When I first got to know about growing crops without soil, my thoughts went out to unnatural and sterile space-age type of facilities. Soon after though, I went to search for more information and the benefits of soilless growing. I found out the majority of growers around me were already growing soilless, or hydroponic as they call it. In different substrates one can grow many crops, just by feeding the plants through the water mixed with soluble nutrients. Here it took me some time to get convinced that this nutrient mixing is far from rocket science, and actually very easy. The know-how on plant needs increased by a mile since I started digging in the information about soilless growing. Somehow it felt like taking apart a ready-made meal, and learn about its ingredients.


 

Now for the curiosity of it I had to give it a try, just to see it with my own eyes and experience a full life cycle of one of my favorite fruits without getting in touch with soil. My expectations were high, since every professional grower here in the Netherlands uses the hydroponic techniques to grow tomatoes. I’d set up a row of pots and filled them with coco, planted young clones of a sweet cherry tomato which I cut from a bigger plant. At the garden store I bought a bottle of nutrient solution and added this according to the label in a bucket of water. Easy does it.

 

In the days that followed the young plants did well, and grew like they would usually do in previous seasons. After about five days I notices how many roots where peeking out of the bottom of the pots, much earlier compared to the soil filled pots. I had used 6 liter pots and within a week they seemed to be completely rooted. I was amazed. The roots seem to love it. The airy texture of the coco substrate allows the roots to breathe and move freely, taking less energy it seems.


 

Weeks two and three after potting, the plants showed a massive increase in development above the ground, new branches and flower pods showed up in no-time one after the other. It got hard to keep the plants in under control and in shape! When I noticed how often watering is needed, I decided to check around for a small watering system that doesn’t need electricity. What seemed like an interesting option worked out great; a gravity based drip system from Blumat. It took me about an hour to setup and I had my watering issues solved.  From watering once/twice per day on the warmest days I went to filling the bucket only once per week!


What I found the best part of this first attempt, was that is already yielded me way more fruits then I managed with soil. This made up for the effort of setting the system up, so that easily paid off within the first weeks of my experiment. Yielding 30-50% more was a great bonus next to the fun is gave me tinkering with this method. Overall less dirty hands and hours spent on my knees, the hydroponic system is a definite keeper for me.



Author: Nico Hopman