You might be familiar with the hydroponic growing system that uses no soil and enables you to grow flowers and smaller plants all year long. However, you probably weren’t aware that you can even grow tomatoes with this method.
Hydroponic tomatoes are not only easy to grow, but they also have a much more flavorful taste. The growing season can also be extended this way, and all you need is a detailed guide on the best nutrient solution and hydroponic method for growing tomatoes. Don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place as we’ll cover everything you need to know!
Types of Tomato Plants You Can Grow With Hydroponics
As part of the preparation for going deep into the hydroponic tomatoes, let’s first go over the types of tomatoes you can grow. First, the choice is between determinate varieties and indeterminate varieties.
Determinate varieties are best for indoor growth since these varieties will only grow up to a certain level. On the other hand, indeterminate tomatoes are those that keep spreading in the growing season.
In essence, it’s possible to grow both types hydroponically, but it all depends on the growing space and growing conditions you can provide. As for the specific tomato species, here are the ones that grow best in hydroponic systems:
- Cherry tomatoes
- Vine tomatoes
- Grape tomatoes
- Beefsteak tomatoes
- San Marzano tomatoes
As you can see, there are some smaller varieties like grape or cherry tomato, and some varieties that could grow quite large like the beefsteak tomato.
These are mostly the types of hydroponic tomatoes that can get that superb taste when grown hydroponically compared to regular soil planting.
It’s due to a controlled environment without pests or chemicals, and it also depends on the nutrient solution. We’ll lead the way to help you grow these tomato varieties indoors without soil.
Best Hydroponic Methods For Growing Tomatoes
Along with knowing the best tomato species, we’ll also focus on the main hydroponic methods that are most beneficial for tomato plants. Each hydroponics system has its benefits for a specific type of plant, so not all of them are so great for tomatoes.
Here are the best methods for proper plant growth, and for the fastest tomato growing in controlled conditions:
- Ebb and Flow system
- Nutrient film technique
- Drip system
- Deep water culture for smaller varieties
- Dutch bucket system
Perhaps the best hydroponic system for tomatoes is the Ebb and Flow system. It’s easy to set up even indoors, and they allow proper oxygenation needed for the roots between flood cycles.
Each of these systems will help you grow tomatoes hydroponically in a straightforward manner.
Ebb And Flow Tomatoes
The Ebb and Flow system is one of the most frequently used methods for hydroponic tomatoes. You can find the Ebb and Flow systems that are already prepared for usage or try to build one yourself.
In essence, you will need a growing tray, a reservoir with a nutrient mix, a timer, and an overflow tube. It works based on the timed cycles with one of the cycles being watering and the other one draining.
The roots are not submerged into the nutrient solution like with the Deep Water Culture system. Instead, they have some breathing space between the cycles, so you won’t even need any oxygenation materials.
No air pumps are used in this system as the cycles switch to allow easy breathing and pump the nutrient mix into the growth tray for steady growth. That’s why this system is also referred to as the flood and drain system.
Larger tomatoes grow best this way, as their roots are not continuously underwater. It can therefore use the air and nutrients to spread the roots just like it would when planted in soil. Ebb and flow tomatoes are particularly easy for indoor use, and you can customize the system to cater to your preferences.
Nutrient Film Technique – A Bold Choice For Hydroponic Tomatoes
As we mentioned, tomatoes are among those plants that grow steadily with hydroponics, but still need space to spread their roots. That’s why the NFT technique might not be the absolute best choice, but only in terms of clogging.
Namely, tomatoes will grow extremely well with this method, and the difficulties you might encounter would not be due to the method itself. It’s more due to the tomato plants’ roots that could spread faster than you expect, and clog the thin channels in the NFT system.
Each NFT system includes thin water pump channels that distribute the nutrients into the channels where tomato baskets are placed. The solution flows through the roots and supplies them with fertilizer solution before circulating back into the nutrient tank through the outlet.
So, this is where a big problem could show up – the spread roots might block the channels and nutrients will just flow by, instead of passing through the entire root zone. Because of this, the best hydroponic tomatoes to grow via the NFT technique are determinate tomatoes like Early Wonder, Bush Beefsteak, and cherry tomatoes.
