Usually, growers don’t grow tomatoes during winters. But if you are growing plants using a hydroponic system, you don’t have to worry about that limitation! You can grow tomatoes any time of the year if you have a hydroponic system.
This article will cover everything that you should know about growing tomatoes using a hydroponic system. We’ll talk about the advantages and disadvantages, the kind of tomatoes ideally suited for this practice, hydroponic systems that are most suitable, and a step-by-step guide on how to grow them.
Lastly, we’ll talk about problems people usually encounter in the process and how you can avoid them.
So, let’s dig right in!
Why Should I Grow Tomatoes in a Hydroponic System?
Growing tomatoes in a hydroponic system have its benefits and drawbacks. Let’s explore both!
The Benefits of Growing Tomatoes in Hydroponic system
The immediate benefit of growing tomatoes in a hydroponic system is growing them all year round. Growing tomatoes outdoors in a traditional garden means that you can only grow them from spring to fall. This means that you can’t grow them for 3-5 months.
You could have an indoor space where you could use soil, but that would be a messy affair. Cleanliness would be a daily hassle for you. Most importantly, you would be vulnerable to diseases and pests that accompany soil.
Another benefit is that your tomatoes will grow drastically faster in a hydroponic system. The nutrient intake of your plants will be more efficient. This is because your plant roots’ entire surface area will get exposed to the nutrient solution. In soil, root exposure is not uniform.
You will also end up using less water, as hydroponic systems are more water-efficient than soil-based media. The most notable advantage is the sheer increase in your plant yield. Tomatoes grown via hydroponic systems are larger and juicier compared to those grown in soil. The reason for this is the efficiency in nutrient intake and root exposure, as explained above.
The Drawbacks of Growing Tomatoes in Hydroponic system
The immediate drawback of growing tomatoes through a hydroponic system is that it’s an expensive undertaking. A complete hydroponic systems require a sizeable initial investment. You can avoid this if you opt to make one yourself.
We’ve recommended a few hydroponic systems later in this article for growing tomatoes, which include some cost-effective options as well. If you haven't grown up using hydroponic systems before, you need to be aware that there's a bit of a learning curve involved. In conventional gardening, the soil gives you a little leeway for errors. The effects of overwatering, overfeeding, and errors in pH levels are somewhat mitigated. This is because the soil becomes a buffer for the roots of the plants.
A hydroponic system leaves little room for error. This is because of the roots’ direct exposure to the nutrient solution. However, this can be a blessing, as well. You’ll notice the consequences of your errors immediately and will be able to rectify the situation faster.
In a hydroponics setup, you have to be more vigilant. It’s best to repeatedly check your nutrient feed and maintain a journal for noting down anything unusual. To summarize, the drawbacks of growing tomatoes hydroponically are the initial investment (if you don’t already have a hydroponic system) and increased vigilance.
Starting Up with Growing Tomatoes in a Hydroponic System
Before starting to grow your tomatoes, you need to acquire a couple of things first. These include getting an appropriate nutrient package, grow lights, and other accessories. Firstly, let’s talk about the hydroponic systems you can invest in.
The Ideal Hydroponic System
The ideal hydroponic system for you will depend on your budget and the size of the garden you’re looking to cultivate. Growers use a variety of hydroponic systems for growing tomatoes. These include Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), Hydroponic Drip, EBB and Flow, and DWC. This article will discuss EBB and flow hydroponic system and hydroponic drip systems as we feel that these are ideally suited for growing tomatoes.
EBB and Flow hydroponic system works by flooding your plants with a nutrient solution at fixed times. The solution is then drained back into your reservoir to give plants time to absorb the solution. Here at GroIndoor.com, we have a range of ebb and flow systems you can utilize for your garden or growing media.
If you don’t have budget constraints, then a good option for you is the Botanicare 4’ x 8’ Ebb & FlowSystem. You can cultivate a fairly sizeable garden with this. If this is a little too large for you and you have budget constraints, you can opt for the Botanicare 3’ x 3’ Ebb & Flow System. You’ll have the same quality in a smaller size, and the price will be lighter on your budget.
If you don’t see a viable option in our product range, you can make your ebb and flow system as well! Check out this guide to see how!
