With this post we’ll be covering how to grow strawberries with hydroponics.
Strawberries are among the world’s most well-loved fruits, and the culinary world, especially baking, wouldn’t be the same without the tender, sweet flavors of strawberries.
This being the case, strawberries is one of the most marketable of produce, and definitely a challenge worth surmounting when you are serious about making your hydroponics setup profitable. While strawberries are definitely not for beginners, this crop is for serious growers who have the space and time to devote to this wonderfully delectable crop that adapts well to hydroponic conditions.
Why is the strawberry not fit for growers who have less than a year of experience working with soil-less systems? The first reason is that it requires more nutrient input that your usual hydroponics crops like basil and lettuce.
Second, strawberries require more maintenance than other crops, and you have to learn new skills along the way. If these two factors do not diminish your motivation to grow strawberries the slightest, then feel free to explore the rest of this post.
Below are some important guidelines when growing strawberries in hydroponics systems:
1. Can you start strawberries from seeds? The answer is yes, you can. However, this is considered the most difficult way to start them, and you would have a better chance of success if you opted for runners instead.
The reason why seeds are a bad idea is that strawberry plants take a long time to mature, and before they bear fruit, you will need to wait two to three years!
Why wait this long when you can take mature runners and propagate them instead in their new hydroponic environment? If you don’t mind sustaining an entire system that doesn’t bear fruit for two to three years, then by all means, feel free to experiment with seeds. But if you want fresh fruit to harvest within the year, opt for runners instead.
2. Runners are taken from strawberry stems that grow horizontally instead of vertically. What nurseries do is they remove and chill these runners (to mimic the conditions of winter) and they are sold to other growers.
What’s so special about these horizontal stems is they are capable of growing fully functional root networks and their maturity would be the same as the mother plant when propagated in another greenhouse or nursery.
3. There are three types of strawberry cultivars. Short day or June-bearing cultivars begin to produce fruit during early spring (this is where they get the name of June-bearing) and this cultivar can be found almost anywhere.
It is possible to get this variant to produce more batches of fruit, but it will require additional effort on the part of the grower. Day neutral cultivars are capable of producing fruit continuously throughout the year, including the summer months.
In terms of adaptability, these are also best suited for hydroponics setups and other non-conventional setups because they can be manipulated more easily by the grower.
For higher yields per year, choose day neutral cultivars. And finally, we have ever bearing cultivars. As the name implies, ever bearing cultivars are capable of bearing batches of fruit all year long like the day neutral cultivars but they begin slowing down during the hottest time of the year.
4. What type of hydroponics system are best suited for strawberries? Here is a bit of good news for first-time strawberry growers: whether you have deep water culture or NFT, strawberries will be able to do adapt.
This type of crop may be more demanding in terms of nutrient input and maintenance, but that does not mean that it is picky with the type of system that you will be putting it in. And this makes a lot of sense, because ultimately, it will be your hydroponics system’s ability to provide water, nutrients, and oxygen to your crops that will determine your success in propagating strawberries without the soil.
5. Depending on the number of cultivars you plan to grow, we suggest at least a five-gallon tub for the reservoir of the nutrient solution. And depending on your system, you may opt for individual net pots or a larger tub for your rafts or pots. Just make sure that there is sufficient space for your strawberry plants when they start to mature.
6. Your grow media needs to drain well and has to provide the right balance of water and air. Poorly aerated roots will result in stunted and sick strawberry plants. If you plan to use coconut coir, combine it with perlite to give the media an extra boost of aeration. Vermiculite is also a good option to increase oxygen absorption of the roots. Speaking of cultivars, be sure to purchase your runners or rootstock from a nursery or grower which has a good reputation for selling highly viable crop supply.
7. Use wicks (two to three per pot) and the wicks have to be made of sturdy, absorbent material like cotton, polyester, PU threads, etc.
8. When insert the strawberry plants into the grow pots, be sure to spread the roots evenly throughout the media, but avoid covering the crown of the plant. Feel free to place the pots back to the raft or wherever they should be placed when the roots have been evenly covered by the grow media.
9. Weekly flushing of the system is recommended to help control the accumulation of salts and to improve the pH balance of the water. You also have to check the water levels, pH, and EC levels of the water daily.
Strawberries, like other crops, should be given sufficient space in between each plant to allow the full spread of the maturing plants. Allow at least six to eight inches of space in between the grow pots.
If you don’t have a lot of space in your greenhouse, what you can do is layer the grow pots and create a vertical structure to increase the number of cultivars and at the same time provide sufficient space to each of the growing strawberry plants.
If you have an outdoor greenhouse, this shouldn’t be a problem, but if you are working primarily indoors, then you have to time your LED grow lights properly to give your strawberry plants sufficient light and a viable day-night cycle.
Hydroponic strawberries will require a total of fourteen to sixteen hours of daylight every day. The longer daylight hours will ensure that the plants will produce robust stem structures, flowers, and there will be heavy and abundant fruiting when the plants are ready to bear fruit.
The abundance of fruits will really depend on multiple factors, but the general availability of abundant sunlight will make a huge difference.
If you used plenty of viable runners, you should be able to see fruits emerging after a few weeks and harvest time will come in as short as six to eight weeks after transplantation into the hydroponics system.
This is the advantage that we talked about earlier – that you are going to be able to harvest a lot faster if you use mature runners instead of growing strawberries from seeds as they mature really, really slowly when grown from seeds.
You can tell when the strawberries are finally ready for harvesting when they exhibit a bright color. Feel free to start picking once the color of the strawberries change!
Hydroponic strawberries can definitely taste better than regular soil variety strawberries because the hydroponics grower has a lot more control on the amount of nutrients available in the system. You can make great or minute changes to the plant’s diet to see which combination works the best.