They’re juicy, they’re flavorful – and when you have the right know-how, they’re remarkably easy to grow.
Hydroponic tomatoes are not only more efficient in their use of water and nutrients, but they can also help eliminate the vast majority of pest, disease, and climate-related issues.
What do you need to grow hydroponic tomatoes?
Very little – in fact, to grow hydroponic tomatoes, you need an ebb and flow hydroponic system with a grow table, reservoir, timer, and water pump. You’ll also need a nutrient solution, support stakes, some plant pots, and a substrate – and that’s it!
Intrigued? You should be.
There is lots to learn about growing hydroponic tomatoes, but we’ve gathered all of it in one place to make the process as seamless as can be.
Our complete growing guide will tell you everything you need to know in order to get started – so read on!
What Tomato Varieties Are Best for Growing Hydroponically?
You can grow any kind of tomato hydroponically. However, there are some varieties that perform better than others. Consider growing several of these recommended cultivars for the best selection and yields!
‘Trust’ is an indeterminate beefsteak variety of tomato that produces large fruits known for their meaty texture. The average tomato will be around nine or ten ounces and has a good shelf life. It’s resistant to some mold strains, like Fusarium crowns.
Another indeterminate beefsteak variety to consider growing is ‘Daniela.’ This one produces smaller fruits that are approximately half the size of ‘Trust.’ The fruit is known for ripening in a uniform fashion.
Most heirloom, open-pollinated tomato cultivars don’t yield as high as hybrid tomatoes – but ‘Moskvich’ is an exception. It produces large, globe-shaped fruits that resist disease.
Another heirloom cultivar to consider is ‘Moskvich.’ Its fruits are large and beefsteak-like. These fruits have strong flavors and aromas, making them perfect for eating fresh or cooking,
If you are interested in growing plum varieties of tomatoes hydroponically, consider ‘San Marzano’. This classic plum tomato is perfect for growing in a hydroponic setting, with fruits weighing as much as five ounces.
‘Azafran’ is another plum variety of tomato, but this one is yellow. It is good for growing vine-ripened tomatoes with lots of flavor. They can be used as sauce or paste tomatoes or eaten fresh.
‘Flavorita’ is a cocktail or cherry tomato that produces high yields. It is a disease-resistant cultivar that’s perfect for snacking and while it takes more effort to harvest tiny cherry tomatoes than it does the larger beefsteaks, this is a variety that’s worth the extra effort.
Which Hydroponic Method Is Best for Tomatoes?
Tomatoes can be grown in practically any hydroponic system, so whichever one you choose will mostly be a matter of personal preference.
Most growers, especially beginners, tend to gravitate toward ebb and flow systems. These are seated in a simple way, allowing you to build your own system or buy an all-inclusive option (like this one).
Also known as a flood and drain system, ebb and flow systems consist of a reservoir, a water pump, a timer, and a flood or grow table.
The system works by systemically flooding the roots of a plant with nutrients.
Your water pump will flood the tray several times a day with a nutrient solution. It will then run back into the reservoir. The grow tray will house the tomato plant pots and have high enough sides so that the water can’t overflow.
All of this will be elevated on a tray stand, which will let gravity drain the nutrient solution back to the reservoir.
Your tomatoes, in the planting pots, will be grown in an inert, pH-neutral substrate like expanded clay pebbles.
Dutch Bucket Hydroponic Tomatoes
A Dutch bucket system for growing hydroponic tomatoes is one of the easiest and simplest hydroponic systems you can build.
Tomatoes are the most common plants grown in this kind of system, also known as bato buckets, but you can grow other plants, too, including peppers, lettuce, and more.
In this kind of system, plants are placed in buckets lined up in a row. These can be regular five-gallon buckets or specialized square containers known as bato buckets. Each one contains up to two plants.
A water line will extend from the water pump in the reservoir down the entire length of the system.
Drip hoses will come off the water line to irrigate each plant. Your water can be equipped with drip emitters or constantly flowing, depending on your preferences.
The nutrient solution will be pumped individually to each plant, flowing through the s substrate and over the roots of the plant.
At the very bottom of each bucket is a pipe and drain – the nutrient solution will flow from here back into the nutrient reservoir.
This kind of system is especially beneficial when growing tomatoes because it gives them more room to grow.
It’s cost-effective and requires less work. It’s an easy DIY project that requires minimal space and allows you to grow many large plants at once.
How Do You Provide Support for Hydroponic Tomatoes?
Tomatoes can be categorized into two types – indeterminate and determinate.
Determinate varieties grow like a bush, so if you’re short on space, determinate is the way to go. Although you can stake, cage, or trellis these plants for added support, it’s not usually necessary.
Indeterminate, however, grows on vines. They’ll need a trellis, A-frame, or some other support to prevent them from flopping over.
Using stakes tends to be the best way to provide your hydroponic tomatoes with the support they need. Cages are not the best for hydroponic systems since they take up so much space.
How Long Do Tomatoes Take To Grow Hydroponically?
Hydroponic tomatoes can be started from seed or seedlings.
Many people use rockwool cubes to germinate tomato seeds in their hydroponic system.
To do this, just add the seeds to the rockwool and wet it down. They’ll need a warm, moist environment to sprout – a sunny windowsill should do the trick.
They will sprout in around ten days and can be transferred to your system once they are seven or eight inches tall.
How long it takes your tomatoes to grow hydroponically will depend on the cultivar you have selected as well as whether you started from seed or seedling.
Most tomato cultivars take ten days to germinate and then about five weeks until they are ready to transplant.
All in all, most tomatoes produce and ripen fruit within 50 days or so after they have been planted as seedlings.
