Growing Hydroponic Tomatoes – All You Need To Know

Ripe hydroponic tomatoes on the vine, showcasing efficient water usage in a greenhouse setting.

In today’s agricultural sector, we can see the evolution of plants that don’t need soil, direct sunlight, and water to survive.

All they need is a solvent with all the nutrients and artificial light.

This article presents hydroponic ways to cultivate tomatoes in your kitchen garden or a grow tent.

Overview of Hydroponics

Hydroponics is the method of cultivating crops without any soil or other necessities that plants usually require to grow. Instead, it uses a water-based solvent that contains a mixture of nutrients as well as minerals.

Some plants, such as terrestrial plants, grow in hydroponic cultures where only their roots are submerged in the solvent. However, at times, there might be a need for gravel to support the roots in the mixture.

The nutrients usually used in such systems include fish excrements, fertilizers, or manure of some domestic animals. This nutrient solution, together, helps the plant grow as green as ever under no-soil circumstances.

Hydroponic vegetation offers many advantages. The most prevailing one is the decreased use of water.

Hydroponics can reduce the quantity of water you might be using at an exponential level. For example, if you use 800 liters of water to grow 2 kilograms of tomatoes in an everyday farming culture, you might need only 140 liters in a hydroponic culture.

Hydroponic Tomatoes

Tomatoes require only a tiny area for growth since they are vining plants. Thus, they can quickly be grown in a closed space as long as they grow up and form many small intertwining vines.

Hydroponic tomatoes are planted in a solvent filled with nutrition with a non-soil material to support the roots. Growing these small red vegetables this way will let you spectate them and ensure that they embody optimal nutrients. This will allow them to grow faster and healthier.

How to Grow Hydroponic Tomatoes?

Now that we have basic knowledge about Hydroponics let’s discuss how to have growing tomatoes hydroponically in your space. So without any further ado, let’s start!

Do you Want Seeds or Saplings?

You can grow tomatoes by either using their seeds or saplings.

We all know which seeds to use for vegetation. For a quick recap, the small, tiny yellow seeds that reside inside the red flesh of the tomatoes are used as seeds for growing them.

Saplings are small, tiny stems of the tomato plant. They are the easiest way to grow hydroponic tomatoes in your own hydroponic grow system.

However, if you are growing them outside, you might need to use seeds for effective cultivation. Most farmers and growers tend to grow tomatoes indoors since they are highly susceptible to diseases and pests.

Moreover, growing them indoors and with seeds will let you grow various types of vegetables instead of one generic kind.

To grow seeds, you need to:

  1. Fill a tray with growing medium and place sprouted tomato seeds in it.
  2. Wet the medium with water having a pH of around 4.5.
  3. Keep your seeds damp and moist at approximately 20-25 degrees Celsius.
  4. The seeds will sprout in 10-14 days.
  5. Once you see the tiny saplings, transfer them into your hydroponic culture immediately.
  6. Use sufficient intensity of light, whether it is natural or artificial.

What Type of Tomato are you Cultivating?

You can find a wide range of tomato species all around the planet, each exotic and unique.

Some of the most prevalent species are:

  • Red Beefsteak Tomatoes (also known as salsa tomatoes).
  • Heirloom Tomatoes.
  • Cocktail Tomatoes.
  • Green Beefsteak Tomatoes.
  • Roma Tomatoes.
  • Cherry Tomatoes.

Tomato Vines are of two distinct types. They’re either in the form of a bush which is famous as the determinate type or in the form of vines which are the indeterminate type.

While determinate varieties occupy more horizontal space, indeterminate ones occupy more of the vertical space.

The former has a limited growth rate, while the latter has no fixed limit.

If you are growing tomatoes in an indoor grow tent, it is preferable to grow determinate varieties since their sizes can be restricted. However, these types are generally challenging to prune. Whereas pruning an indeterminate type is easy. All you need to do is select a single stem and let it grow while using a trellis as support.

Ultimately, it is essential to note that both types of varieties are a great source of capital accumulation in the market. So, it all comes down to the space you have and your preference.

What System Do You Want To Use?

Here’s a list of the most common methods:

  1. Flood and Drain System: This system’ floods’ the fruit with the solvent enriched with nutrients. After, the solvent drains as soon as it hits the mark of 2 inches from the top of the hydroponic system’s tank.
  2. Multi-Flow System: This system is an oversized version of the flood and drain system. Though it takes time to build, it is most economical when growing a large amount of vegetation.
  3. Deep Water System: This system is small compared to all the different types of systems. It is mainly used to grow cherry tomatoes.
  4. Nutrient Film Technique System: The NFT System is mainly used by commercial producers. A pump is used to transfer the water to the tray in which you are growing the fruit. It further reutilizes the unused solvent effectively.

