How much space is required for growing three tomato plants hydroponically?

Q:

I just purchased my first condo and I am considering growing some plants in the small spare room. I want to grow three tomato plants. What kind of equipment and space requirements are required for this purpose?

A:

It’s a good idea to start small with your first indoor garden and gradually increase in size as you gain experience. Three tomato plants would be a good place to start. With the correct level of lighting, three indeterminate tomato plants require around 15-16 sq. ft., which gives sufficient space for you to access the plants as well as allows good air flow up and under the foliage that is required for temperature control, good plant growth and disease prevention.

There are two factors to consider when planning an indoor garden: the environment and the hydroponic system. The environment in the room needs to be modified for plant growth—air must be vented in and out of the indoor garden on a frequent basis to remove humidity (plants release a lot of water vapor) and to supply fresh CO2 for photosynthesis.

Tomato plants have a high light requirement, particularly if you want fruit with good sugar levels, and one of the biggest mistakes made by first-time indoor gardeners is underestimating lighting or overcrowding their plants so that insufficient light is received for optimal yields. Use HID lighting; two 250-W HPS lamps with timers on an 18- hour day length would be sufficient. Take care that heat output from the lamps doesn’t overheat the room or burn the plants.

Hydroponic systems for tomatoes are diverse; however, it is best to choose one that is recirculating and self-contained to avoid leaks. A waterproof floor surface is also advisable. There are many small set-ups on the market that would be suitable for three tomato plants.

Tomatoes develop a large root system so chose a system that has a good-sized rooting volume designed for fruiting plants rather than smaller crops such as lettuce or herbs. You will also need a supply of hydroponic nutrients and monitoring equipment (EC or TDS and pH meter).

Finally, the room needs temperature control. Tomatoes grow best at 75 to 82°F by day and 69 to 73°F by night (the day/night temperature difference is essential for strong flowering and fruiting) so heating and cooling in the room must be able to provide this.

Hydroponic retailers and suppliers will be able to provide you with a wealth of equipment options and advice on setting up your first system, so check out all the options before deciding which best suits your indoor space. Good luck!

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Written by Lynette Morgan
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Dr. Lynette Morgan holds a B. Hort. Tech. degree and a PhD in hydroponic greenhouse production from Massey University, New Zealand. Lynette is a partner with Suntec International Hydroponic Consultants and has authored several hydroponic technical books. Visit suntec.co.nz for more information.  Full Bio

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