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Growing your own Hydroponic Tomatoes

Tomatoes are probably the most popular crop to grow hydroponically, for both commercial growers, and home gardeners alike. For anyone who has grown there own tomatoes, they know that a homegrown tomato will have a much better taste than any store bought tomato will. That’s simply because the home gardener will leave the tomatoes on the plant until they are actually ripe, and a commercial grower will need to pick them before they are fully ripe so they will have a longer shelf life. So growing your own hydroponic tomatoes for better flavor is a very popular choice of crops for a good reason (their expensive, with poor taste in stores).

The major advantage of using hydroponics compared to field grown produce for tomatoes, is the isolation of the crop from the soil, which often has problems of diseases, pests, salinity, poor structure and/or drainage. Hydroponically grown tomatoes also have the ability to achieve high-density maximum crop yields. Although commercially grown hydroponic tomatoes are usually special hybrids, and some of the more popular varieties are Apollo, Belmondo, Caruso, Dombito, Larma, Perfecto, Trend and Trust. These are hybrid varieties and the seed can be rather expensive, especially for the home gardener. Some home gardeners generally will try germinating seeds from the mature fruit. Those successive generations wont necessarily have the same characteristics of the original plants, but are certainly worth trying.

Tomato plant problems
Even though tomatoes are so popular, growing them with hydroponic systems can be challenging. Simply because of all the fungal diseases, virus, pests, and types of bacteria they are prone to getting, even when eliminating soil as a factor. Probably the number one contributor to tomato plant disease is wet foliage, and/or high humidity. The spores that cause the fungal disease are always airborne, but when the foliage is wet the spores have what they need (water), to grow.

You shouldn’t handle tomato plants when the vines and/or foliage are wet. This helps to spread the wet spores to other parts of the plant, helping the fungal diseases take over that much faster. It’s also best not to use tobacco products around your tomato plants, these products may carry viruses, especially tobacco mosaic virus. If at all possible, try to pick a sunny location for your tomatoes. You’ll be less likely to have leaf disease and related problems in a sunny location, rather than in a semi-shady one.

The root system for tomatoes plants should have good drainage, no mater what type of system there growing in. They are very susceptible to getting root rot diseases, as well as stem rot from water levels being to high. The water level in a flood and drain system (ebb & flow) should be just high enough to get the “root ball” wet (no higher). This allows the roots to get the moisture and nutrients they need, but prevents the stem from excess moisture that leads to the stem rot.

Insect infestation can be a big problem also. Especially aphids, which can transmit diseases to your plant’s. Aphids come in hundreds of kinds (even flying aphids that have large wings), and they all seem to love tomato plants. They especially love new foliage, and they lay there eggs on the underside of leaves that will soon hatch and continue to infest your plants. One of the best ways to get rid of aphids naturally and without using pesticides is to use Ladybugs. Ladybugs are the natural predator of aphids, and usually stick around as long as there is a food source. Ladybugs also wont cause any damage to any of your plants either, and they are kind of neat to have in the garden also. Most of the larger nursery’s will carry Ladybugs on hand, or they are easy to get online.

Why Bother Growing Tomatoes?
Despite the many problems associated with growing healthy tomatoes (hydroponic or soil), they can be, and are, a very productive crop. In fact, most tomatoes sold in grocery stores are grown hydroponically at farms like Euro Fresh Farms in Arizona. Using hydroponics, and controlling the growing environment (temperature, lighting, nutrients, etc.) tomatoes can be grown year round with great results on a commercial level.

But for most of us, we just want to be able to grow good tasting tomatoes, and be able to have them on hand when we need them. You’ll never be able to get a real good tasting tomato unless you grow it yourself. That’s the real reason to grow your own tomatoes in the first place as far as I’m concerned. The difference in taste is like night and day to anyone who has ever grown there own. There’s nothing like picking a blood red tomato off your own plants to put in your dishes within minutes of picking them, they just don’t get better than that, and that make all the difference.

Useful links
Tomato Disease Identification Key
Disease Management in Home-Grown Tomatoes
Tomato diseases and disorders
Growing Tomatoes Hydroponically