You do not have to run to a professional to get the system of your choice to function. Most hydroponic stores sell kits containing equipment and a manual to set up the hydroponic system.

If you are using a secondhand system, thoroughly clean every part of the system before building it up.

Where are you Going to Place your System?

After selecting your system and the type of tomato you want to grow, select an appropriate place to set up your system. According to the opinion of experts, Hydroponics should be placed indoors or in a greenhouse.

These systems require control, like setting the specific humidity and temperature levels to function optimally. Hence, it would help if you placed your tank in a place where they are secluded from other rooms and outside.

Though you can quickly grow Hydroponics under direct sunlight, growing them in a closed-off space is preferable so that you can set their environment accordingly.

Set up your Hydroponic System:

The next step is to set up your hydroponic system. For that, follow these simple steps:

1. Fill up a large container with water.

Use a tank that does not let any light in. This is important because it will prevent algae from growing inside your system.

Generally, a single tomato seedling requires 2.5 gallons of solvent, so the larger your tank is, the more efficient your hydroponic system will be. Try to buy a tank that can hold double the amount of water required.

You can use a plastic bucket or a dustbin for this purpose. If you use a new bucket, clean the interior with soapy water to eliminate contamination.

2. Attach a tray above the tank.

A tray above your reservoir will help keep your Hydroponics from flooding with water and nutrients. The tray will systematically allow the solvent to submerse so the roots can absorb it.

Take note that your tray should be well-built to hold up your tomatoes. Moreover, it would be best to place it above the tank so excess solvent can quickly drain.

It would be best if you bought a plastic tray so there are no chances of corrosion that could later affect the plants and damage the tray itself.

3. Installation of a water pump inside the tank.

Water pumps are essential when it comes to setting up a hydroponic system. They ensured that you could efficiently pump the solution to the tray and back. These are usually available in all home improvement retail stores.

Note the pump’s flow rate to better judge the kind and type of water pump you need for your system. Furthermore, water pumps can easily adjust the flow rate according to your requirements, so opt for adjustable ones.

4. Installation of tubes.

Since water has to transport between the tray and the tank periodically, buy PVC tubing or any tubing that befits your hydroponic system to ensure its safe transmission.

Connect this tube between the tray and the water pump so that the water conveniently circulates.

5. Installation of a timer.

Installing a timer on your water pump is a wise choice since it lets you control the water flow between the tray and the tank according to your needs.

You can easily set the timer and then forget about it. Hence, you will have one less thing to worry about.

We recommend you buy a heavy-duty timer with a waterproof cover. Most water pumps have an attached timer that comes with it, but if your pump does not have one, make sure to buy one that can easily be attached.

6. Test your Hydroponic System.

After successfully installing all the equipment, test your system at least once to see if it is operational. You must check if the water can easily transmit to the tray and back. If not, check all the connections again.

Growing the Tomatoes

Now that we are familiar with the functionality of a hydroponic system, we will talk about how to plant tomatoes in one.

1. Grow the seeds in a unique culture.

You need to plant the tomato seeds in a tray with a special material rather than using regular soil. Soak the material you choose in water with a pH of 4.5 before planting the seeds.

Plant the seeds under the surface and keep any shielded surface over them to protect them against external factors like rapid transpiration.

Some growing materials include rock wool, perlite, and coconut coir.

  • Rock Wool: It is an excellent culture to grow tomatoes but make sure you wear gloves and a mask since it can irritate the skin.
  • Perlite is a cheap material that is highly effective when mixed with 5 percent vermiculite. Unfortunately, it quickly washed away in flood and drain systems.
  • Coconut Coir: When mixed with clay grow rocks, it becomes efficient for growing tomatoes.

2. Once the tomato sprouts appear, place them under artificial light.

As soon as you see tiny saplings of the fruit emerging from the material, remove the shield you had placed over it and place them in a direct light source.

All you need is a working grow light system that provides sufficient artificial light to your seedlings. Just be cautious of the intensity and the duration of light your saplings are getting. Too much sunlight on the roots can damage and burn them.

3. Transfer the saplings into the hydroponic system.

The moment you see small saplings protruding from the material in the tray, transfer them effectively into the hydroponic system so they can grow optimally.

Place each leave and root at a distance of 10-15 inches from each other.

Make sure that the material used to plant them has a uniform distribution. However, if this seems complicated, you can opt for plastic pots that contain equal amounts of the growing material.

4. Set the timer for the circulation of water.

After successfully placing your vegetation in the hydroponic system, set the timer of the water pump accordingly.

