When cultivating tomato plants, the grow media should be thoroughly soaked and evenly moist before sowing any seeds. There are a variety of soilless grow media available for propagating tomato plants including perlite, peat and peat pellets.
Soilless mixes will usually contain enough nutrients to sustain plants for the first few weeks without the need to add fertilizer to the water. Inert media such as rockwool or oasis will require fertilizer immediately.
Tomato plants can be grown in various types of media. We recommend rockwool because they are available in various sizes allowing the smaller cubes to nest or fit into larger cubes. This allows the plants to be transplanted with little or no shock to the plant.
Oasis cubes can be used and are similar to rockwool in terms of drainage ability and sterility. Urethane foam and paper fiber can also be used.
Seeds should be sown approximately 1/4-3/8" deep in media. A thin layer of vermiculite should be sprinkled on top, covering the cubes to retain moisture. As an alternative, a sheet of clear plastic may be used.
Do not use plastic to cover germination cube if plants receive direct sunlight because temperature may exceed acceptable levels ideal for seed germination. Remove plasitc cover immediately following germination or emergence.
The most common method used for germinating seedlings is the overhead watering technique. Seedlings should be in full sun and maintained at proper temperature once germination occurs. Seedlings should be irrigated evenly to allow even growth. Plants should be checked and monitored reguraly and should not experience water stress.
Ebb & Flow (Flood & Drain) systems can be used for germinating seedlings. In these systems, nutrient solution flood a shallow tray, providing moisture from the bottom, which saturates the grow media through capillary action.
When the cubes are evenly moist, the tray is drained, allowing proper aeration of plant roots. Because this process needs to be done a few times daily, a timer is recommended to minimize manual labor. In general, the system do not need to be flooded and drained during the night.
Nutrient solution temperature
The temperature of the nutrient solution should be at least 18° C (64° F). If the solution is colder than the recommended temperature, plant growth rate will slow down. During winter seasons, espically in the Norther latitudes, supplemental lighting may be required for 14-18 hours daily to promote vigorously growing plants.
Plants go through three stages of early development including germination, post-emergence and transplant. Within one week of seeding, germination will usually occur. Post-emergence is typically between 5-12 days of seeding. Transplanting should be done between 12-14 days from seeding.
When the fist set of true leaves appear (during post-emergence), seedlings should be transplanted into larger cubes and spaced evenly to maximize light reaching plants.
During the life time of the plant, you may need to re-space and reorganize the plants as they grow and get bigger. If plants are crowded, they tend to become spindly. If plants become "leggy," with long stems, transplant them into larger cubes with the stems bent 180° and nest it into the larger cube up-side down. See illustration below.
Tomato plants will grow adventitious roots from the stems placed in the grow media, producing a stronger plant with more roots.
The last or final transplant should be done before flowering is induced. Thoroughly leach and moisten the media and ensure proper temperature before transplanting.
Tomatoes grown in hydroponics applications can be placed much closer than those grown in soil. Plants can be as close as 2 sq. ft. apart and produce acceptable yeild and quality in well lit environments. Spacing should be relative to light levels. The more light an area recieves the closer the plants can be spaced.
After transplanting tomatoes, they may require support. Strings or wires may be used to support the plants and should be placed before adding any other accessories to the environment. The wires should be able to support hundreds of pounds as each mature plant with fruits may exceed 20-30 lbs. Additional vertical poles can be used to connect the horizontal wires.
Wires and strings should be hung at least 10 ft. above ground. Never reuse strings in new applications. A variety of clips are available which can be sterilized and re-used. As the plant grows and get bigger, the strings will unwind from their hangers and move along the horizontal wires, lowering the plant without breaking them.
Mature tomato plants may grow to over 40 feet (12 meters) in length or larger.
This article courtesy of www.hydroponicsearch.com
Rockwool, Oasis, Perlite, Peat pellet, Peat, Ebb & Flow
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