Hydroponic drip systems are another great option for cultivating tomatoes. Hydroponic drip systems are also effective in commercial operations. In a hydroponic drip system, plants are fed nutrients from atop via a drip. The advantage of drip systems is that they are relatively simple to set up.
Depending on your garden size requirements, we have two drip systems at GroIndoor.com:
If none of these systems works for you, then you can make your hydroponic drip system as well! Check out the guide to see how!
Selecting Grow Lights
Grow lights are a necessity as your garden will be indoors. Tomatoes need 12-18 hours of light daily. The photoperiod of tomatoes remains constant throughout their growth. So, the ideal grow light will only be dependent on your budget and the size of your hydroponic setup.
LED grow lights are the optimum solution. However, they are costly. You can opt for fluorescent lighting if you’re looking for more efficiency and less power. If you’re looking for something more budget-friendly, you can opt for HPS or MH lights.
Check out our guide on replacing grow light bulbs to learn more!
Selecting a nutrient package is the next step. Remember that hydroponic tomatoes have important nutritional requirements, especially concerning potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen. Hydroponic tomatoes also require secondary nutrients, particularly magnesium.
Numerous brands offer nutrient packages for tomatoes. Worry not; just go with General Hydroponics, Cultured Solutions, or Botanicare, and you’re good to go! If you’re still unsure, we’ve made a guide for the best nutrients and where they come from.
Choosing Tomato Varieties
Now that we have our equipment, we can move on to deciding the kind of tomatoes you’d like to grow. Another thing to think about is whether you’ll grow them via seeds or cuttings. There are several tomato variants that you can cultivate through hydroponic systems. There are two broad categories. These are determinate and indeterminate.
Determinate tomatoes have a bush-like growth, and indeterminate tomatoes grow through vines. Considering that you’ll be growing indoors, the best option is to grow determinate tomatoes. The determinate variety will be easier to manage as it won’t be growing all over the grow space.
Next, it's a better idea to start growing tomatoes with cuttings, as compared to seeds. This will significantly reduce the time it'll take to grow and save you the hassle of propagating tomato seeds. Moreover, propagating seeds will require more equipment. We have made a detailed guide for cloning tomato plants, so check it out!
Steps for Growing Tomatoes Hydroponically
We’re now in the actual process of growing the tomatoes! Let’s start immediately and talk about the kind of growing environment you need to set up.
Your growing environment consists of three primary parameters. These are airflow, humidity, and temperature. Check out our comprehensive guide to grow room atmosphere to understand better how important it is for your plants.
A moderate climate is ideal for growing tomatoes hydroponically. The optimum humidity and temperature levels are 40-50% and 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. Circulation of air is crucial, so make sure that your grow room has adequate ventilation. Otherwise, you’ll need to set up a ventilation system.
You can also use a grow tent to create a sealed environment. A grow tent is an ideal solution as it is easy to adjust and monitor.
List of Tasks for Growing Tomatoes Hydroponically
Now that you have planted your tomatoes and have begun to grow, you will need to feed them, check the pH of your nutrient solution, and train and prune your plants. Refer to your feeding chart to determine the frequency with which you should change the nutrient feed.
Owing to space limitations, you’ll need to direct the growth of your tomatoes. If they are too big, they’ll outgrow your space, which can lead to complications. Train and prune your plants to direct and limit their growth. If you’ve selected the determinate variety, then this will not be much of a problem for you.
As with all plants, you’ll need to check the pH of the reservoir constantly. The ideal pH range for tomatoes is 5.8-6. Their nutrient intake is optimum in this range. Apart from this, constantly monitor your garden and plants for any irregularities or deformities. As we discussed earlier, there is little room for error in hydroponic systems. Irregularities or deformities arise as a result of pH issues or nutrient deficiency/toxicity.
If you're using cuttings, then your tomatoes will be ready for harvest in approximately 100 days. Harvesting tomatoes is the easy part of growing them hydroponically. Watch for them to turn green; that indicates that they have matured. They are ready for plucking once they've turned red. Tomatoes continue to ripen once plucked.
Now you know everything you must know about how to grow tomatoes hydroponically! So, head on over to GroIndoor.com to shop for everything you need!