If you are serious about trying to grow tomatoes indoors then it is important that you fully understand how to go about choosing the correct growing medium. This is going to then have a major impact on the way in which your tomatoes develop and since you are looking for strong and healthy plants that produce a heavy crop of fruits then clearly you want to spend some time getting to grips with this very important part.
You see, there is more to growing tomatoes indoors than just putting the seedlings in a pot and adding water. Instead, it is all about creating the perfect environment for them in every aspect and that is where a number of people simply let themselves down. So, what do you need to know? What are your options when it comes to choosing the correct growing medium? The answer is going to be more straightforward and easier to understand than you think even if you are completely new to this particular type of gardening.
First, we should begin by looking at the soil because get this wrong and there is every chance that your tomato plants are going to struggle especially when they are still seeds or even seedlings.
Now, most people will opt for soil simply because it is familiar to them and they feel that there is little chance of them going wrong with it all. However, that is not always true.
The Pros and Cons of Soil.
As you may expect, there are various pros and cons associated with growing tomato plants in soil and it is useful to look at both sides to allow you to develop a better understanding of the direction in which you wish to go.
The first pro of using soil is that there is a pretty good chance that you have had some kind of experience of growing plants in this medium so you do generally understand the basics of it and the things that you need to do in order to keep the plant nice and healthy. There is often nothing too difficult regarding growing in soil and it is certainly seen as being the least scary option even for those people that are relatively new to gardening.
The second pro is that it is very simple to grow plants in soil especially when it comes to the watering aspect. Your tomato plants have found their way into containers and it is just a case of adding some water and fertilizer every now and again and you will see your tomato plants grow.
The third pro is that it is very easy to grow tomato plants indoors in soil when you have the container and understand how you are going to be able to provide it with the light levels that they need in order to grow successfully. You have less need to worry about temperature of the soil when they are indoors and you can also make sure that the soil is the correct pH level for tomato plants as well as it getting the correct nutrients.
The fourth and final pro that we will discuss is that you do have different options when it comes to choosing the soil and of course this is often going to be down to personal preference. For example, you can go to a gardening store and purchase normal compost and then add in your own nutrients via fertilizer for tomatoes. This will mean that the soil is going to have the correct levels as long as you follow the instructions.
The second option is to purchase what many people refer to as ‘super soil’ and this is where it already has nutrients included in it. This is better for those individuals that are perhaps slightly wary about adding in nutrients for fear of making a mess of things but at least there is this option out there.
The Cons of Soil.
Now, in there interest of fairness we have to also look at the negative side of growing in soil as there are a few issues that can crop up and ultimately make a difference regarding the potential future growth of your tomato plants.
The first negative is that the soil that you are using can easily contain various pests and microbes that can ultimately attack your tomato plant leading to all kinds of diseases that could potentially kill your harvest. This is something that can be in the soil itself so you are effectively importing problems and this is something that people that use hydroponics to grow their tomato plants indoors do not have to deal with. Indeed, it is no surprise that people that grow tomato plants in soil have a tendency to suffer from more diseases to their plants than any other growing method.
The other negative is that it has been shown that growing tomato plants in soil does result in them taking longer to throw out the fruit and then allow them to ripen. Now, if you have time on your hands then you may not see this as a real issue but for some they want to get through the growing aspect in order to enjoy the fruits of their labor so the fact that there are methods that will get you results in a shorter period of time is certainly something to keep in mind.
So, after looking at the pros and cons we need to discuss the actual setting up of the soil. Getting the correct mix is certainly going to have a major impact on the future development of your tomato plants so it is important to pay attention.
Generally speaking, you should be looking at using a high quality organic mix that is going to provide a slow release of nutrients over an extended period of time rather than a type of soil that is packed full of nutrients that are effectively released at the one time.
When you get the soil, you need to determine if it is too heavy or light as this will then help you when it comes to understanding how the soil will hold onto moisture. If it is heavy then it will not drain well and your tomato plants will suffer as a result. If this is the case, then mix in some 30% of perlite or 10% vermiculite as that will help drainage.
