Commercial tomato growers set up large hydroponic systems inside huge greenhouses. But you can set up a smaller version of one of these systems in your house or back yard and use it to grow great tomatoes without getting dirty.
Hydroponics is the science of growing plants in nutrient rich water. Sometimes this is accomplished with the aid of a soilless growing media like rockwool, gravel, or sand. This is known as an aggregate system.
A liquid system uses the nutrient solution alone.
Hydroponic growing systems can be open or closed. In an open system, the hydroponics solution is not reused after it has been applied to the plants' roots. In a closed system, the solution is recycled, replenished and reused.
Bush tomatoes are easier to manage indoors as they do not get so tall and gangly. These are determinate tomatoes that don't need much support.
Indeterminate tomatoes can be grown hydroponically as well but they will need staking and
to keep them in bounds.
I do not mean to imply that only big tomatoes can be grown successfully by use of tomato hydroponic systems. Quite the contrary.
All types of tomatoes can be grown hydroponically.
Planting Tomato Seeds
First of all, you don't need special hydroponic tomato seed. Use the same seeds you would use to grow tomatoes in soil.
Some people like to use an AeroGarden to start the tomato plants and then transplant them into a larger system. The AeroGarden takes up little space and has built in lights. A tomato grown in an AeroGarden will develop a root system that will be used to growing in a hydroponic solution.
Another way to start the seeds is in rockwool cubesGardening). Use 1.5 inch cubes. Soak them in water to dampen them and place them into a normal plastic seed starting tray with a clear plastic lid.
Sow 1 seed per cube. Cover the tray and keep it someplace warm until the seeds sprout.
Once the seedlings emerge, move the tray into strong light. Tomato seedlings need 12 hours of light per day. Mature plants need 16 hours of light and 8 hours of darkness each day.
Once the roots are growing through the cubes, it's time to transplant them into the home hydroponics system. Place the seedling into the pot and pour the media around it.
If you have never grown hydroponic crops of any kind, my recommendation is that you start with an AeroGarden.
Watch the number of pods in the seed packet you order. It needs to match the number of pods in the growing unit.
You can grow smaller tomato plants start to finish in an AeroGarden and this is what I suggest you do if you are new to hydroponics.
This will save you time, trouble and money while serving as a good introduction to hydroponics. If, after using an AeroGarden for 1 season, you wish to go further into hydroponic cultivation; I would suggest you purchase a good book on hydroponic tomato gardening.
Tomato plants prefer the nighttime temperature to drop a bit. Daytime temps in the 70s and 80s F. are ideal. When temperatures climb into the high 90s, large fruited varieties may fail to set fruit.
Of course, this will not be a problem if your tomato garden is indoors. But air circulation might. Run a fan on low for the greater part of each day in the room where the tomatoes are growing.
The fan will keep insects (they find their way indoors when plants are stressed) at bay and help with pollination.
Tomatoes are self pollinating. The movement of the branches in the wind shakes the pollen into all the right locations on outdoor plants. When growing tomatoes indoors, give the plants a gentle shake during daylight hours.
Fruit sets most reliably when night temperatures are kept between 60-70 degrees F. Humidity levels which are too low or too high can also hinder pollination.
For best results use a fertilizer formulated for use in a hydroponic system.
Growing Tomatoes Upside Down
Growing tomatoes upside down in buckets. Hanging tomatoes in an upside down tomato planter. Topsy Turvy tomato.
Saving Tomato Seed
Successfully saving tomato seed. How to save tomato seeds from your homegrown tomatoes. Harvesting, drying and keeping tomato seeds. Heirloom and open pollinated tomato plants.
Aeroponic Growing Systems
Aeroponic growing systems come in many sizes. Balancing size against price in aeroponics systems. How much food can an aeroponic system produce? Commercial aeroponic grow systems vs homemade aeroponics.