Friday, April 4, 2014

Guest Post: Grow and Cook With Hydroponic Tomatoes

I am so glad that Chris, also known as Captain Hydroponics, offered to do a guest post for me! There's nothing more rewarding than growing your own veggies to then cook and eat. Check out his awesome post on growing hydroponic tomatoes and drool over the grilled homegrown tomato recipe at the end. If you'd like to start hydroponic gardening, check out Chris' free 50+ page guide. Remember, if you also want to guest post, please don't hesitate to contact me. Enjoy!

Growing vegetables and fruits hydroponically is not only an environmentally-responsible way to feed you and your family; it's really a lot of fun! You don't need to be an expert to build a good setup. There's so much information available about lighting, feeding solutions, and hydroponic budget builds – all that's required is a little reading and a relatively small investment in equipment or virtually nothing if you make a DIY system.

Tomatoes traditionally take about 90 days to ripen and many of us have a growing season that only allows one major harvest a year. As most of you know, the price goes up considerably when they're out of season, while the overall quality of the fruit you actually goes down. This is because they need to be shipped from tropical growing climates, usually far from where you live to get to your supermarket.

Easy Setup for Growing Your Own Hydroponic Tomatoes

One of the most common errors made by newbie growers is to use the “Wick system” for growing. The reason this is so common is because it doesn't require a pump or complicated feeding system, and because it's a hands-off type of growing method. However, Wick systems are better for herbs as tomatoes need a greater amount of water.

Tomatoes are thirsty fruit plants that need lots and lots of H20, light, and just the right amount of nutrients (N, P, K, Mg, Ca, S) to grow massive yields. The nutrient mix should be fairly exact, but commercial premade solutions are reliable and hard to make mistakes with as long as you follow the instructions. Typically a $15 investment in a fertilizer solution will support growing up to 100 tomato plants!

The following guide represents a cheap and easy way to grow – without the risk of starving your plants, while also minimizing the risk of “root rot” and other plant diseases that can destroy your traditional garden plants.

Ebb-and-Flow System

1. If you're committed to giving this a go, start your tomato seeds germinating before you start building. You can always purchase seedlings at the store but each one will cost 2 or 3 times the amount of an entire pack of tomato seeds!

2. See this illustrated guide  for information on putting together a cheap, simple, and expandable Ebb and Flow system.

3. If you wish to grow inside you’ll need to provide your plants a good full spectrum light source. Again you can definitely purchase a lighting system but I managed to make a DIY 200W lighting system (Recommended link: ) in 20 minutes for just $10.

4. Mix your grow solution, following the instructions on the package as each company has slightly different mixing ratios. I find General Hydroponic’s FloraDuo nutrient works great and is dead simple.

5. Transplant the germinated seeds to your growing medium and place them under 16-20 hours of light a day until you're ready to fruit. Keep the lights farther away from the seedlings until they have at least three leaves visible. If you provide 16 hours of light and correctly manage the plants nutrients, I find tomatoes that traditionally bare fruit in 90 days with bare in 50 to 60 days. So once you get those all those yummy tomatoes, you’ll need to make sure you have some recipes to use them all.

Here’s one of my favorites:

Chris’s Delicious 10-Minute Grilled Hydroponic Tomatoes

Gather 4 tomatoes, ¼ cup of olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano (fresh is best).

• Preheat your grill or barbeque to medium heat.

• Make thick (1/4’) tomato slices

• Coat tomatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano

• Grill each side on the grill for 3 minutes

Makes a great side or dinner party appetizer. Bon app├ętit!

Family photoChris is an urban hydroponic hobbyist who uses hydroponics to maximize his 400 square foot yard and extend the short Chicago growing season. Chris blogs about his hydroponic experiences at