Maintaining the Soil.
For maintaining the soil, then clearly there are several important factors to take into consideration as you cannot simply pot up your tomato plants and then leave them like that. For example, once the tomato plant has grown and been harvested you should not go ahead and reuse that soil for another plant. The nutrients that were in it would have been used up and there is the chance that various microbes or pests are now residing there so throw it out and use fresh soil instead.
However, the main part of the maintaining the soil is to do with making sure that it is watered correctly and also to check the inclusion of nutrients and fertilizer also at the correct times. You may also want to keep an eye out for the pH level of the soil as well as the level of nitrogen as this will also have a profound impact on the ability of the plant to grow so being aware of this will result in stronger and healthier plants.
Finally, it is important that you do pay close attention to the soil especially if you are not too experienced at growing tomato plants in containers. Once you gain more experience you will be able to judge things better and spend less time keeping an eye on how things are progressing. You will understand the watering aspect as well as whether or not there are any problems in the soil, but at the beginning you will perhaps be slightly nervous and be worried that you could make a mess of things.
The next option that we will look at is known as hydroponics and we do accept that you may not have heard of it or even considered it as an option for growing your tomatoes. However, it does also have its positives and negatives so, once again, we need to look at both in the interest of fairness.
The basic explanation is that hydroponics refers to any way of growing plants where soil is not the medium that is used. In most cases, people believe that it is referring to using water even though that does not always have to be the case but in this instance that is exactly what we will be talking about when dealing with the pros and cons.
The Pros of Hydroponics.
The first pro is that you will see faster growth in your tomato plants which is something that is often surprising to people as they believe that tomato plants require soil in order to grow at all. It also means that you will be able to get to the harvesting part in a shorter period of time as well.
The second pro is that it has also been shown that this method is going to result in you being able to achieve a larger harvest which is always going to be a nice positive to have.
This is a major positive, but you are going to be less likely to suffer from various pests and diseases when you use hydroponics. This is because the absolute vast majority of pests need soil in order to develop and grow so if you remove that medium from them then they are going to find it impossible to develop and then attack your plant.
The final positive is that this approach can actually be quite low maintenance which is always going to be useful for people as you can effectively set it up and leave it to work pretty much all on its own.
The Cons of Hydroponics.
However, it is not all plain sailing as hydroponics does have its own particular difficulties and issues so we need to look at the cons of this approach to provide you with a better understanding of them.
The first negative is that they can be expensive and you might need to figure out how to put them together. This is not for everyone especially those that are new to this type of growing.
Another problem is to do with the nutrient levels. You have complete control over those levels and yet if you do not fully understand the importance of nutrients or the levels that are required then you can see how mistakes can occur.
If you are not careful then you can run into problems with the roots and clearly when this is the case then the entire plant is going to be at risk. The main problem is the temperature of the water and making sure that enough oxygen is getting to them.
Different Types of Hydroponics.
Next, you should be aware that there are different types of hydroponic systems to choose from.
1. Deep Water Culture.
With this, the roots of the plant are placed in a reservoir of water that is packed full of nutrients an oxygen is then passed through the water.
2. Top Fed DWC.
In this type, the roots are still in the nutrient water but a pump also pushes water up into the plant itself at the same time.
3. Nutrient Film Technique.
The plants are in a slanted tray with their roots in nutrient water. The water is pumped into the tray and then flows out of the lower end and is recycled.
4. Ebb and Flow.
The plants are in one container with a water container below it. A pump pushes nutrient water into the upper container and it is then drained via a timer. It provides ample oxygen and nutrients to the roots.
In this, fish are in the water and their poop is then used as the nutrients for the plants. Bacteria converts the ammonia into nitrogen which the plants then use.
With aeroponics the roots are suspending in air and are misted with nutrient rich water. This method is capable of providing the most amount of oxygen to the roots.
