Hydroponic strawberry is a DIY gardener’s dream come true. If you’re serious about getting a steady supply of sweet succulent strawberries right from home, then it’s one option you can’t miss. Call it the best of both worlds. On one end, you have the most popular berry fruit on the planet; and on the other, a technological breakthrough.
Appearances can certainly be deceiving. Don’t let those Florida strawberries topping off champagne glasses fool you. Those red-colored heart-shaped diminutive fruits serve a bigger purpose other than decoration for a glass of booze; these are potent little packages which could guard your heart: lower blood pressure while increasing good cholesterol. Not to mention protect you against cancer.
To bring about a most successful outcome, proper understanding is essential when growing strawberries hydroponically. Once that understanding is reached, coming out with a system that will produce healthy and nutritious strawberries is a cinch. More than soil-based farming, hydroponics heavily favors garden strawberries, known to be weather-dependent in flavors. Here’s how to make it right.
The Case for Heavenly Strawberries
Putting It All in Perspective
Its bright red color, succulent sweetness and juicy texture are sure to attract you but hold your horses, strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa) may astound you as they may not be what they seem. For starters, it’s not a fruit in the strictest sense of the word. Secondly, it also is not a berry.
First bred in Brittany, France in the 1750s, the garden strawberry is a member of the Rose family (Rosaceae, genus Fragaria) which is composed of plums, cherries, and apples. Botanically, it isn’t a fruit as the strawberry does not contain any seed inside but is just a sweet, juicy receptacle with no reproductive capacity; instead, the real strawberry seeds are the many tough shells (achenes) you find latched on the ‘fruit’ making strawberry an “aggregate fruit”. Think, sunflower seeds.
In this sense, strawberry is not a berry like you would call the true berries with seeds (more than one) inside them: tomatoes, blueberries, and cranberries. It’s for this reason that strawberries must be picked only at full ripeness as they can’t ripen on their own.
As for the name, it is believed “strawberry” is a shorter version of “strewn berry” as the fruits appear “strewn” just about everywhere the plant grow.
Strawberry Types: Which is best for you?
There are 3 main varieties of strawberries and they are classified mainly according to their growing seasons and general lighting requirements:
- Short Day or June Bearing
More common, these varieties are somewhat limited - flowering only during winter when shorter days are upon us. And typically, these bear fruit when spring comes, the reason why they’re also called June-bearing plants.
Though harvested once a year, short-day variants can be tweaked to produce greater yield via hydroponics. However, the process can be taxing - requiring greater effort on your part.
Sample crops: Annapolis, Benton, Allstar
Desired for their ability to produce harvest more than once in a year, everbearing varieties are an improvement to short day varieties which are limited to one heavy harvest annually. However, it must be noted that everbearing can only do harvest 2 to 3 times in a year - and in that sense largely limited too.
Sample crops: Laramie, Albion, Picnic
- Day Neutral
Even better, you have day-neutral plants which can produce more annually as these breeds are not so much affected by the changes in temperature and light. In fact, day-neutrals were developed in the ’60s by the University of California from the originals which were already multi-crop variants. In this sense, they are the superior crop producing far more yield than everbearing garden strawberries.
Sample crops: Hecker, Quinault, Seascape
Pros of Cultivating Strawberries
On average, 94 % of American households consume strawberries. As for production, 75% of it is in California. The sunny state produces so much that if you’re to put the annual production of California berry to berry, the line would circle the world 15 times.
Most importantly, the garden strawberry is a great source of nutrition - specifically vitamins and powerful antioxidants. First up, a serving of strawberry (about 8 fruits) can give you more vitamin C than the ever-popular orange. Add the polyphenols in the strawberry and you have one cancer-fighting fruit you can’t ignore.
The red fruit provides a good dose of potassium, manganese, folic acid as well as vitamin K. Their bright red color attests to the significant amounts of flavonoids and phytonutrients. Plus, their fiber and fructose content helps people regulate blood sugar levels.
Throughout history, strawberry is a go-to fruit for digestive ailments - not to mention whiten teeth and treat skin problems (e.g., freckles). Small wonder they’re a fave for homeopathic practitioners have utilized strawberry plants to help treat diabetes, anemia, liver and kidney complications and even rheumatic gout. People have also used their leaves as tea, for a good reason.
In general, fruit plants are not the best option for a home gardener who is just starting with hydroponics. That’s because these would require higher maintenance and more input requirements. In short, greater attention, something you may be hard to give when you’re still learning the ropes of hydroponics.
In this regard, trying your green thumb on growing leafy greens and herbs may be a more sound option. But there’s a light in the tunnel. Strawberries respond to hydroponic cultivation well and when done right, you should be seeing a steady supply of sweet, luscious and fresh bright red Fragarias in your kitchen all year through.
Why Hydroponic Strawberry is Best?
