Tomatoes add spice to countless dishes around the world, driving up demand. By 2031, the US tomato market is projected to reach a valuation of $70.80 million.
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This escalating demand has spurred technological advancements that have introduced hydroponic tomato cultivation.
Let’s examine hydroponic tomatoes.
What are hydroponic tomatoes?
Typically, tomatoes are planted on soil. However, when grown in a soilless, water and nutrient-based system, they take the name hydroponic tomatoes.
Intermediate hybrid cherry tomatoes, beef steak, Rebecca, and cluster tomatoes are the best varieties to grow hydroponically for their adaptive cultivars to blossom in controlled nutrient-proficient environments.
A hydroponic system speeds growth, maintenance, and harvesting to produce nutrient-sufficient tomatoes. How large or small the hydroponic system is depends on the scale of tomato farming.
Setting up a reliable hydroponic plant for home-based and large-scale tomato growth is easy.
How to set up a hydroponic tomato system
You can buy an assembled system or manually set up one to grow hydroponic tomatoes.
Setting up an ebb-and-flow closed hydroponic system using the Dutch bucket method is the easiest and best method. It allows the circulation of the nutrient solution, enhancing intake by the roots.
The Dutch bucket method requires a series of buckets interconnected by irrigation and drainage pipes ferrying nutrient solution and supplying it directly to tomato cultivar roots. A metered pump creates the ebb and flow of the nutrient solution as it moves from the reservoir to tomato containers and is drained or returned to the system.
Hydroponic tomatoes grow better under greenhouse conditioning due to light and heat control.
Once the hydroponic system is set, the next step is planting your tomatoes.
How to grow and maintain hydroponic tomatoes
Follow these steps
Step 1: Germinate seedlings in a separate mini hydroponic system
Hydroponic growth of tomatoes begins from the nursery stage to harvesting. However, the seedlings are prepared in a separate hydroponic system before being transferred to the main hydroponic after germination.
The readily available rock wool cubes are mainly used for home-based tomato seed germination, although special germination trays are recommended for large-scale greenhouse farming.
With a 70 to 80 temperature degree under natural light, the tomato seedlings sufficiently watered in the rock wool will germinate in less than eight days.
They should be transferred to the hydroponic system at a length of 7 inches, where it takes up to 70 days to harvest, depending on the variety of the cultivar.
Step 2: Regulate nutrient and light supply
The fundamental maintenance begins once you have transferred your tomato seedling to the buckets and started pumping a nutrient solution through the hydroponic system.
You must constantly regulate the nutrients, light, ventilation, water, and PH and growth support until harvesting. This requires keen adherence to greenhouse requirements, a tidy and faster alternative to weeding and soil addition.
The optimum requirements for robust and faster hydroponic tomatoes yields
These are the most important nutrients for hydroponic tomatoes:
1. Nutrients (NPK)
Direct transmission of nutrients to tomato roots is the differentiating factor between hydrophilic tomato growth and soil-based farming.
For optimum growth, hydroponic tomatoes require a 4-18-38 NPK fertilizer ratio. Therefore, the nutrient solution should have sufficient nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium mixture topped with magnesium and calcium micronutrients.
2. Water and PH
You can use tap, ground, or well water to supply moisture to hydroponic tomatoes, but rainwater is recommended for large-scale production. It has a neutral water pH favorable for tomato growth.
More than 5.5 to 6.6 pH can lead to complications such as blossom end rot.
3. Vines Support
Since tomatoes’ vines are delicate and lengthen as the crop grows, it is best to use ropes and trellises to ensure vertical growth.
The greenhouse or tomato growing room should be well-ventilated to ensure optimum air supply and protect your tomatoes from fungal diseases. You can use fans to regulate air circulation in a humid and hot environment. Also, pruning dead leaves helps with tomato air intake.
12 to 16 hours of light is recommended for optimum growth. However, most varieties can do with eight hours of daylight. For artificial lighting it is best to use LED Grow lights because they increase leaf growth suitable for cherry cultivars with shallow canopies.
Harvesting of hydroponic tomatoes
Depending on cultivar variety and maintenance, it takes 45 to 70 days to harvest hydroponic tomatoes. With regulated hydroponic nutrients and water provision, you can pick tomatoes from the plants for a year.
Benefits of growing hydroponic tomatoes
Besides nutrient sufficiency and faster growth, it is easier to manage and reap bountiful yields in a small area and for a long time. You can grow small scale for home consumption to improve food intake safety and boost your health.
By ensuring the above 5 basic requirements are met: you protect the hydroponic tomatoes from deadly infections such as leaf cirrhosis and black end rot. These also destroy aphids, hornworms, spider mites, and whiteflies, among other common pests.
Which is the best hydroponic system?
Tomatoes are the most suitable crops to grow hydroponically. Using the ebb and flow hydroponic system in the Dutch bucket method is the best way to ensure efficient maintenance and maximum yields.
It is easy to pump water and regulate nutrient supply and relatively cheap to set up for both home-based and large-scale growing.
Remember, besides using tomatoes to spice food, you can always gobble a juicy tomato as a fruit as the main dish cooks.