Quick Essentials to Growing Hydroponic Tomatoes like a Pro

May 31, 2019

Quick Essentials to Growing Hydroponic Tomatoes like a Pro

In more ways than one, growing hydroponic tomatoes for the first time is like learning a new hobby. At the onset, it may take a bit more effort - especially if you’ve never grown anything anywhere at all. But when you get it going, a brave new world opens up to you. One that will shower your kitchen table with greater produce all year through. 

Looking back, it’s hard to believe tomatoes as a crop fruit would gain such global acceptance. For centuries, the berry native to the mountain ranges of the Andes was regarded as poisonous and good only for ornamental purposes when introduced to continental Europe in the 1600s. Today, it’s hard to take a bite in any restaurant on the planet without the presence of the ‘superfood’.

Yes, the best part’s when you put tomato part of your diet you are putting a premium on your health. For starters, not only is the luscious vegetable fruit delicious, it has loads of cancer-fighting antioxidants (Vitamin E, C and A) - not to mention heart-nourishing lycopene. The good news is when you grow tomatoes hydroponically, you provide a controlled environment designed to give more nutrients to your crop. Below is a guide to make it all happen. Read on.

 

The Pros and Cons of Growing Tomatoes for the First Time

 Hydroponic tomatoes

A Bit of History

Botanically speaking, tomato (Spolarium lycopersicum) is a fruit being a berry - all complete with seeds and ovary distinct to flowering plants. On the other hand, it has also been widely accepted as a “culinary vegetable” - lacking the characteristic sweetness of traditional fruits like apple. And like the rest of the fruit/vegetable gang which includes eggplants, bell peppers, and cucumbers to name a few, tomato is cooked as a vegetable.

Native to South America, tomato is a staple food of the Aztecs and a host of other people in Mesoamerica at the dawn of civilization. And though the American city of  Reynoldsburg, Ohio claim to be the “Birthplace of the Tomato”, it was the windy mountains of the Andes that saw the first cultivation of domesticated tomato prosper in 500 B.C.

Fact is the tomato word itself comes from tomati, a Nahuatl Aztec word (meaning “the swelling fruit”) adopted by the Spanish who introduced the crop to Europe in the 1600s during the Spanish colonization of the Americas. For a long time, many Europeans - notably the French - regarded the berry fruit as poisonous being a member of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), known to include plants with toxic alkaloids.

 

Determinate vs. Indeterminate

Today, tomatoes, no matter the color, are classified as either determinate or indeterminate. Determinate or bush type tomatoes reach a certain height and stop growing giving a full crop all at once; indeterminate, also dubbed as vine type, on the other hand never stops growing climbing vertically and producing fruits all year through.

We are providing a table below to show you some common tomato varieties and their attributes. Note that commercial growers often prefer the determinate type for a full harvest in one setting. Indeterminates are an easy favorite to home growers as they provide fruit all year through.

As the name suggests, heirloom tomatoes refer to varieties of tomato with seeds that have been ‘passed down’ from one generation to the next. Unlike Cherry, Roma or Steak and an army of run-of-the-mill tomato varieties you find in your pizza, heirlooms are bred to be tastier and juicier, hence their hefty price tag in the supermarket - granting you find one.  

 

Pros

Ranging from tart to sweet smokey, the flavors of tomato are as distinct as the colors. Even when it’s common, finding a top-quality fruit, one that is plump and shining free from blemishes is a tall order. Growing your own tomatoes right in your yard can be a most rewarding pastime. You’d have the fruit/veggie as fresh as you want them to be, ripening right from a vine just a few steps away.

And that means you give yourself the best possible access to a cancer-fighting superfood - so unlike commercial tomato which has to travel several hundred miles to get to consumers. First on the list, you get lycopene, the powerful phytochemical antioxidant that is also at the forefront in heart disease prevention. Next, you snatch a healthy serving of the good vitamins A, C and E - primary enemies of cancer-causing free radicals.

 

Cons

First up, it’s good to note that many first-time home growers have successfully grown (and harvested) hydroponic tomatoes. However, there is another side of the coin you should consider especially if you’ve never tested your ‘green thumb’ before.

