Growing your own cherry tomatoes has many advantages. These sweet, juicy fruits taste amazing straight from the vine and growing them yourself gives you easy access to fresh tomatoes for delicious home cooking. If you donâ€™t have lots of outdoor space for gardening, however, you may find yourself thinking homegrown cherry tomatoes are out of your reach.
Fortunately, hydroponic gardening is a great option for those who want to grow cherry tomatoes but are limited on space or the right conditions. Hydroponic gardening is a soilless method of growing that can be done indoors or outdoors in small spaces. The plants are grown using a small amount of growth medium with the roots submerged in water where they are fed a consistent supply of nutrients. This guide will tell you everything you need to know to get started growing your cherry tomatoes hydroponically.
- 1 The Benefits of Growing Cherry Tomatoes Hydroponically
- 2 Hydroponic Growing Options
- 3 How To Grow Cherry Tomatoes Hydroponically: Step-by-Step Guide
- 3.1 Step 1: Choose a cherry tomato variety and hydroponic setup
- 3.2 Step 2: Choose a location for your hydroponic system
- 3.3 Step 3: Choose a growing medium
- 3.4 Step 4: Germinate your seeds or transplant your seedlings
- 3.5 Step 5: Prepare your hydroponic system
- 3.6 Step 6: Supply your water and nutrient solution
- 4 Care for Cherry Tomatoes Grown Hydroponically
- 5 Frequently Asked Questions
The Benefits of Growing Cherry Tomatoes Hydroponically
Hydroponic gardens are not just great because of their lower space requirements. They provide many benefits:
- Cherry tomatoes need a lot of light. Hydroponic gardens typically utilize artificial lighting, so finding a full-sun growing location is not required. This allows you to grow cherry tomatoes all year round, no matter where you live.
- Hydroponic gardens produce increased yields. The tightly controlled conditions and direct nutrient delivery mean more fruit. Many hydroponic systems see a plant yield increase of 30% to 50%.
- Hydroponic gardens also use less water than traditional gardens. Because the water is circulated within the system, there is no water waste.
- Soilless gardening means less work for the gardener - no weeds!
- The controlled environment provided by the hydroponic garden means a lower likelihood of pests and diseases. This means healthier, organic plants since there is no need for pesticides.
Hydroponic Growing Options
The main component of any hydroponic system is that it can deliver nutrients directly to your plant roots through water. A traditional hydroponic system has your plants growing in a soilless growing medium where their roots reach into your water and nutrient solution.
In a very basic hydroponic system, the roots are simply suspended in a tank of water; this is known as a deep water culture system. This method may not allow your plantsâ€™ roots to get enough oxygen, so a more complex system may be preferred. These are some of the more common types:
- Wick System - A candle or lantern wick is used to deliver water and nutrients to the plant roots through capillary action.
- Ebb and Flow - The water and nutrients are in a reservoir and a mechanical pump pushes them up into a tray where the roots are growing through the growing medium. The water is then drained back into the reservoir.
- Drip System - This system is essentially drip irrigation, where water and nutrients are pumped through a hose with holes in it where water drips onto your plantsâ€™ roots.
- Nutrient Film - Similar to the ebb and flow system, the water and nutrients are contained in a reservoir and pumped to your plants. The roots are suspended in shallow channels where the water is continuously moved over the roots and then back to the reservoir to be recirculated.
How To Grow Cherry Tomatoes Hydroponically: Step-by-Step Guide
If youâ€™re ready to start reaping the benefits of hydroponically grown cherry tomatoes, here are the steps you need to get started.
Step 1: Choose a cherry tomato variety and hydroponic setup
These two choices go hand-in-hand because your variety may affect which hydroponic system you use and vice versa. When you choose a cherry tomato variety, you first want to decide if you want an indeterminate or determinate variety.
Indeterminate tomatoes grow and fruit continuously on a vine and can therefore grow really tall. Determinate varieties yield fruit all at once but only reach a limited height. Most cherry tomatoes are indeterminate, but there are a few determinate varieties such as the Sweet Baby Girl or BHN 268.
When choosing a hydroponic system, keep in mind which type of variety you want and where you plan to set up your system. Since indeterminate varieties grow taller, they may not be well-suited to a countertop hydroponic system or a system with low-hanging grow lights included. Feel free to use our in depth buyers guide to choose the best hydroponic system for tomatoes.
Step 2: Choose a location for your hydroponic system
If you are going to use natural light for your tomatoes, make sure you select a location where they can get 8-10 hours of sunlight per day. A south-facing window is a good choice.
Also, consider the temperature and humidity of your location. Tomatoes cannot tolerate cold temperatures, so indoors or in a greenhouse are the best options so you can control the environment.
