Tomatoes are the perfect plant to grow hydroponically. Your yields will be anywhere from 3-10x greater and you’ll use water 90% more effectively compared to traditional growing! In addition, you can grow all year round. Start up costs may be expensive but you’ll certainly get a return on your investment!
Pros and Cons of Growing Hydroponic Tomatoes
Let’s go over the pros and cons of growing hydroponic tomatoes.
Pros to growing tomatoes hydroponically
One pro of growing tomatoes hydroponically is the growth rate. Tomato plants can grow anywhere from 30-50% faster when you grow them hydroponically than if you used traditional methods.
You also have a higher production yield. You’ll end up with 3-10x the amount of tomatoes when you grow hydroponic tomatoes!
Hydroponics are also cleaner than traditional growing because there’s no soil involved.
You can extend the growing season to grow all year if you have your system inside. By adjusting the lights and temperature, conditions will be right all year long.
Hydroponic tomatoes are also incredibly water efficient. They use water 90% more effectively than soil gardening.
Lastly, you can grow hydroponic tomatoes anywhere in the world, regardless of climate or soil quality.
Cons to growing tomatoes hydroponically
One major con to hydroponic tomatoes is the start-up cost. Hydroponic systems are more expensive than setting up soil gardens.
You also have less room for error. Mistakes like having the wrong pH, overfeeding, or using too much water can cause disasters in hydroponic systems.
You might have to prune your plants because they can end up so big that they reach your grow lights. While pruning is a pain, it also helps your plants put their energy towards growing fruit rather than leaves.
What Is the Best Hydroponic System for Tomatoes?
The best hydroponic system for tomatoes is the ebb and flow system.
Ebb and Flow System Setup
The ebb & flow system is pretty inexpensive and highly effective. It’s a unique kind of hydroponic gardening because the roots don’t stay sitting in standing water.
The nutrient solution gets pumped into the grow tray to feed, or “flood”, the roots. Then the extra solution returns to the reservoir. The nutrients get recirculated many times a day.
Most ebb and flow systems are set up on a timer.
Plants are in separate growing containers as if they were typical potted plants.
Growing Hydroponic Tomatoes Indoors
Let’s explore what it takes to grow hydroponic tomatoes indoors.
Choose Your Grow Lights
You don’t need to worry about using grow lights if you have a lot of direct sunlight producing adequate light. But if you’re growing hydroponic tomatoes indoors, especially somewhere that’s dim- you’re going to need some artificial light.
A great example of this is how so many people like to turn empty garages into hydroponic setups. Unless you’re blessed with a garage full of windows, you’re going to need some grow lights.
Normal lights aren’t good enough. You need lights that include the red and blue spectrum of light. Here are some reasons why LED lights are the correct lights to use:
1. They include the full spectrum of light that your tomatoes need.
2. They don’t produce heat.
3. They don’t use much electricity.
4. They last a long time.
Your tomato seedlings need more blue light when they’re young and starting to produce leaves. Once they start growing fruit, they’re going to need more red light.
It’s easy to adjust LED lights to focus on either blue or red light. You can turn them up and down as well as on and off.
Choosing hydroponic tomato nutrients
Hydroponically grown tomatoes need a specific blend of nutrients in order to thrive. In addition, the fertilizer you choose to use will vary with growth stages.
A blend such as a 4-18-38 will do your tomatoes justice and have the right NPK value.
The majority of hydroponic fertilizers also have trace elements such as boron, calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc.
Most small-scale growers opt for liquid fertilizers, while larger grow productions usually use powdered nutrients.
You also have the option to opt for organic fertilizers. While organic vs inorganic fertilizers won’t affect how well your tomatoes grow, some people believe that organic fertilizers are healthier for you as a consumer.
Choosing the actual tomatoes you want to grow
There’s a wide range of options when it comes to choosing the type of tomato you want to grow. You can technically grow any kind of tomato hydroponically, But some varieties do better than others in a hydroponic setup. This goes for all hydroponic plants.
People tend to grow indeterminate tomatoes instead of determinate tomatoes because they’ll last all year long and continue to flower and produce fruit.
Let’s go over some of the better-suited varieties of tomatoes that will grow well along with having an excellent tomato flavor!
1. Trust is an indeterminate variety of beef tomatoes. It creates large, meaty fruits. The tomatoes are roughly 10 ounces and have good shelf lives. It’s also resistant to certain mold strains.
2. Moskvich is an open-pollinated, heirloom cultivar. It creates large, round tomatoes that are disease-resistant.
3. Daniela is an indeterminate beefsteak variety of tomato. The fruits are about five ounces.
4. San Marzano is a classic plum tomato that does very well as a hydroponic tomato. Even though it’s a plum variety, the fruits can get up to five ounces.
5. Thessaloniki is an heirloom cultivar with a strong flavor.
6. Azafran is a yellow plum variety of tomato. It’s great for growing vine-ripe tomatoes that are bursting with flavor. They’re perfect for sauce or eating fresh.