And that is tomato may not be your best first option to grow hydroponically - if you’re a newbie in farming. You see, all fruit-bearing plants require more care and attention compared to herbs and leafy greens. That means a first-time will have to go the extra mile: monitor nutrient mixes carefully; check the lighting adequately; and observe a longer set of maintenance routines.

To make matters worse, tomato is a magnet to a host of pests - from bacteria to virus to fungi. Not to mention spider mites and worms. In this regard, putting your finger on gardening by learning much simpler crops (e.g., thyme, basil, lettuce) might be a better idea for a newbie gardener.

 

Tomato Variety

Classification

Number of days to Harvest (+/-)

Characteristics

1. Sweetie

indeterminate

65 to 75

Produces cherry-sized red fruit

2. First Lady VFFNT

determinate

60 to 65 days

Disease resistant and very flavorful

3. Hawaiian VFNT

determinate

70 days

Heat tolerant

4. Enchantment VFFN

determinate

68 - 70 days

3-inch oval fruits

5.  Caro Rich

indeterminate

80 days

Suited for cooler climates

6. California Sun VFN

indeterminate

70 days

Dwarf, best for small gardens

7. Bonny Best

indeterminate

70 days

Large 8 oz. fruits

8. Arkansas Traveler

determinate

85 days

Sturdy plant surviving hot weather - even drought

9. Toy Boy BF

determinate

68 days

Grows to just a foot but bears lots of fruits

10. Sugar Snack NT

indeterminate

65 days

Sweet fruits

 

 

The Many Advantages of Hydroponics

If you’re short on space, then hydroponics makes a lot more sense to you than soil-based farming. Added to that, hydroponic tomatoes have been proven to grow faster compared to their traditionally-cultured counterparts. That means you get a higher crop yield - translating to about 40 pounds more produce per square foot yearly.

Plus, since you have better control over the plant environment, your tomatoes are not as prone to diseases in the hydroponic setting. Which also means your precious crop has lesser chances of being attacked by troublesome pests - from aphids to worms to beetles.

Most importantly, as you gain more control in the nutrient supplied to your tomato plant hydroponically, you can extend fruit production as well as produce tastier and more nutrient-filled tomatoes.

That can also mean the extended supply for you all year through - a true blessing especially in winter when supply trickles.

 

Your Step by Step Guide to Hydroponic Tomatoes

 Hydroponic tomatoes

Set up the Right Hydroponic System

There are a lot of hydroponic systems you can look into, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. When it comes to tomatoes and especially for first-timers, the ebb-and-flow systems, dubbed also as a drip-irrigation system, is most recommended.

Luckily, there are shops which sell a ready-to-assemble kit freeing you from a lot of hassle; know also there are online suppliers which provide hydroponic kits. On the other end, you can choose to DIY and purchase needed components separately. Such is the way to go if you want to customize your setup.

Right from the get-go, know that tomatoes are light-intensive and may need more than the blessings of natural light to thrive. If possible, having your hydroponic system sealed off from the other rooms is an advantage. That way, you gain better control on such growth essentials as temperature and humidity.

 

Your Plant Source Matters

To plant right, you need to start right. Which means you need to dissuade yourself from taking in plants coming from the outdoors. While this may make sense to you, an outdoor plant can be the death of your hydroponic farm. That’s because such a move can introduce pests and diseases making the soil-less garden extremely vulnerable.

Using seeds, therefore, is wise. To start, put the seeds in your designated nursery tray. Use hydroponic growing mix (e.g., coconut coir, grow rocks) in lieu of soil. Note that you should soak the growing mix in water pH of 4.5 before utilizing it. You can scour stores for pH testing kits; also, you need to buy chemicals to get the pH to the right acidic level.

 

A Mini Greenhouse to Get You Going

To encourage your tomato seeds to sprout, you need the help of moisture. Do this by placing the seeds right under your material’s surface putting the tray under a plastic or glass dome.