Step 3: Choose a growing medium
Hydroponic systems do not use soil, but most still require a medium to anchor your plants in. Coconut coir, vermiculite/perlite, and Rockwool are popular options for tomatoes. You can prepare your growing medium by placing it into net pots. Net pots have holes in the sides to allow the roots to grow through.
Step 4: Germinate your seeds or transplant your seedlings
The best way to germinate your tomato seeds is directly in your chosen growing medium. This helps ensure your cherry tomatoes get off to a clean, disease-free start. Your growing medium should be completely damp prior to planting, so soak it in water beforehand.
Place a couple of seeds in each pot of growing medium. You can also use starter cubes of growing medium to germinate your seeds. Cover your pots with a plastic lid and place your seeds in a warm, dark place.
When you see your first sprouts, you can remove the plastic cover. Once your tomato seedlings have their first true set of leaves and they are around six inches tall, they are ready for placement in your hydroponic system.
If you decide to germinate your seeds in a regular potting mix or buy seedlings from a nursery, ensure the roots are completely clean and free of soil before transplanting so that you do not introduce dirt to your system.
Step 5: Prepare your hydroponic system
If you purchased a ready-made system, set it up according to the manufacturerâ€™s guidelines. There are many different ways to DIY your own system, depending on which type you choose.
Step 6: Supply your water and nutrient solution
Since your cherry tomato plants will not be drawing nutrients from the soil, they will need just the right ingredients in your solution which will be fed to their roots. When preparing your water for your hydroponic system, test the pH to ensure it is ideal for your plants.
The ideal hydroponic pH for tomatoes is 5.5 to 6.5, slightly acidic. You should test for pH before and after adding fertilizer in case the fertilizer changes the acidity. If you have hard water, you may need to test more often to ensure the alkalinity of your water does not raise the pH.
You can purchase ready-made hydroponic fertilizer specifically for tomatoes. This is the easiest way to make sure you have the right nutrient balance. If you are planting a crop other than tomatoes, keep in mind that different plants have different requirements, so you donâ€™t want those plants to share a container with your tomatoes.
Care for Cherry Tomatoes Grown Hydroponically
Once your cherry tomato plants are planted in your hydroponic system there are a few care requirements you want to stay on top of.
Whether youâ€™re using natural lights or grow lights, tomatoes need plenty of light to produce high yields. If your tomatoes canâ€™t get 8-10 hours of natural light, you will need to use grow lights.
Grow light hours do not directly correlate to daylight hours, so if youâ€™re using them, your plants will actually need about 14-18 hours of exposure. To minimize work and potential for error, use lights that have an automatic timer so you donâ€™t have to worry about turning them on and off.
Water and Fertilizer
No matter what type of hydroponic system you use, the system will be watering your plants for you. However, as your tomato plantsâ€™ roots absorb water, you will need to top off your water supply to ensure the roots keep in contact with the water. Each time you top off, donâ€™t forget to add your fertilizer at the concentration recommended on the label.
Since tomatoes have a longer growing period, you will probably need to do a full water change-out at least once or twice. Every 2-3 weeks is recommended. This prevents your water from growing bacteria or algae.
Pest and Disease Control
While hydroponic gardens tend to be less susceptible to pests and diseases than traditional gardens, you still want to monitor for these issues. Hydroponic systems placed outdoors will still be accessible to any pests that arenâ€™t soil-inhabiting. Even indoor systems may attract insects such as aphids and whiteflies, which can quickly become a problem if not managed.
Ensure your hydroponic system, seeds, and growing medium are all clean to avoid disease. Also, ensure your roots are able to get enough oxygen to avoid root rot. Monitor your plants regularly for disease and pests and remove any plants that are damaged or infested.
Tomato plants benefit from regular pruning, and it is necessary for indeterminate varieties grown in limited space. When using grow lights, the tops of your cherry tomato plants should be removed regularly to keep them from getting too close to the lights, which could burn them.
You also want to limit your cherry tomato plant to one main stem and remove suckers. This will keep your plants healthy and direct growth into more fruit.
Frequently Asked Questions
When can I harvest my cherry tomatoes?
It depends on the variety, but usually, your tomatoes will be ready within 50-65 days. Youâ€™ll know they are ready when they reach their expected color and easily come off the vine.
How should I go about pruning cherry tomato plants in my Aerogarden?
This depends on the size of your Aerogarden. Your cherry tomato plants are limited by the space you have to grow. You should prune the top of the tomato plant to ensure it does not exceed your grow light height.
How often should I clean my hydroponic system?
Your system should be cleaned thoroughly with soap and water in between plantings to avoid biofilm buildup or algae growth.