Tomato plants have been a go-to for novice farmers for decades. They are a hardy, high yield plant and make for a very rewarding growing season, and this is no different for gardeners dipping their toes in hydroponics. Tomatoes are a great choice for people ready to take a step up in their hydroponics journey from basic greens to their first fruits and vegetables. We’ll take you through the process.
What are hydroponic tomatoes?
Hydroponic tomatoes are the same plants as those grown in soil. By nature, hydroponic systems will yield organic harvests, and the only real difference between hydroponic tomatoes and soil-grown is the system they are cultivated in.
How do you grow tomatoes hydroponically?
Before you can really get going with planting your tomatoes, you have to settle on a hydroponic system. We’ll go over the best system for tomatoes a little later on, but with tomatoes being tough plants, most systems will be able to at least keep a tomato plant alive. If you’ve already got a hydroponic system from a different project, you most likely won’t need to invest in another one, but your yield may be compromised compared to tomatoes grown in other setups.
Step 1: Prepare your garden for planting.
As you’re working on assembling your setup, you can begin sprouting your tomato plants. Choose a high-quality tomato seed, and sow a few seeds per seed starter. The seed is not a place to skimp on costs. Keep an eye on the seeds once they sprout, and then thin the seed starters to one seedling per cup once you can identify which of the seedlings are the strongest plant.
After the hydroponic system is up and running, make sure you adjust the parameters of your garden to match the growing conditions of tomato plants. If you’re planning on keeping your garden outdoors, make sure your local climate matches the temperature range tomato plants thrive in—65-85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and slightly cooler at night.
If your temperatures usually fall out of that range, your tomato plants will slow growth or die, and you may benefit from taking your garden indoors. If you’re looking for a nice grow tent, make sure to check out our guide showcasing the best grow tents. Short periods of time with temperatures outside of the preferred range won’t be an issue, so don’t be too concerned if the plants see a day or two over 90 degrees at the height of the growing season.
For indoor gardens, you’ll need to ensure your plants are getting the correct amount of light. Tomato plants are light-hungry, so extra lighting is almost guaranteed to be an essential piece of your tomato hydroponic garden. For this we suggest going with one of the best LED grow lights from our recommended list. For outdoor gardens, just make sure to place the system in a full sun location. At night, however, the situation switches.
Tomato plants do best when they get at least eight hours of uninterrupted darkness. Especially if you are growing your plants indoors or in an urban environment, you may benefit from grow tents that can block out all of the light pollution from street lights, porch lamps, or other sources.
Step 2: Plant your tomatoes.
After the hydroponic system is optimized for tomato plants, you’re ready to transplant your young plants to the garden from their seed starters. Although seeds are the recommended route to prevent contamination of your system from chemical products, disease, or pests that may be present on seedlings from other sources, you could use young plants from a local home and garden retailer and skip the seed starting process.
The exact transplant process will vary depending on the specifics of your setup. In general, it will involve removing your seedlings from their starter pots, getting the plants situated in the growing trays, and then keeping an eye on the water chemistry to make sure nothing was thrown out of balance during the transplant.
Step 3: Maintain the garden.
Once the tomato plants are successfully transplanted into your hydroponic setup, you won’t have to do much for a while except basic maintenance. Some of the chores you’ll have to do daily, such as checking the water chemistry, and others will be less frequent.
In general, it’s recommended that you check and adjust all of your garden’s parameters daily (temperature, water pH, nutrient levels, etc.), examine your plants for disease or pest infestation at least a couple times a week, and prune the plants, re-fertilize the system, and top off the water levels as necessary. If you’re looking for some help with pH testing, we reviewed the best pH testers for hydroponics in a separate post.
Step 4: Harvest your crop.
As long as you stay on top of your garden maintenance, you shouldn’t have much issue with getting your plants to mature and produce tomatoes. This is the main reason why we say that tomatoes are among the best plants for hydroponic growing. It should only be a few weeks before you start to see tomatoes popping up. As the tomatoes ripen, you can pick them until the growing season ends. Be sure to wait until the tomatoes are fully ripe before you pick them from the vine to ensure the best quality harvest.