7. Drip System.
This is an automated watering system with the roots and plants in one container and a reservoir of water in another container. It is drip watered over time and the water is circulated.
Don’t Use These Hydro Systems.
The hydroponic systems listed above are your best options but there are several that you should avoid as they are just not suitable for tomato plants. These include the raft system where the plants are on a raft that floats in a reservoir. The tomato plants are just too big for this system.
Also, any system that is on a small scale will never be able to provide the roots with enough space to grow so your tomato plants will struggle. These options are more for herbs rather than anything else.
This may come as a surprise but it is actually less expensive to set up a hydroponics system than you might think. In actual fact, you can purchase the various pieces individually and make your own version so some DIY skills will be useful. The best thing to do is to study the setup that you plan on using and understand the various steps that you need to follow in its construction.
However, you can purchase complete kits that are already constructed if the thought of putting your own one together is terrifying.
Maintaining your hydroponics system is easier than you think. The main issue is in dealing with the nutrients and also purchasing the correct grow lights to help the plants when growing them indoors. However, it should be expected that the first attempt at growing tomatoes in this way will be problematic as you seek to learn the methods.
Often, you may have to spend less than an hour a week trying to look after your system and they are generally regarded as being low maintenance as long as you just spend time checking out the tubing and that the correct levels of nutrients and oxygen are being transferred to the plant.
Soil-Hydro Fusion: Coco Coir and Other Soilless Mediums
What we are talking about here is using any other medium other than soil and there are some options out there. In the strictest sense of the word, any type of medium that is used for growing plants that is not soil is called hydroponics and that includes coco coir. However, to the plant it can actually feel as if it is growing in soil and even with this option there are pros and cons associated with this approach.
Pros of Soilless.
The first advantage is that it has been proven that this approach is able to achieve faster growth than just planting your tomatoes in normal soil. However, for many people it is still slower than hydroponics that involves purely water and oxygen so see this as being somewhere in the middle regards the speed.
As you are not using soil it does mean that there is less chance of you having to contend with various pests as they are often transmitted in the soil itself. However, it cannot be ruled out entirely but anything that can reduce the chances is going to be warmly welcomed by growers.
The third pro associated with this approach is that it is very easy and is perfect even for beginners. You are hand watering the plants and adding in nutrients just as you do with normal soil so there is nothing to be scared about with this approach.
Cons of Soilless.
The first negative is that it is not as fast as full on hydroponics and that does mean it takes slightly longer to get to the actual fruit stage as it is all because of the lower oxygen levels going to the roots.
The only other problem is trying to figure out the nutrient levels but this is the same problem as you will have when you are using soil. Getting to grips with this will certainly make life a bit better although it is still something to think about.
Now, the question here is how you set this system up but there is also no need to panic with this part either. You simply have to get the soilless mix and a container and one of the more common mixes is coco coir which is made from coconut husks. This ‘soil’ contains a number of inert properties that allows for water absorption but you can also mix in some perlite and vermiculite to help with drainage.
One tip is to avoid making your own mix simply because it is difficult to get the levels correct.
Maintaining this approach is easy. You do have costs associated with changing the mix every single time you grow something new but the only other thing is to water the tomatoes and add in the nutrients as and when required. However, you might also want to keep an eye on the pH levels as well.
You should also check the plants on a daily basis especially at the beginning but other than that the actual maintenance is very easy and straightforward.
So, what is the conclusion that we can reach? Well, the answer depends on what you feel comfortable with and also if you are wanting to get those tomatoes ready in the shortest time possible. If that is the case, then full on hydroponics is the only way forward but if you are willing to take your time then the tried and trusted method of using soil would be best.
However, it all comes down to what you feel comfortable with or if you are willing to experiment with soilless mediums or using water and oxygen as there is no doubt that both can produce amazing results and a healthy crop of tomatoes. Read over the various pros and cons that were mentioned and then decide which option you feel most at home with and that will be the answer that you are looking for in order to grow your own tomatoes indoors.