Growing your own fruits and vegetables is a very satisfying practice that is becoming more popular among amateurs. One method that is becoming popular is hydroponics which is an easy way to grow plants without using soil. Through this process, the plant will be grown in water which contains dissolved nutrients.
Though not all hydroponic systems are the same, they all work by allowing the roots of the plants to be either submerged or regularly sprayed with nutrient water. Because the roots are normally floating, they are help in place by a growth medium which allows water to flow over the roots without too much movement. This means that you will not have to keep up with watering the plants every day as the system takes care of that for you.
It's not always easy to grow fruits and vegetables this way because certain hydroponic systems work better with certain plants, but we recommend growing strawberries as they are one of the easiest fruits to grow using a hydroponic system.
Why Should I Grow My Own Fruits or Vegetables
There are many reasons to do this besides that it is a fun and rewarding activity. Here are some reasons for you to consider:
Benefits of Specifically Growing Strawberries Hydroponically
One of the biggest conveniences of growing any fruit or vegetable hydroponically is that it sits in water so there is no need for consistent watering. Because of how they are grown, strawberries grow very quickly in hydroponic systems compared to traditional soil.
Growing strawberries using hydroponics also saves a lot of space as the strawberries will grow upward instead of spreading out. This will increase the amount of strawberries you can get from just one plant, and it will also save you room.
Hydroponics are also very clean compared to plants in soil. This means that pests are a lot less likely to be an issue because they are not attracted to water like they are soil.
The different hydroponic systems:
1. Wick System:
This is labeled as one of the simplest hydroponic systems. The nutrient of your choosing is drawn into the system from the reservoir with a wick. This system is passive, meaning that there are no moving parts, and no filter or pump is required to use it. Nutrient water is transferred through the wick and dispersed into the roots of the plant. Plants that require a large amount of water will use up the nutrient water faster meaning that you will need to fill it a lot more often. So, smaller plants work better with this system because they would require less care. The wick moves the nutrient water slowly so it is best to use this system for plants that do not require a lot of water.
2. Water Culture System:
The water culture system is labeled as the simplest active hydroponic system. The styrofoam platform holds the plants and floats on the surface of the water. It also features an airstone at the bottom of the reservoir that is filtered with an air pump. The air pump pushes air through the airstone causing bubbles and providing oxygen to the roots. This system is ideal for lettuce and not much else because lettuce grows fast and does well in water. This system is best for plants that grow quickly, most long term plants will not do well with the water culture system.
3. Ebb and Flow System:
A submerged pump fills the grow tray with the nutrient water, then it drains back into the reservoir. The pump is normally on a timer, and depending on the type of plant you have, the timer can go off several times a day. The timer will start the pump which fills the grow tray with the nutrient water, then after a short time, the timer will go off again and empty the grow tray and return the nutrient water to the reservoir. This system is normally used with rocks, and that can lead to issues with the pump filling and draining properly or even cause power outages.
4. Drip Systems:
These systems are estimated to be the most widely used systems currently. A pump is controlled by a timer which drips the nutrient water into the base of the plant. The drip system features two types of system options. There is a recovery system which collects the excess nutrient water and returns it to the reservoir for future use, and there is a non-recovery system which does not catch the run off. Although the recovery systems seems like the better option, it requires more care because the run off nutrient water may need to have the PH levels adjusted.
5. Nutrient Film Technique System (NFT):
This system has a constant flow of nutrient water to the tray so there is no need for a timer. The water flows over the roots of the plants and the remaining water flows back into the reservoir. The plant is suspended with its roots hanging into the water. With the water constantly flowing, this system is susceptible to power outages and pump failures at times. Although, this is not as common as other systems that use gravel, it can still happen and can cause a lot of issues with your plant since the roots will dry out quickly.
6. Aeroponic System:
This system is regarded as one of the more technologically advanced systems. The roots hang in the air and are occasionally misted with nutrient water. Because the roots are not submerged, they will dry out very quickly. So, it is important to make sure they are getting misted every few minutes. This system also works with a timer, but the timer needs to be able to go off every few minutes to keep the plants from drying out.
Which System Is Best for Strawberries
There are a few systems that would work with strawberries. The first is the aeroponic system. This is the most advanced system, so it might be a little overwhelming to start with, but it is great for strawberries because of the suspension of the plant and the near-constant misting that makes sure the plant does not dry out. The water culture system works for strawberries as well because the air pumps oxygen which keeps them from drowning.
The best system for strawberries is the ebb and flow system. This is the best system for strawberries because the running nutrient water means that you can have a lot of strawberry plants in one reservoir without worrying about drying out or flooding. Drip systems are also highly recommended for strawberries because you can control how much nutrient water you are giving your plant and won't risk flooding it.