Hydroponic Tomato Problems
Although indoor hydroponic gardens are very easily kept pest-free, people with certain outdoor hydroponics gardens may find they have problems with certain pests that reproduce in stagnant water, particularly mosquitos. If you choose any of the still-water open setups for your hydroponics garden, be sure to invest in some sort of cover for the water surface to ensure you minimize that risk.
How fast do hydroponic tomatoes grow?
Hydroponic tomatoes have the potential of growing about 25% faster than soil-grown tomatoes. Since you are able to ensure that your plants are getting the optimal amount of nutrients and water by growing them within a closed system where you don’t encounter runoff issues, most plants cultivated in hydroponic gardens will grow quicker than they would in soil settings.
On average, soil-grown tomatoes tend to start yielding ripe tomatoes between two and three months. Hydroponic tomatoes yield tomatoes between one and two months. You may see slower growth than predicted if you are unable to provide your plants with the optimal light, temperature, fertilizer, and water conditions.
What do hydroponic tomatoes yield per plant?
The yield of a single tomato plant will depend on the variety you choose and the quality of your care. Generally speaking, the varieties that produce smaller tomatoes—cherry and roma, for example—will produce more individual fruits than varieties that produce quite large tomatoes, like heirlooms. Tomato plants given ideal care with warm temperatures, good lighting, and the right balance of fertilizers will produce more fruit than plants kept in cooler, shady areas.
Some smaller fruit varieties can produce a couple hundred individual fruits with optimal care. You can generally count on 10-15lbs of tomatoes per plant, if you stick to just summer growing. In proper conditions, you can continue to grow tomatoes through the year.
Do hydroponic tomatoes taste good?
The vast majority of hydroponic tomato producers are quite pleased with the taste of their fruit. That being said, the quality of your tomatoes will depend on your care. Neglecting to give your plants the proper nutrients or growing conditions could result in tomatoes that don’t carry as much flavor as they would otherwise.
What is the best hydroponic system for tomatoes?
Before we go into the best hydroponic tomatoes system, it should be noted that tomato plants can grow in virtually any setup. To produce the highest quality and largest yields, however, some systems are better than others. We’re going to touch on the two best options.
Out of the two best hydroponic systems for tomatoes, the first one we’ll look at is deep water culture (DWC). Deep water culture can be an active system, where nutrients and are actively pumped through the system, or a passive system. The passive systems are Kratky method hydroponics, and these are among the simplest and cheapest possible hydroponics setups.
Deep water culture gardens are great for tomatoes, because they have enough free space to accommodate the relatively large size of tomato plants. Even the smaller tomato plants still produce large root systems and grow over a foot in every direction, with the larger plants growing several feet tall and just as wide.
Vertical gardens can have issues with root entanglement and crowding, and they will likely require additional lighting equipment to provide the ideal conditions sun-loving tomatoes need.
DWC pros and cons
|Provides adequate growing room||Less control over individual plant care|
|Budget-friendly||Can be more susceptible to issues such as root rot and pests, if not properly kept up with|
|Good for beginners, thanks to the simple setup and low maintenance needs|
The next of the two best hydroponics tomatoes systems is the drip system. The drip system involves each plant being directly connected to the nutrient reservoir and then being individually fed through the connecting tube. Drip systems are more cumbersome to set up than deep water culture, and even the most basic ones will require more equipment than the basic deep water culture gardens. Similar to deep water culture, drip systems can be built to easily accommodate the large space tomato plants need, making them another great choice.
Drip System pros and cons
|Can provide individualized care for plants||Can be expensive|
|More hands-on for gardeners who like to be involved||Higher maintenance than DWC|
There are many hydroponics systems to choose from in addition to these two, so consider the restrictions and goals of your garden and find the one that works best for you. There’s a hydroponics setup for everyone! Once you’ve grown your own tomatoes hydroponically, try growing hydroponic lettuce!