomatoes grow, you will need to attach the plant to the trellis so that it stays supported. However, this doesn’t require too much work.
If you grow tomatoes that are bushier, you can forego a trellis. However, you will still need to stake your tomatoes as even smaller plants will become quite heavy with fruit.
When staking tomatoes, do so at an early stage. Otherwise, you can inadvertently break off branches as you try to tie them up.
If you don’t use stakes or a trellis for your tomatoes, they can become too heavy and will fall down, leaving you with a giant mess instead of a fruitful harvest.
Finally, once your hydroponics area is set up, it’s time for the growth to happen. Choosing your seedlings can be a bit confusing, but also a lot of fun.
Start by thinking about your reason for growing. Do you want a small hobby so you can feed your family or do you want enough tomatoes for a small business?
If it is for your family, think about the types of tomatoes you like and how you want to use them. For a business, you will want to grow different kinds to cater to different tastes.
There are two main types of tomatoes, and this will also affect what you choose.
Determinate tomatoes are varieties that grow out and are not very high, like a bush. They are a good option if you don’t have a lot of room and don’t want the hassle of a large trellis.
Conversely, indeterminate tomatoes grow on a vine. As a result, they need a lot more vertical space as some varieties can reach up to 10 feet tall.
This may be a good route to go after a few years of hydroponics experience. Starting out small is a good recommendation if you don’t have a lot of time and energy to work on your setup.
Steps in Growing Tomatoes Hydroponically
Set up your system
The hardest part of growing tomatoes hydroponically is the setup. In this step, you will want to research your system, decide what tomatoes you want to grow, and then purchase everything.
This is, unfortunately, an expensive step. Depending on how large your growing area is, it can take a lot of capital at the beginning.
You also need to have an indoor space that works well. It should have temperature control, electricity, and a water hook-up for maximum output.
If you are worried about startup costs, you can look online for second-hand materials. Now that the hydroponics market is growing, it is easier to find previously used setups.
However, always be sure to do your research and request a viewing of the equipment before you spend any money.
Setup the water system
Without water you will not have a hydroponics system, so make sure there is a water source nearby. You will want to connect the water reservoir to the pump and hook all of the piping together.
Do a run-through before you place any of the plants, just to make sure it flows smoothly. The placement of your water source will also determine where you set your plants up.
It’s best to map everything out so there are fewer surprises.
Plant your seedlings
To maximize your profits, it’s important to start your plants with seedlings. Remember that the overall growth period is much quicker, so you don’t have to wait too long for seedlings to grow into plants.
Stary your seedlings in a nursery tray but don’t use soil. Instead, use a special hydroponics material that is easier to transfer.
Tomato seeds take about 10 days to sprout. Because you are controlling the environment the plants grow in, you can plant your seedlings whenever you want.
Place seedlings under light
Once you see tiny sprouts, you will need to give your seedlings ample light. You can use the lighting in your hydroponics setup for this purpose.
Place the tray of seedlings under the lamp for 12 to 14 hours a day. This is a lot of light but it will help your plants grow healthier and faster.
The one important tip is that the light shouldn’t be on the roots of your plants; otherwise, it can damage them. Once the roots emerge from the plant material, it is a sign they are ready for transplant.
Move your plants
Now you can really get started. Move your seedlings into the actual hydroponics system. This can usually happen about 10 to 14 days after the seedlings first sprout.
The plants and their roots should lift easily out of the growing tray. You can then place them in the slotted pots of your hydroponics system.
Turn on your water and lighting system
Make sure everything is running smoothly. You will probably have to adjust the cycles, so pay attention for the next few days to make sure your plants stay healthy.
Once your tomato plants start growing, you will need to use your trellis system. Even if you have bushy, determinate plants, they still need support.
If you don’t have a trellis system, be sure to use wooden stakes to help with your plants. As the tomatoes start to grow, they will weigh the plants down. If there isn’t proper support, the branches will break off.
Monitor and adjust
As your tomato plants grow larger, they may have different needs. Increase the light source if they look wilted.
The same goes for the temperature. If your plant your tomatoes in the summer, the air should be warm enough. However, if you plant them in the winter, you may need to increase the air temperature.
Add more nutrients
Tomatoes need a lot of nutrients, especially once the plants start to produce fruit. You will need to add more nutrients to ensure your tomatoes grow and flourish.
You should also regularly test the water to ensure it has the right pH level and nutrients level. Thankfully, this is easy to do and does not have to be done daily.
How long do tomatoes take to grow hydroponically?
If you plant tomatoes outside, they can take 60 to 85 days to be ready. This can be even longer if you have a late frost or a colder summer.
In contrast, if you grow tomatoes hydroponically, they only need 45 to 70 days to be ready. This is a drastic reduction in time, mainly due to the extra light they get, the constant temperature, and the lack of pests in the area.
Those looking for a more efficient way to grow tomatoes should definitely consider hydroponics. By controlling the temperature, lighting, and nutrients, you can grow larger tomatoes faster, all year long.