7 Steps To Grow Hydroponic Cherry Tomatoes Indoors
Cherry tomatoes are loved all over the world for their excellent flavor. These bite-sized fruits (which are commonly mistaken for vegetables) are a high-value crop that can be consumed fresh, mashed into sauce, or dried for later use. The good news is, that you can have more tomatoes in a shorter amount of time if you grow them in a hydroponic setup!
The steps in growing hydroponic cherry tomatoes are 1) choosing your tomato variety, 2) choosing a growing medium, 3) germinating your seeds, 4) preparing your hydroponic system, 5) providing a nutrient solution, 6) setting up the correct lighting for tomatoes, and 7) harvesting your fruits.
In this article, we’re making it easy for you to understand the basics and benefits of hydroponics. We’re also hashing out the best hydroponic systems for growing cherry tomatoes indoors, along with the types of tomatoes for indoor growing. Let’s dive right in!
What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is taking the modern world by storm because of the convenience it offers and the superior quality of its yields. It takes the guesswork out of gardening since hydroponic crops are grown in controlled environments. When your hydroponics system is prepared properly, you can pretty much sit back, relax and wait for harvest time.
Hydroponics is the process of growing plants without the need for soil. Instead, the plants rely on water along with a soilless growing medium such as coco coir, rockwool cubes, horticultural foam, hydroton (LECA clay pearls/ balls), vermiculite, or perlite.
Unlike soil, these substrates (or growing media) simply anchor down the roots but do not provide any form of nutrients to the plants, which is why liquid nutrient solutions are mixed into the water as another essential part of hydroponics. Then, the substrates are placed inside net pots so the roots can grow through the holes and reach the water below.
Other important parts include the: air pump, air stones, and a recirculating system of water pumps.
6 Benefits of Indoor Hydroponics
If we haven’t convinced you enough, here are more reasons why hydroponics is the best option for indoor growers:
- Higher yield: Since the roots of hydroponic plants are directly immersed in water mixed with liquid fertilizer in what is known as Deep Water Culture, they can fully absorb the nutrients they need to grow faster. This leads to shorter harvest periods and higher fruit production.
- Disease resistance: Most problems in gardening such as bugs, root rot, and fungal diseases thrive in soil. The absence of soil in hydroponics systems reduces the risk for these plant diseases.
- Organic food: Because pests can’t easily make their way into a closed environment setup, you won’t need to apply harmful pesticides to your growing cherry tomato plants like you would in an outdoor garden.
- Year-round harvest: Cherry tomatoes need a lot of sun to flower and fruit. Their growing season is on the hot days of the summer months. Meanwhile, indoor hydroponics with grow lights will allow you to grow and harvest your cherry tomatoes all year long.
- Less water usage: Because most hydroponic systems efficiently recirculate the water, you can conserve 70% as much water that soil-based gardening would use. You also won’t need to water your plants on a regular basis.
- Less space: Built with a compact design, most hydroponic systems won’t take up much space in your home. Vertical hydroponic systems are even more efficient, so that you can add more plants without using up much space.
3 Hydroponic Methods for Growing Cherry Tomatoes
Some methods of hydroponics are more efficient than others when growing cherry tomatoes. Here are 3 of them:
1) Drip Method
Drip method is a form of hydroponic nutrient delivery system that contains tubes which allow the essential plant nutrients to “drip” into the growing mediums. One example that utilizes the drip method is the Dutch Bucket System. We’ll talk about this more later.
This type of system allows the roots of your cherry tomato plants to slowly absorb nutrients, while also providing proper aeration to oxygenate the roots. Yes, plant roots also take in oxygen!
2) Kratky Method
The Kratky Method is one of the simplest and easiest hydroponic systems available, especially when growing cherry tomato plants. This is also known as a set-and-forget method because it only requires you to prepare your system once, apply the mineral nutrient solution in your growing container, and then wait for the harvest period.
3) Ebb and Flow
Otherwise known as the flood and drain method, this type of setup requires you to “flood” your hydroponics system with a nutrient solution for a certain period and then “drain” the entire mixture for an equal amount of time. Doing this will allow the roots of your plants to “breathe in” oxygen which is essential for proper nutrient absorption.