Most experts suggest running the pump for half an hour every two hours later. If they begin to wither, you need to increase the water flow, whereas if you see the roots getting soggy, decrease the rate immediately. Hypothetically, your culture should be damp all the time without any flooding.

As the saplings increase in size and you start seeing flowers and leaves sprouting, change the water frequency accordingly.

5. Grow Lights.

You must buy efficient and operational grow lights that provide just the right amount of sunlight to your plants. Ideally, growing tomatoes need around 16-18 hours of light a day.

For the remaining 8 hours, turn the lights off to let them rest before repeating the cycle.

6. Prune the plants.

We have already talked about the determinate and indeterminate plants above. Just be mindful of the plants that grow indefinitely and might need a bit of pruning so they grow in the right direction.

7. Pollination

Growing your tomatoes indoors does not exclude the need for pollination. Pollinate your tomato plants yourself without introducing insects to your grow tent. How? All you need to do is examine the petals of the plant.

As soon as they bend backward and expose the pistil and the stamen enriched with pollen are visible at the center of the flow, use a paintbrush to transfer the pollen from the stamen to the pistil carefully.

Repeat this process daily.

Maintenance of the growing Tomatoes

Illustration of tomato plant development stages, from seed to fruit-bearing, ideal for hydroponic cultivation.

Your job does not end here. There are a lot of factors you need to take into consideration while growing hydroponic tomatoes. Some of these are listed below:

1. Temperature.

One of the most crucial things to keep a check-off in a hydroponic system is its temperature. Daylight hours should have a temperature of about 18 to 24 degrees Celsius, whereas, at night, the temperature can be between 12.8 to 18.3 degrees.

To ensure that the cultivation gets the best temperature, opt for fans and thermostats, which actively regulate the temperature around the tent. Make sure you keep a check on the existing temperature of the vegetation since it changes according to the life cycle of the fruit as well as the change in the climate.

Keep an eye on the temperature of the nutritious solvent in which the roots of the tomatoes submerge. We recommend keeping their temperature between 68 and 72 Fahrenheit.

2. Installation of an exhaust fan.

You can install an exhaust fan to let the air inside the room circulate much more quickly. The airflow created by the fan will also promote pollination.

3. Add the solvent to the tank.

You need to choose a solvent that is specifically available for Hydroponics. Try avoiding organic solutions because they tend to decompose hydroponic vegetation and might create an unnecessary hassle for you.

So consult an expert before choosing a specific nutritional solution for your tomatoes.

4. Buy a pH kit.

A pH kit helps to detect the pH of the solvent you use for your cultivation. Thus, it is valuable equipment to buy. This kit is cheap and available at all home improvement retail stores.

This kit will further let you judge if you need a more acidic or basic solution. Generally, Potassium Hydroxide raises the pH level, whereas Phosphoric Acid decreases it.

5. Monitor the water regularly.

It would help if you kept in check the concentration of different nutrients in the water of the hydroponic system.

You can judge this better by an electrical conductivity meter which efficiently measures the concentration and lets you know whether you need to change the present solution.

6. Change the solvent as well as the water routinely.

If the plants in the tank do not look healthy, change the entire content of the tank. Rinse the tank as well as the tray with water having a pH of 6.0 before setting up your system again.

If you notice a decrease in the tank’s water level, do not add nutrient solvent; instead, add water.

Understanding the Differences: Hydroponic Tomatoes vs. Soil-Grown

Gardeners often face a dilemma when cultivating tomatoes, from choosing between determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes (we’ll leave this debate for another blog) to choosing variety and whether to grow in the traditional soil-grown method or the increasingly popular hydroponic approach.

Both methods offer unique benefits and challenges, and understanding these differences is critical for all gardeners looking to decide which path to follow for their tomato cultivation.

Growth Environment

The most fundamental difference between hydroponics and traditional soil-based growing is that hydroponics does not use soil to grow plants. Instead, it involves growing plants in nutrient-rich water.

This specifically designed method can be set up indoors or outdoors to provide optimal growing conditions throughout the year. In contrast, soil-grown tomatoes are planted in the ground or containers filled with soil, relying on the soil’s natural nutrients and properties to support plant growth.

Nutrient Delivery and Control

Hydroponic systems offer precise control over the delivery of nutrients to the root system of plants. Gardeners can adjust the nutrient solution to meet the specific needs of their tomato plants at different growth stages, potentially leading to more efficient nutrient use and faster growth rates.

Soil-grown tomatoes, however, depend on the soil’s nutrient content, which can vary widely and may require the addition of fertilizers to achieve the desired nutrient balance. This method generally requires more expertise and monitoring to maintain optimal nutrient levels.