Their roots won’t spread too much to clog the larger NFT channels, but you should still try to find a suitable channel size before planting them this way.
Drip System – One Of The Simplest Solutions
One of the easiest hydroponic systems for growing tomatoes is the drip system. That doesn’t mean that it’s the simplest system out there since you need a variety of components to set it up.
It consists of small drip channels that act as drip irrigation and spray the nutrient solution directly onto the roots of your hydroponic tomatoes. You will need a nutrient pump, an air stone, and an air pump as well with this system.
However, the difference between this system, and NFT for instance, is in the plant distribution. Tomato plants are all divided into separate baskets, and a single small drip channel is dedicated to each basket.
Growing tomatoes hydroponically with this system allows you to customize the growth. You can control the dripping procedure and how much nutrient solution passes through to the tubes.
You can also rely on the timer to set the frequency of spraying the roots with the nutrient solution. This is a good choice since hydroponic tomatoes need some breathing space. In other words, it’s beneficial to use a system that occasionally sprays the roots with nutrients.
Deep Water Culture For Smaller Tomato Varieties
The deepwater culture method might not be the best for every tomato plant, but it works great with smaller species like cherry and grape tomatoes. In this case, the tomato roots are deeply submerged in water in a nutrient tank.
Therefore, the roots will continuously be provided with the much-needed fertilizer for steady growth. You will also have to use an air pump that shoots into the air stone to create bubbles that then reach the roots of the plant.
Because of this, and with the help of some growing media like rock wool or coconut coir to trap moisture, you will ensure proper oxygenation. This combination will help your tomatoes grow healthy and fast, and is especially beneficial for species whose roots don’t spread so much.
Dutch Bucket Hydroponic Tomatoes
One of the most unique hydroponic systems for growing tomatoes is the Dutch Bucket method. It makes a sort of blend between the Ebb and Flow and the Drip Method. With the Dutch Bucket system, your plants will be placed in large, bucket-like containers.
They should be set up in a row, with a nutrient solution reaching them from the tank via an irrigation line. This way, the nutrient solution reaches every bucket and affects the roots before exiting the bucket through an outlet.
From this point, the drain line is used to return the nutritive water into the nutrient tank. The process is repeated several times a day, and you’ll just need a water pump and some growing media like clay pebbles.
This method allows the roots to spread and recreates a similar environment to the one that tomatoes would get in regular soil-based planting. You can also use some types of net pots for this method, but make sure that they come with just a single nutrient solution outlet.
Step-By-Step Guide On Growing Hydroponic Tomatoes
If you want to grow hydroponic tomatoes, the best way to start is to choose a hydroponic system from the listed options provided in this guide. You will also need tomato seeds to get some fresh tomatoes growing in the system, so that’s a good starting point.
Pick a system that seems best for you and choose the tomato seeds according to the system itself. So, if you are going with the DWC, choose cherry species or San Marzano tomatoes, and use the Dutch Bucket for larger species like Beefsteak tomatoes.
Step 1 – Gather The Right Equipment
Growing hydroponic tomatoes isn’t much different than with small flowers or lettuce in terms of equipment needed. It all depends on the exact system you choose, but these are the essential things you will need in general:
- Water pump
- Air pump
- Led grow lights
- Water pump timer
- Grow tray
- Expanded clay pebbles or other growth media
- Fertilizer solution
You won’t need artificial light in the case where you have a sunny window or if you are assembling the system in your garden with sun access. With the Ebb and Flow, you will need two tanks, one for the nutrients and one for the plants themselves.
The plants are placed in baskets and the water flowing from the overflow tube only reaches the roots. The nutrient solution drains back to the reservoir with this tube, so you won’t need an additional piece of equipment. You’ll also need growing media like rock wool.
With the NFT system, you’ll need an air pump and air stone along with a water pump. The inclined tubing where the plants are located uses gravity to properly drain the tube and bring the water back into the nutrient reservoir.
Perhaps the simplest system for growing hydroponic tomatoes is DWC. It only requires a nutrient tank with air stone, air pump, and growing media to achieve steady growth.
Finally, the drip system and Dutch Bucket are similarly built, but the Dutch Bucket doesn’t require an air pump or air stone. So, dutch bucket tomatoes can be the closest thing to creating traditional-like planting conditions with not that much equipment needed.