2 Types of Tomatoes
There are basically two categories of tomato cultivars: determinate and indeterminate varieties.
1. Determinate tomatoes are those that grow compact like a bush. Determinate tomato varieties aren’t very large plants and are best for people with small spaces. They can start to bear fruit within a matter of weeks after they produce flower clusters.
2. Indeterminate tomatoes on the other hand are those that grow on vines. For these, you will need to build a structure to support the main stem and allow the tomato vines to creep. The recommended structures for indeterminate tomato plants are a-frames or trellises.
Measuring the area of your indoor garden can help you identify which particular tomato cultivars are best suited for your location.
7 Steps in Growing Hydroponic Cherry Tomatoes
Now that you’ve grasped the fundamentals of growing cherry tomatoes in hydroponics, let’s take what you’ve learned and put those into practice!
Step 1 – Choosing your tomato variety
There are quite a few popular cherry tomato varieties. These different varieties are the most popular right now:
- Sweet Million: is one of the more popular varieties because it produces a bountiful number of crack-resistant tomatoes during harvest period.
- Sweet Gold: is known for its bright yellow color. Although not as prolific as its Sweet Million cousin, it makes up for it with sweetness and slightly larger fruits.
- Sun Gold cultivar: is known for its orange color and its distinct tropical “fruity” flavor due to its high sugar content.
- Sweet Orange: has an unusual color pattern that makes it stand out in a salad or on a fruit set. However, this variety is generally not a very good choice in terms of tomato plant production and resistance to fruit cracking.
- Sakura: is a newer cherry tomato variety that is starting to gain popularity among hydroponic gardeners because of its high resistance to diseases.
Step 2 – Choosing a growing medium for your seeds
Coco coir, horticultural foam or rockwool cubes make an ideal growing substrate for germinating your tomato seeds.
To prepare your chosen substrate for seed germination, soak it in water until it’s fully damp. It might also be a good idea to sanitize your growing medium with boiling water to ensure that no form of bacteria can survive.
Next, put the growing medium in your net cups or in a grow tray. Then, scatter the seeds evenly on top. If you’re planning to use coco coir (also known as coco peat), blanket the seeds with an additional fine layer of coir.
Step 3 – Germinating your seeds
Your cherry tomato seeds will need a warm, dark, and moist environment for them to germinate faster. Cover the net cups or the plastic tray with a transparent lid to trap humidity.
You should notice your cherry tomato seeds sprouting within 5-10 days. Once they do, you’ll need to transfer the sprouts near a sunny window or under grow lights. You’d be surprised to know that tiny seedlings need so much light!
As soon as you see their true leaves come out (right after the first pair of lower leaves), or when the seedlings are approximately 6-8 inches tall, you can then transfer them to permanent containers in your hydroponics system.
Step 4 – Preparing your hydroponics system
If you don’t want to build a hydroponic system customized for your space and needs, you can simply buy a commercial hydroponic system and start growing your food immediately.
In other articles, we’ve reviewed the best hydroponic systems from countertop products such as the iDOO, Click And Grow, AeroGarden, VegeBox, and many others, to vertical hydroponic systems such as the Gardyn tower garden, iHarvest, Aerospring, and Lettuce Grow.
While any system will do fine, here we will talk about the two most popular hydroponics set-ups you can build for growing cherry tomatoes indoors. These are the Kratky Method and the Dutch Bucket System.
The Kratky Method is the simpler one of the two hydroponic systems recommended for growing cherry tomatoes. This system doesn’t require electricity to work. You just have to set it up, pour your nutrient solution into the growing container, and make sure that the bottom of your net pot is immersed in the water and nutrient mixture by at least an inch.
For the Kratky Method, you’ll need a lidded container (such as a mason jar). Drill a hole through the lid, just big enough to hold up the net pot in the middle.
Then, the growing medium goes inside the net pots, ready to anchor down your cherry tomato seedlings.