Keep in mind that these systems can be purchased as is, or you can also build your own versions of them. If you are more into DIY projects, then building your own hydroponic system might intrigue you. There are plenty of online tutorials to help you out, but if you are overwhelmed or don't really know where to start, a kit might be better to get you started. If you want to try to build it yourself, it may be best to get a kit first, see how it works and then build upon that.
How to Choose a Growth Medium
A growth medium is used to keep your plant in place in whichever system that you choose. You don't want your plant floating around too much especially when it is being watered with the nutrient water. Most people use coco or greystones to keep their plants in place, and both are fine to use with strawberries, although coco seems to be a favorite among strawberry growers. Some hydroponic kits already come with growth medium, so it may bot be something that you have to worry about, but if you do need to buy it, coco is a safe bet.
What Nutrients Do I Need for Strawberries
Strawberries are one of the easiest plants to please when it comes to nutrients, but it is still important that they get the nutrient they need. The main nutrients that strawberries need are phosphorous, nitrogen, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Most brands of nutrients contain these already, so it's best to start there and find the right type for you.
Choosing the Best Type of Strawberry to Grow
Some types of strawberries can take up to 3 years to grow, while other types show in only a few months. If you're new to this, chances are you want a type that is going to grow quickly. Not seeing yield for 3 years can be a little frustrating. So, here is a list of some of the best types of strawberries for you to grow quickly in your hydroponic system:
Consider these options for your strawberries, but make sure to do your research. It's always important to know what you're getting into as far as timeframe for growing and any specific needs each type may have.
Starting With a Seed vs Cutting
Starting with a seed in a hydroponic system is not ideal. It will take a lot longer to yield and you will need extra supplies to care for a seed as opposed to a cutting. Using cuttings or clones of the strawberries that you want can yield results a lot faster, and are easier to take care of.
Cuttings are more expensive than seeds. So, if you do want to try seeds, it's not impossible. After finding seeds, you can look for propagation kits which will provide any extra care that you need for your seeds.
Where Can I Grow Them
Most likely your hydroponic strawberries will be grown indoors or in a greenhouse. This puts you in charge of the lighting and temperature. Hydroponic strawberries require 10-12 hours of direct sunlight every day. Most likely you will not be able to give them this naturally, so you'll most likely need to provide your own lighting source. This is most popularly done through florescent or LED lighting. So, you will most likely need to buy a lamp for your strawberries to ensure they are getting the light they need daily. It may be best to also consider a timer for the light so they aren't over exposed.
Strawberries require warmer temperatures to grow, so you need to ensure that your home or greenhouse is between 65 and 75 degrees for optimal growth. Too much moisture in the air can also cause issues for your strawberries. So, it may be best to invest in a dehumidifier to prevent mold and mildew from growing.
Maintenance While Growing Your Plants
The best part about hydroponic strawberries are that they do not require much maintenance. One very important step to ensure fast and healthy growth is to keep an eye on your hydroponic system and make sure it is working properly. We discussed many ways above that things can go wrong with growth mediums causing pumps to break among other things. So it is important to monitor your system to make sure it is working properly and your strawberries are getting the nutrients that they need to remain healthy.
Some growers also prefer to trim and prune their plants as they grow. You will notice as your strawberries grow that flowers will also grow from the plant. Getting rid of these flowers will help your strawberries grow faster because it allows the plant to focus just on the growth of the strawberries and not the flower. It will also help create larger and healthier strawberries since the nutrients are only going there instead of to the flower as well. So, if you notice any flowers, go ahead and remove them.
Harvesting Your Strawberries
Yes, after all of your hard work it's finally time to harvest. the best part about strawberries is that they can be eaten right off the vine. There is no need for trimming or curing before consumption, but before you start enjoying your home-grown fruits, here are some ways to tell if your strawberries are ready to harvest:
It's hard to mess up your strawberries when it comes to harvesting. You pull them right off the vine ready to eat, so if they don't look like you could eat them now, it's not time yet.
When it's time to pick your strawberries, there are a few basic rules to follow. One rule is to be gentle because strawberries are known to bruise easily. This isn't a big deal if you are eating your strawberry right away, but if you want to save or even sell them, make sure you are gentle with this process.
Also, make sure you are rinsing off your strawberries before eating them just to be safe. This process is more popular among outside or soil grown strawberries, but it's a good practice to keep no matter which method that you use.
Make sure you are not pulling strawberries from the stem when you pick them. It is best to use a knife and cut the stem a little higher up. Pulling them off at the stem can cause bruising, and you don't want your newly grown strawberries to go to waste.
Hopefully by now, you are well on your way to growing your own hydroponic strawberries. Just like with any other plant, it is important to keep an eye on your plant and system to prevent issues. While a lot of things could go wrong, as discussed above, you can always try again. Not many people can grow perfect strawberries the first time they try. So try it out, and whatever doesn't work for you, make adjustments for the next plant. But most importantly, have fun and enjoy the experience, whether it's a small system in your home or an entire greenhouse.