Hydroponic Tomatoes Yield Per Plant
You can expect some pretty outstanding yields when you are growing hydroponic tomatoes!
The average yield is roughly 40 lbs per square foot per year. You can often yield more if you provide optimum conditions.
Of course, this will vary depending on the cultivar and what kinds of conditions are provided.
Nutrient Solution for Hydroponic Tomatoes
Hydroponic tomatoes require a specially formulated blend of nutrients in order to grow healthy and strong. The nutrient solution you use will likely vary depending on the stage of growth your tomatoes are in.
Use a blend designed specifically for tomatoes, like a 4-18-38. This will contain the right ratios of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
Most commercial fertilizers for hydroponics also contain essential trace elements like boron, iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc, too.
You can purchase a nutrient solution in a powder form that you mix with water or a liquid concentrate.
Can Hydroponic Tomatoes Be Grown Indoors?
Hydroponic tomatoes can be – and often are – grown indoors. The key here is making sure your plants receive adequate light.
Tomato plants need about 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight a day – but many high-yield varieties need up to 18 hours.
Be sure to look into the requirements of the specific type of tomato you plan to grow.
You can install LED grow lights, which are not only efficient but also effective at providing your plants with the full spectrum light they need.
Because tomatoes like lots of heat, you may need to heat the room up during the winter.
Dampness and humidity are also factors, so as you crank up the heat, be sure to install a fan, too, to help reduce the likelihood of fungal diseases on your plants.
Do Hydroponic Tomatoes Taste Good?
Hydroponically grown fruits and vegetables often get a bad rap, with some shoppers saying that they lack flavor and taste cardboard-like.
However, that’s a myth – and in blind taste tests, most people can’t tell the difference between garden-grown and hydroponically-grown tomatoes!
Hydroponic tomatoes can in some cases be even tastier than those grown outside, according to an article by NPR.
Excellent tomato flavor is produced by an intricate combination of acids, sugars, and gasses – something that is no different when growing hydroponic tomatoes as it would be for those grown outside.
Because you have more control over all the variables when growing hydroponic tomatoes, you’ll likely have better yields, too.
How Many Hours of Light Do Hydroponic Tomatoes Need?
Hydroponic tomatoes need just as much light as outdoor-grown, soil plants.
If you are growing hydroponic tomatoes indoors (as opposed to in a greenhouse), you should set up full spectrum LED grow lights (I use these 4′ lights) that emulate the quality and duration of light that your plants would receive outdoors.
Ideally, hydroponic tomatoes should receive eight hours of natural light a day or closer to sixteen hours of artificial light (since it won’t be as intense).
If you use grow lights to grow hydroponic tomatoes, don’t leave them on 24/7. This can cause your plants to become spindly and leggy.
Instead, turn them on for 16 hours and shut them off for eight. It may be helpful to use a timer hooked up to a power strip so that you don’t have to worry about shutting your lights on and off.
How Long Do Hydroponic Tomatoes Live?
You might be curious about how long you can grow hydroponic tomatoes since you won’t be under the time restrictions imposed by the impending winter season.
If you’re growing hydroponically indoors, the only limitations are those that you impose yourself.
Hydroponic tomatoes can be grown for around eight to eleven months out of the year.
Your tomato plants will stop producing eventually but can produce almost twice as long as those grown outdoors.
This timeline does vary depending on the variety of tomato you decide to grow, of course, as well as how well you care for your plants.
Indeterminate varieties will produce for much longer than determinant ones, which tend to push out all of their fruit all at once (rather than continuously).
Are Hydroponic Tomatoes Healthy?
In addition to lack of flavor, another common misconception that people have about hydroponic tomatoes is that they are not as nutritious as those grown in the “traditional” setting.
Again, this is simply not true. Hydroponic tomatoes can be just as nutritious as the rest.
It all has to do with nutrients. If you’re using a high-quality nutrient solution for your hydroponic tomatoes, they can actually be more nutritious than those grown outside because many soils have been depleted of their nutrients over the years.
Common Hydroponic Tomato Problems
There are a few common hydroponic tomato problems for which you should be on the lookout. Fortunately, all of these are easy to prevent and rectify.
Pests aren’t as common on hydroponic plants as they are on those grown in the garden outdoors. However, they can still infest your plants.
Aphids, whiteflies, and spider mites are three of the most common hydroponic pests.
If you’re growing in a greenhouse, you can introduce beneficial predators like lacewings or ladybugs to get rid of them. If you’re growing indoors, you’ll want to turn to other options.
Small amounts of rubbing alcohol can get rid of spider mites while aphids are easiest to remove by spraying them off the plants with water – and dunking them in a bucket of soapy water once they’re off.
Another common problem you might detect is tomato plants with slimy or fuzzy-looking coatings.
This is usually indicative of a mold or fungus problem. It indicates that your plants aren’t getting enough air circulation. Prune to open up more space.
If you notice that your tomato plant’s leaves have started to wilt, it could indicate that the nutrient solution is too strong or that the temperature is too high. Cool things down or use clean water to flush your plants for a week to clear things out.
One final issue to watch out for is blossom end rot, which causes black spots on the blossom end of the fruits. This indicates a calcium deficiency.
You can’t cure blossom end rot but you can correct it in the future by increasing irrigation and mixing up a more balanced blend of nutrients.
That’s A Wrap
Growing hydroponic tomatoes is a wonderful way to replace or supplement your traditional garden.
You can install a hydroponic system in a greenhouse or even grow year-round indoors.
Consider planting a few different types of seeds so you can experiment and find the hydroponic tomato cultivar you like the best!