Water Usage

Water efficiency is another area where hydroponic and soil-grown tomatoes differ significantly. Hydroponic systems are designed to use water more efficiently, recycling the nutrient solution through the system and reducing the amount of water lost to evaporation and runoff.

This can be particularly advantageous in areas with water use restrictions or limited resources. On the other hand, soil-grown tomatoes often require more water, as a portion of it is absorbed by the soil and not directly by the plant roots.

Pest and Disease Management

Hydroponic tomatoes are typically grown in controlled environments, which can significantly reduce the exposure to pests and soil-borne diseases. This controlled environment can lead to healthier plants and potentially reduce the need for chemical pesticides.

In contrast, soil-grown tomatoes are more susceptible to pests and diseases in the soil, requiring gardeners to be vigilant in monitoring and managing these challenges to ensure the health of their plants. Tomatoes falling off the vine before ripening usually indicates that all is not well and some problems need addressing.

Taste and Nutritional Content

The debate over hydroponic versus soil-grown tomatoes’ taste and nutritional content is ongoing. Some enthusiasts claim that soil-grown tomatoes have a richer flavor due to the complex ecosystem found in natural soil.

Others argue that hydroponic tomatoes can be flavorful and nutritious, provided the nutrient solution carefully meets all the plants’ needs. Ultimately, the taste and nutritional content can vary based on numerous factors, including the tomato variety, growing conditions, and the gardener’s expertise.

Yield and Space Efficiency

Hydroponic systems often allow for higher yields in a smaller space, as plants can be grown more closely together, extending the growing season through controlled environments.

This makes hydroponics an attractive option for gardeners with limited outdoor space or those looking to maximize production. Soil-grown tomatoes typically require more space to accommodate the root spread and ensure adequate air circulation around the plants, potentially limiting the number of plants that can be grown in a given area.

What Is The Best Container To Grow Tomatoes Hydroponically?

Ripe and unripe hydroponic tomatoes hanging in a gradient of red to green, showcasing healthy growth.

Choosing the best container for growing tomatoes in hydroponical conditions depends on several factors, including the type of hydroponic system you plan to use, the space available, and your specific gardening goals.

Here are some of the most effective containers for hydroponic tomato cultivation, each suited to different types of hydroponic setups:

Deep Water Culture (DWC) Containers

Large buckets or tubs are ideal for a deep water culture system. These containers should be deep enough to allow the roots to suspend freely in the nutrient solution while providing adequate support for the plant above the water line.

A 5-gallon bucket is a popular choice for individual tomato plants, offering sufficient space for root development and stability.

Dutch Buckets

Dutch buckets are excellent for growing larger, vining tomato varieties hydroponically. These buckets provide ample space for root growth and are usually set up with a drip irrigation system that delivers nutrient solution directly to the roots.

The overflow system in Dutch buckets ensures that the plants receive fresh nutrients regularly while preventing waterlogging.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) Channels

Long, shallow channels or tubes are ideal for Nutrient Film Technique systems. These containers allow a thin film of nutrient solution to flow continuously over the roots, giving them constant access to water, oxygen, and nutrients. NFT systems are space-efficient and can be stacked vertically, making them ideal for urban gardeners or those with limited space.

Ebb and Flow Trays

Ebb and Flow (also known as Flood and Drain) systems utilize large trays or tables that periodically flood with a nutrient solution before draining completely.

These trays can accommodate multiple tomato plants, making them a good choice for gardeners growing several plants in a compact area. The trays should have a sufficient depth to accommodate mature tomato plants’ root systems, usually at least 6 inches.

Aeroponic Towers

Aeroponic systems mist the plant roots with nutrient solution and often use vertical towers or columns. These systems are highly efficient regarding water and nutrient use and are ideal for growing tomatoes in small spaces.

Aeroponic towers allow for high-density planting and can produce excellent yields of tomatoes with minimal water usage.

Choosing the Right Container

When selecting a container for hydroponic tomatoes, consider the following:

  • Size and Depth: Ensure the container is large enough to support the total growth of tomato plants, including their root systems.
  • Material: Food-grade plastic is a common and safe choice for hydroponic containers, as it does not leach harmful chemicals into the nutrient solution.

System Compatibility: Choose a container that fits well with your hydroponic system design, whether DWC, NFT, Dutch buckets, Ebb and Flow, or Aeroponics.

Conclusion

Hydroponic plants are grown by hobbyist gardeners and commercial people in business. These plants have minimized the cost and the area required to grow. Moreover, these systems aid you in growing plants in a shorter time to their full potential.

We hope this article helped you gain insight into the hydroponic culture and how to grow hydroponic tomatoes. Happy gardening!

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