Dutch Bucket System
The Dutch Bucket System is more complicated because it has many different parts. The Drip Method of nutrient delivery (as explained earlier) works best with the Dutch Bucket system.
In this system, your cherry tomato plants are placed in either five-gallon buckets or specialized square buckets (known as bato buckets), all lined up in a row. Each one of these buckets can contain 2-3 plants.
Primary water lines are extended from the reservoir container down to the entire length of the Dutch Bucket System. Drip hoses attached to the water line will provide irrigation to the plants inside the buckets. At the very bottom of each bucket is a drain system that will allow the nutrient solution to flow back into the nutrient reservoir container.
Step 5 – Providing a nutrient solution for your hydroponic cherry tomatoes
Nutrient solutions play a vital role when it comes to hydroponic plant growth. These nutrient solutions have 2 formulations: one for your leafy greens and another for your fruit-bearing plants such as strawberries or cherry tomatoes. They come in 2 or even 3-part formulas. When buying online, ask your retailer for a specific mix formulated for fruiting.
Hydroponic fruit bearing plants have quite high nutritional requirements so they can be heavy feeders. They need rich amounts of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), otherwise known as NPK.
Always check the pH level of your water before and after adding your nutrient solution. Power of Hydrogen or pH levels will determine how your plants absorb the nutrients. Cherry tomato plants require a pH level that is slightly higher than average, somewhere around 5.5- 6.3 pH. You can use pH adjusters called pH up and pH down solutions.
After adding the nutrient solution, you will have to check the Electrical Conductivity (EC) or Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) of the current nutrient levels. For cherry tomatoes, your EC level should be somewhere between 2.0- 5.0. If you’re checking for TDS, it should be around 1400-3500 parts per million (PPM).
Step 6 – Providing the correct lighting for your indoor tomato plants
Light is a crucial factor for photosynthesis and plant growth. Fruit-bearing plants such as cherry tomatoes require approximately 8-10 hours of daily sunlight to achieve maximum growth. For some high-yield varieties,18 hours of light is barely considered adequate light.
Indoors, you will need to rely on artificial lighting to supplement your tomato plants. Look for full-spectrum LED grow lights because they are cheaper, they are energy-efficient, they have a long life span, and they don’t heat up as much as the traditional High Intensity Discharge (HID) grow lights which big-scale hydroponic growers use.
The minimal amount of heat discharged by LED grow lights allows them to be safely placed within 30 cm of your indoor cherry tomatoes for best results. You won’t have to worry about leaf burns or wilting. Alternatively, you can use fluorescent light.
The only caveat of using artificial grow-lights is that you’ll have to run them for at least 18 hours a day to closely replicate the effects of natural sunlight. In another article, we’ve written about the best grow light types and brands for indoor growing.
Step 7 – Harvesting your cherry tomatoes
When the right conditions are met, which should be much easier with hydroponic gardening compared to traditional soil-based methods, it will take approximately 8- 12 weeks from planting until your cherry tomato plant starts to bear fruit.
Of course, the actual amount of time will depend on the variety you planted. Most cherry tomato varieties will bear fruit and ripen within 50 days after being transplanted as seedlings to their permanent containers.
Hydroponic cherry tomato plants will continue to fruit around 250 days in a year with each plant producing about 3- 4 kilograms of tomatoes. Of course, in a hydroponic setup, the limit is when the roots grow too long or when the plants grow too tall for the system.
At such a point, you’ll have to clean your system, throw out your growing medium and each entire plant, then start the process all over again!
Cherry tomatoes are juicy, bite-sized fruits that are prized all over the world for their many uses in the kitchen. Instead of buying them from grocery stores, you can grow fresh tomatoes in your own home to get the most of their flavor and nutritional value.
Arguably, the best way to get lots of fruit is by ditching good old soil gardening and switching to hydroponics. Hydroponic tomatoes have high yields and shorter harvest periods. You can save yourself some time and effort, all while conserving a lot of water and space!
Of course, that is not to say that there won’t be any problems along the way. Gardening is an active learning experience even for master growers, so make a note of each mistake and each mishap to serve as lessons in future gardening seasons!