And pretty much any kind of cherry tomatoes thrive when growing hydroponic tomatoes in your hydroponic tomato garden! Get ready for delicious tomatoes with all of these varieties.
Plant The Tomato Seedlings
To plant the tomato seedlings:
First, choose your variety from the list above.
Then you’ll want to choose your medium. You can seed straight into germination plugs or other kinds of mediums.
Be sure to soak the medium until it’s fully moist before seeding.
Now place the tomato seedlings in the medium. Different kinds of tomato seeds need to be buried at different depths, so do your research!
Cover your seeds to keep them moist while they’re germinating. You can cover them with a layer of vermiculite or a plastic humidity dome. Just be careful that they don’t get too hot if you’re using a humidity dome. Remove the dome once the seeds germinate.
Water by hand, with an overhead mister, or with seepage irrigation.
Use the right amount of nutrients for this growing stage. You don’t want to overload the tomato seedlings with nutrients. They’ll need significantly less fertilizer while they’re babies.
Keep the temperature optimal for germination. You can use a heat mat if you’d like.
Once the plants have developed their true leaves, they’re ready to be transplanted!
There’s a lot that goes into hydroponic tomato plant care.
Here’s how to change the solution while you’re growing hydroponic tomatoes.
- Take the plant bed or growing tray out of the hydroponic system.
- Empty the nutrient solution into a waste container.
- Scrub the inside of the nutrient reservoir to get rid of any nutrient deposits that may have built up.
- Wash the container with clean water to get rid of any nutrient deposits that got scrubbed up. Discard them into the waste container.
- Refill your hydroponic solution container with your nutrient package.
- Put the growing trays or beds back into your system and you’re all set!
Check pH Level
It’s pretty easy to check the pH level of your hydroponic system. There are three main ways to check the pH of your hydroponics.
The first, and cheapest, way to check the pH is to use paper test strips. They’re covered in a dye that changes colors based on the pH of your solution. However, this isn’t the most accurate way of testing the pH and can be harder to read if your nutrient solution isn’t clear.
Another popular option is a liquid pH test kit. It’s more precise than the paper test strips. Just add a couple drops of the dye to a small vial containing your nutrient solution. The color of your nutrient solution will change, which you then compare to a color chart. Again, if your nutrient solution is colored, this isn’t your best option.
The most accurate way to test your pH is by using a digital pH meter. Most hobbyists use a digital pH pen. All you have to do is put the electrode tip of the meter into the solution and a pH reading will be displayed on your screen.
Prune Tomato Plants
Pruning is essential to the production of tomatoes because it ensures that the most energy possible is being used to grow fruits.
It’s especially important for indeterminate tomatoes, which will keep flowering and growing. As much as 50% of your yield will be reduced if you don’t prune or trellis your hydroponic tomatoes.
The most ideal way to prune your hydroponic tomatoes is to keep one main stem and get rid of all the side shoots about once a week.
It’s also important to remove lower leaves. These leaves turn yellow and are susceptible to disease. Removing them every other week should do the trick. Bend them up first and then pull them down to prevent peeling the skin of the stem. Don’t use scissors to get rid of the leaves.
Check For Disease Or Pests
To check for hydroponic tomato disease or pests, look at the underside of the leaves for bugs. Keep an eye out for yellow, wilted leaves. See if the fruit molds quickly on the vine. Assess whether the stem is too flimsy.
Once you’ve identified the symptoms of your disease or pests, you can Google what you’ve found to learn how to treat it.
Harvesting your hydroponic tomatoes
Tomatoes emit ethylene gas when they are mature, green, and fully formed. This ages the cells which softens them and makes them lose their green color.
Because of this, tomatoes can be picked before they’re completely ripe. Ideally, tomatoes should be harvested when they’re a mature green and then ripen off of the vine. This prevents them from bruising or splitting on the vine.
Once the slightest bit of red appears on your tomato, that’s a sign that it’s time to harvest. Pull the tomato off the plant by holding the fruit with one hand and the stem with the other.
What are Common Hydroponic Tomato Problems?
Some common hydroponic tomato diseases include fusarium wilt, bacterial canker, and tomato yellow leaf curl.
When working with small hydroponic systems, the pH and water temperature has a tendency to fluctuate. Even worse, it’s easy to over- or under- adjust when trying to fix the problem.
How long do tomatoes take to grow in hydroponics?
Hydroponic tomatoes take about 10 days to germinate. Then, they take between four and six weeks to be ready to transplant. They’ll start fruiting within a month or two. This is for the average tomato- times may vary depending on the variety of tomato.
Clearly, growing hydroponic tomatoes is a great idea. Your tomato plants will grow 30% to 50% faster than if they were grown in soil! With a little trial and error, you’ll get used to growing hydroponically in no time.