Variety from Greece
Variety from Greece
Hydroponic tomatoes are grown in a nutrient solution rather than soil, although they are typically placed in a non-soil material that can support their roots and hold the nutrients. Growing tomatoes hydroponically allows the grower to raise them in a controlled environment with less chance of disease, faster growth, and greater fruit yield. However, hydroponic gardening is much more labor-intensive, and sometimes more expensive, than ordinary tomato planting, especially if you have not set up or run a hydroponics system before.
Decide which type of system to use. There are several varieties of hydroponic systems, and tomatoes can grow well in any of them. The instructions in this section will teach you how to construct an ebb and flow system, which is relatively cheap and easy to build.
Deep water culture: simple system for cherry tomatoes and other small plants.
Multi flow: a larger version of the ebb and flow that relies on gravity. Difficult to build, but supports more plants.
Nutrient film technique (NFT): Suspends the plants with roots brushing against slope of trickling nutrients. Slightly more finicky and expensive, but preferred by some commercial growers.
Note: Hydroponics stores and home improvement stores may sell a hydroponics kit which includes everything you need to set up your system. Alternatively, you can purchase each component separately, or even find some of them around your house. Clean secondhand or previously used components thoroughly before building the hydroponics system.
Find a suitable location. Hydroponics systems are only suitable for indoor or greenhouse environments. They require precise control to function properly, so they should be set up somewhere closed off from other rooms and from the outside. This allows you to set the temperature and humidity to accurate levels needed for best growth.
It is possible to grow hydroponics using natural light, but keep the system under a glass or polyethylene covering such as a greenhouse roof, not open to the air.
Fill a large, plastic container with water to use as a reservoir. Use a plastic container that does not let in any light to prevent the growth of algae. The larger this reservoir, the more stable and successful your hydroponics system will be. At minimum, each small tomato plant (such as cherry tomato plants) will require 1/2 gallons (1.9 liters) of water, while most, somewhat larger tomato plants will require 1 gallon (3.8L) each. However, many factors can cause the tomato plants to use water faster, so it is recommended that you use a container that can hold double the minimum amount of water.
You may use a plastic bucket or trash can for this purpose. Use a brand-new one to prevent any contamination of the system, or at least a lightly-used one thoroughly scrubbed with soapy water and rinsed.
Collected rainwater may be better suited for hydroponics than tap water, especially if your tap water is especially "hard" with high mineral content.
Fix a tray in place above the reservoir. This "ebb and flow tray" will support your tomato plants, and will be periodically flooded with nutrients and water that the tomato roots will absorb. It must be sturdy enough to hold up your plants (or be placed atop additional support), and placed higher than your reservoir to allow excess water to drain down into it. These are typically built of plastics, not metal, to avoid corrosion that could affect the plants and wear out the tray.
Install a water pump inside the reservoir. You can purchase a water pump at a hydroponics store, or use a fountain pump found at home improvement stores. Many pumps will have a chart listing the water flow at different heights. You may use this to find a pump strong enough to send water from the reservoir to the tray containing the plants. The best course of action, however, may be to pick a powerful, adjustable pump and experiment with the settings once you have your system set up.
Install fill tubing between the reservoir and the tray. Using 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) PVC tubing, or the type of tubing that came in your hydroponics kit, attach one length of tubing between the water pump and the tray, so the tray can be flooded to the height of the tomato plant roots.
Install an overflow fitting leading back to the reservoir. Attach a second length of PVC tubing to the tray with an overflow fitting, located at a height near the top of the roots, below where the tomato plant stems will be. When the water reaches this level, it will drain back through this tube and into the reservoir.
Attach a timer to the water pump. A simple timer intended for light fixtures can be used to power the water pump at regular intervals. This needs to be adjustable so you can increase or decrease the amount of nutrients delivered depending on the plants' stage of life.
A heavy duty 15-amp timer with waterproof cover is recommended.
Any water pump should have a way to attach a timer, if it doesn't come with one already, but the exact instructions vary by model. Ask the manufacturer if you are having trouble with this step.
Test the system. Turn on the water pump and see where the water goes. If a stream of water fails to reach the tray, or if excess water spills over the edges of the tray, you may need to adjust the settings of your water pump. Once you have the water set to the correct strength, check the timer to see if it sets the pump going at the specified times.
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