Once you see the sprouting process initiated, free the moisture by taking away the covering. Make sure you have the up-and-coming roots covered completely with the prepared starter material. If need there be, cover the roots some more by soaking them in your growing medium.

At this point, keep these seedlings under a light source continuously for at least 12 hours daily. Note that incandescent bulb is totally unacceptable for said purpose as they emit more heat and could do more harm than good.

 

Transplanting Your Tomatoes Right

You need to be vigilant as the days progresses. Once a true leaf - one that’s larger appearing distinct to leaves of the seed - emerges along with the initial roots, then it’s high time you transplant the seedling to its designated hydroponic system. Usually, this takes about 10 to 14 days.

If you want, you can stick to the same growing medium utilized for the seedlings or make the most of an alternative material. Check for what works for your hydroponic setup best. For one, perlite may not be your best choice as it tends to float to the top in an ebb-and-flow hydroponic system.

The ideal distance between seedlings is 10 to 12 inches. You can use cloth sacks or even net pots in this regard giving maximum nutrient to be absorbed.

 

Giving Your Tomatoes TLC

At this point, the young plants will need 16 to 18 hours of light on a daily basis for optimum growth. You should turn off the light to give them 6 to 8 hours of ‘night’ or total darkness. Note that you can also use natural sunlight but that will set your schedule back.

Another key area to watch is the temperature at this juncture in time. Get the room temp between 18 and 24 °C during the “light” sessions keeping it at a low of 13 to 18 °C  at “nighttime”. Further, ensure that you keep the nutrient steady at between temperatures 20 and 22 °C.

 

A Vigilant Eye is a Must

You must keep your eye on the goal: and that is keeping your growing tomato plant as healthy as possible. Thus, you must be on the prowl for signs of plant degradation which could include shrunken or discolored leaves. Moreover, keep the roots healthy away from slime or too much water.  If not, you could have root rot which is detrimental to the overall growth of your hydroponic tomatoes.

As such, your nutrient supply may need to be adjusted in accordance with the growing needs of your tomato plant. For instance, you may have to add water to the nutrient solution every now and then.

It is important that you exercise proper judgment to arrive at the best results. Remember that you alone determine the correct environment for optimal plant growth.

Usually, you’d do well changing the water-and-nutrient solution every two weeks. However, you may have to do such weekly if your plant looks malnourished and unhealthy.

Also, ensure water pH stays between 5.8 and 6.3. Further, use an EC meter to check the electrical conductivity of your water. Ideal EC is from 2.0 up to 3.5 - beyond this and you know a water change is in order.

 

To Stake or Not to Stake?

Stakes provide an ingenious way to strengthen your growing tomato. Stake them upright as your tomatoes grow taller. This way, you promote greater crop yield while keeping the fruit away from the growing medium over time. Even if determinate tomatoes can grow without staking, you risk lower yields if you do so. As fruits develop, your plant may droop putting them in direct contact with the growing medium.

Should you need to prune stems, do so by using your hands rather than cutting them with a knife or a pair of scissors.

 

Learning the Art of Pollination

Bear in mind that in a hydroponic system, you won’t be able to rely on insect pollinators to start the fruit-bearing process. Thus, you must learn to self-pollinate once the tomato blossoms abound.

To do this, make use of a soft paintbrush - or a toothbrush if all else fails. Timing is key. The petals should be bent backward exposing both the stamens and the round pistil, those long, thin pollen-covered sticks at the center. Simply touch each stamen with your paintbrush gently transferring the pollen to the pistil round end.

Pollinate daily to increase your chances of success. You should see the flower wilt to signal the fruit-making process.

The whole process may sound cumbersome to you but if you love tomatoes it should be a walk in the park. Then again, you can also choose to grow luscious tomatoes without breaking a sweat in proven complete hydroponic systems like aspara  smart grower - a world first. All complete with a smartphone app. How about that!

 

 

 

Sources:

https://www.bhg.com/health-family/conditions/cancer/cancer-fighting-superfoods/

https://guide.michelin.com/sg/en/article/features/what-you-need-to-know-about-heirloom-tomatoes

https://www.wikihow.com/Grow-Hydroponic-Tomatoes



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