Soil contains an army of dangerous microorganisms/pests that feed off on strawberries, eventually killing them or if not stunting growth. To ward off these pests, farmers utilize dangerous banned pesticides like methyl bromide to cleanse the soil before planting strawberries.
When you grow your strawberries hydroponically, you create a unique environment that’s designed to bring about optimal plant growth. These include making available key nutrients to produce superior strawberry fruits. As weather plays a huge factor in how sweet strawberry is going to be, you have greater chances of producing top quality product since you have greater control over the plant’s environment.
Moreover, you can grow the red-fruit plant at a more elevated height. This is a big lift, for home growers and commercial growers, as this makes the picking rate less fatiguing - and therefore much faster.
Compared to soil-based gardening, yield per plant is a lot higher in hydroponics - with fewer losses.
As production need not be seasonal in the system, homegrown hydroponic strawberries can provide an ample supply of berries to feed a family of all year through. Since you are not dependent on soil quality, you can grow strawberries just about anywhere. You can even have gardens tiered so you get to the max on space as much as possible - stacking them as high as you want them to be.
And as you have greater control of the environment and is not dependent on the soil with hydroponics, you can do away with pesky pests and natural enemies of strawberry. These pests include slugs, moths, weevils, and beetles - all wanting to take a bite out of your strawberry plant.
General Guidelines to Get It Going
Start Right: Seeds or Runners?
You can grow strawberries from seeds or from runners. Take note, however, that it takes 2 to 3 years for seeds to mature into fully grown strawberry plants. So if you are looking at to seeing harvest this year, it’s a no-brainer. You got to go with runners.
Also, there is no assurance that the plant you grow from seeds will bear the same good qualities you find in the original fruit you took them from.
Your Step by Step Guide to Hydroponic Strawberries
You may explore other hydroponic methods but if you’re just new to the craft, then wicking system is your best bet. For starters, it does away with cumbersome irrigation systems or water pumps.
What You Need?
- Rootstock or runners: Make sure your material is ready for hydroponic growth. Disinfect them when necessary taking away traces of soil dirt which usually sticks to the root system.
- Nutrient mix: You can order online or visit a local store.
- Growing medium: You can’t just buy just about any available medium in town. Note that strawberries respond to aerated growing medium. Coco coir may not be a good idea when used on its own; same goes true for peat. For best results, tweak it. Perlite/vermiculite with coco coir is recommended.
- Wicks (e.g., rayon, cotton, wool, nylon)
- Growing container: Stability is important. Double check that you choice growing container isn’t outbalanced and is resting well and good on your reservoir’s top. For this purpose, you may choose individual pots or have everything in one setting in a tub.
- Reservoir: Have it ready for your nutrient solution. Its size really depends on how big your hydroponic garden you want it to be. You can use a bucket or for that matter, a tub.
- Start by soaking your growing medium in pH-balanced water. Do this for 30 minutes.
- Once done, put the growing medium into the grow container. Fill not more than two-thirds of the receptacle.
- Next, put your attention into the reservoir. Fill it up with water mixed with nutrients. For best results, check the water’s pH and EC levels.
- Get the wicks ready. Cleanse them as thoroughly as possible in pH balance water.
- Put multiple wicks between - in the process connecting your growing pots with the large reservoir. Check that the wicks are touching the growing medium, dangling deep into the large reservoir.
- In the case you’ve decided to use individual pots, you can designate two wicks per one pot. However, if you only have one pot or through, multiple wicks (about 2 -3) is recommended.
- Put safely your grow container on top of the reservoir.
- Now, it’s time you put the strawberry plant into the container. Make sure you evenly spread the roots inside the growing medium.
- There should be more growing medium covering the roots. Make sure you don’t cover the plant’s crown.
- Make it a habit to check your reservoir’s water levels daily. Don’t waste time. You should refill your container every time water levels get low. Along the way, check the EC levels and the pH levels everytime you refill the container with a fresh round of nutrient mix.
- Once a week, make sure you flush growing medium with fresh water. This way you remove mineral salts that have accumulate over time.
- Ensure your strawberry plants get ample lighting. If outside, place them under the heat of the sun; when grown indoors, make sure grow lights give them sufficient lighting.
- Once flowers abound, do not forget to self-pollinate. Use your fingers to rub on the flowers.
- Do not harvest fruits that have not fully ripened. Unlike most fruits, strawberries fail to ripen if plucked too early.
- If you want more strawberry fruits all year through, limit the number of runners. The more runners, the lesser the fruits.
Yes, it’s definitely doable. But it certainly takes some effort to grow hydroponic strawberries. Once you’ve gotten used to it though, everything should be a lot easier.
However, you can also grow strawberries using tried and tested proven hydroponic systems. In this regard, looking into the merits of the aspara smart grower could be spot on.