With this post we’ll be covering how to grow tomatoes with hydroponics.
Hydroponic tomatoes are simply tomatoes that have been grown in a non-conventional/modern hydroponics setup. Instead of soil, the tomato plants are anchored firmly unto hydroponic grow media that help deliver oxygen, water, and nutrients to the crops.
Is this your first time to plant hydroponic tomatoes? Time to learn about the crop before attempting to plant it:
1. First determine what type of tomato plants you will be more comfortable in cultivating.
There are two types of tomato plants – bush type and vining type. Vining type tomato plants are generally easier to manage than bush type plants as the need to manage space and prevent the plants from intruding upon one another can easily be addressed by the right type of trellising.
Bush type tomatoes on the other hand, will tend to sprawl all over the greenhouse floor, so this may pose a problem especially if you have limited space.
Since one of the benefits of using a hydroponics system is to reduce the need for space, not being able to manage bush-type tomato plants may reduce the overall effectiveness and potential of your setup. If you are a first time hydroponics grower, we definitely recommend that you choose vining-type tomatoes as it is relatively easy to learn how to apply trellising.
2. Tomato plants are fruiting crops and will take all the nutrients it can from the environment. Adding an ample amount of nutrients to the mix every day can ensure robust and healthily fruiting tomato plants all season long.
Tomato plants thrive in the same environment that okra and basil love – heat is no problem, and humidity can actually help them thrive if maintained at the right levels.
3. Tomato plants seem to be the perfect hydroponics crop, right? They are, but they have one particular downside – they are susceptible to a wide range of diseases from aphids to fungal infestations.
On the upside, tomato plants can be cultivated to become really robust and disease-resistant plants, and in turn, you can be sure that they will survive to maturity even if you find small patches of aphids and what not.
Notes on cultivating tomato plants in a hydroponics system:
Growing trays offer uniformly-spaced cavities where starter plugs may be placed. Starter plugs are especially designed grow media designed to support seeds during germination. These are the best possible tools you can use to ensure that you will get robust seedlings.
2. Soak your chosen starter plugs or cubes with the appropriate solution and allow them to drain. Take care not to overwater as too much moisture can rot the seeds. Place two to three seeds in each of the plugs and place them in the growing tray.
Check the pH of the solution and make sure that it is no higher than 4.5. During germination, tomato seedlings thrive in temperatures between 20 to 25 degrees Celsius. This is a bit warmer than other plants, but remember that tomatoes are heat-loving plants whatever the cultivar.
Do you need to water your grow trays? Yes, but only if the starter plugs look and feel like they have dried up significantly. If they feel moist when you touch them, you can put off watering them.
3. If all goes well, brand new sprouts will begin to emerge in as short as ten to fourteen days. Once you see the tomatoes sprout, transfer to a well-lit area or to your grow room and provide plenty of sunlight or grow light to encourage the robust growth of seedlings.
4. When the tomato seedlings are about two inches in height, it is time to transfer to the main hydroponics setup. At this point in time, you should continue maintaining the ambient temperature of eighteen to twenty-five degrees Celsius to support your crops.
Tomato plants can survive up to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, it’s perfectly fine to allow the ambient temperature to dip to as far as 12 degrees Celsius. Take note that if the temperature reaches 90 degrees Fahrenheit, your tomato plants can dry up and die pretty quickly.
5. It can be tricky to provide the right mix of nutrients to tomato plants in the beginnings because they suck up nutrients faster than other cultivars. The situation can even be trickier when your greenhouse has multiple types of cultivars and the crops absorb nutrients at varying intensities and volumes.
If your hydroponics system will be supporting mostly tomatoes, you can try to find a liquid fertilizer that is geared toward tomatoes specifically, so you can get crops that are of the right color, size, and flavor. Yes – your choice of nutrient solution or fertilizer will have a direct impact on the palatability and flavor of your tomatoes.
6. Tomato plants are not so picky with their grow media. You can use expanded clay pellets, coconut coir, rockwool, and perlite. Take note that perlite is usually added to other media because this medium is so lightweight that it can be easily carried away by a current of water.
7. It is always a good idea to monitor your tomato plants so you can spot potential problems early on.
Among the most common signs of plant disease in tomato plants are discolored or yellowing leaves, reddish or brownish stems, curling leaves, and dropping of flowers. While some loss of flowers is normal, there is definitely a problem if you see this occur in large sections of your crops.
8. If you are thinking of transplanting adult plants or using saplings from conventional garden setups, don’t.
Parasites and other pathogens from the soil can invade a hydroponics setup and you may end up having to clear and flush your setup before you can use it again.
The soil has a lot of things in it, in addition to being an appropriate medium for plants. In addition to bacteria, there are molds and fungi that can invade your system and cause problems for all your crops.
Tomato plants require plenty of space to grow, even if you are cultivating a vining-type cultivar. You can try the bucket method too, if you want to place a tomato cage over the plant to help manage the vines.
Tomatoes are heat-loving plants that need plenty of daylight. Exposure to fourteen to sixteen hours of daylight is fine for tomatoes, followed by ten to twelve hours of no light. If you are using high output LED grow lights make sure that you activate the appropriate setting to maximize their effect on your plants.
Depending on the cultivar you have in your greenhouse, you may be ready to harvest in as short as 45 days, although some varieties require at least 70 days before the first harvest. Once mature, many of the most popular tomato plants can continue producing tomatoes for up to twelve months.
Harvesting tomatoes is fairly easy. Simply choose ample-sized fruits that are ripe or almost ripe and collect them by hand. Leave the budding and unripe ones on the vine or stalk.
Hydroponic tomatoes can most definitely taste better than soil-grown tomatoes. The reason for this is that hydroponics tomatoes can be fed with just the right amount of nutrients and the right type of mix of nutrients all year long.
You can adjust what your plants are feeding on and see which nutrient mix produces the best flavor. Since tomato plants are in high demand commercially, there are plenty of manufacturers that are producing liquid fertilizers specifically for tomato plants.