Step 2 – Prepare The Fertilizer
Growing hydroponic tomatoes is impossible without a proper nutrient solution. There are all sorts of nutrient solutions you can use, but the best fertilizer for hydroponic tomatoes is the NPK ratio in the range of 4-18-38, or 2-9-19.
You can also add a liquid fertilizer like Fox Farm’s Grow Big.
You only need to add the fertilizer blend into a gallon of water, you should always mix this solution first until the fertilizer mix is fully dissolved.
Next, you can add in some Epson Salt to the solution until it is fully dissolved.
Lastly, you can add some Calcium-Nitrate which should always be mixed in last.
Remember to follow the specific recipe instructions for proper amounts to mix.
Important: Don’t mix the Epson Salt and Calcium-Nitrate together as that could result in your tomatoes not being able to get any nutrients through what is known as a “nutrient lockout.”
Mixing these three parts of fertilizer and elements together makes a nutrition mix that will allow you to grow hydroponic tomatoes even faster.
Keep in mind that the best mix for tomatoes still needs lower Nitrogen levels than Phosphorus and Potassium.
Step 3 – Pick Your Tomato Seedlings
You can either start with regular tomato seeds or buy small plants or seedlings for growing hydroponic tomatoes. If you choose to go with small tomato plants, it’s crucial to understand the needs of each type of tomato.
Growing hydroponic tomatoes indoors will require species that don’t grow too tall, and any of the indeterminate varieties simply might spread too much.
Once you pick the desired tomato species seedlings, it’s time to assemble the hydroponic system and adjust the conditions.
Step 4 – Adjust The Growing Conditions
Hydroponic tomatoes might be grown a bit differently than with traditional soil planting, but they still need around 5 to 6 hours of light.
You can either plant them in a garden-based hydroponic system for getting natural light or use UV grow lights above your hydroponic system.
Either way, if you ensure those much-needed hours of light in a day, your tomatoes will be growing hydroponically with immense speed.
Another thing to have in mind is the pH measurement.
Regardless if you grow tomatoes indoors or in a garden system, the pH needs to be kept between 6.0 and 6.5. You can use a pH meter to properly measure the level.
Growing a hydroponic tomato also requires plant pots and assembling the other equipment pieces like growth media, water pumps, and air pumps in the systems that require it.
Step 5 – Plant The Seedling And Apply Fertilizer
Now that you’ve assembled the hydroponic system and managed all the components in it, it’s time to officially start growing your hydroponic tomatoes. Place the seedlings into the tomato plant pots and into the growing media.
Your seedlings might need more than 6 hours of light a day to sprout at the beginning of this phase, especially with grow lights. Growing indoors might therefore be a bit more challenging than outdoors, but it also lets you control the conditions of your hydroponic tomatoes.
Once the tomato plants start thriving, apply fertilizer and switch the water with the nutrient solution once a week. Use your pH meter to thoroughly monitor the conditions throughout the entire process. Once your plants start growing rapidly, you can switch to changing the nutrient solution every 10 days or two weeks approximately.
Hopefully, our complete guide can help you with growing tomato plants hydroponically with simple instructions. While hydroponic tomato farming might seem challenging at first, it’s a great substitute for soil-based planting and you can grow tomatoes all year long this way!
You can even place up to two plants in the same container with methods like the Dutch Bucket and save on some indoor space. In the end, it all comes down to what specific tomato plant species you wish to grow, and perhaps this guide can help with that too.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):
What is the best way to grow hydroponic tomatoes?
The best way to grow tomato plants hydroponically is with simple systems like Deep Water Culture or Dutch Bucket hydroponics. With these, you can save on space and equipment needed while still getting great results. The DWC is better for small tomato plants, while the Dutch Bucket system should suffice for larger species.
How much time does it take for tomato plants to grow hydroponically?
Hydroponics might even give you faster growth results than soil gardening as your tomato plants will be ready to harvest in just a few months.
Do hydroponic tomatoes taste differently than soil-planted ones?
Growing veggies hydroponically might change their taste a bit, but mostly for the better. It all depends on the fertilizer mix you are using, so cheap solutions like fish bone meal might affect the taste of the tomatoes for the worse.