Hydroponic gardening has been getting off the ground for over a decade now, but you haven’t. You have the garage space for it, you have the time and the inclination, as well as a small budget you could consider outlaying if you only knew where to start. Really, it’s something you expect you’ll learn as you go, but you need the right gear to even get that far, don’t you? And that’s the confusing problem.
“I just need to get going on something but don’t know where to start”
So, here’s a project for you. Strawberries. Strawberries are an easy to grow, easy to understand, and rewarding crowd pleaser, that generally thrives if left ferral on land. It’s also a compact little leafy plant, which makes it an ideal candidate growing hydroponically. Here’s a little nudge in the right direction, so you can start learning hydroponic gardening as you do it.
“Can’t you just tell me which hydroponic system?!”
Yes. Ebb and Flow. Unlike its rival option, this system uses a growing medium, which is periodically flooded with a solution of hydroponic nutrients and then drained. It’s the easier option for learners as the growing medium keeps the plant roots moist and protected until the next feed. Other methods may give slightly better results if all goes to plan, but for now you want to keep those plants as safe from rookie mistakes as possible.
“So which are the best strawberries to grow hydroponically?”
That depends on whether you’re more impatient or more greedy. Do you want more strawberries or do you want strawberries as soon as possible?
If you want to harvest strawberries at the earliest possible time after planting, Day-Neutral strawberries like Albion and Evie 2 grow berries in their first year of growth, which most varieties don’t. They’re grown from seed as they don’t produce many runners (baby plants) and are typically grown where there isn’t a lot of room. Their berries are smaller than other types of strawberry but they can produce fruit continuously.
If you want more of them, Everbearing strawberry varieties like the Alexandria don’t usually fruit until their second year, but they produce two or three crops per year, which is rather more than June bearing or mid-season plants. It’s not really overbearing but that’s still enough berries for you to get fed up with them.
Starting off your hydroponic strawberries
For a quick start, you may opt for plugs rather than seeds that you have to propagate yourself. This will give you a head start on your plants reaching maturity and yielding fruit. Plugs are simply seedlings that have not yet sprouted mature roots and are widely available from most gardening centers. Some varieties will produce fruit within only a few weeks but do research the variety to avoid disappointment.
If you want a specific variety, you may find acquiring plugs a little more difficult, so ordering seeds is much simpler and is generally a cheaper option. Coco coir is a cheap and widely available growing medium that is used in hydroponic growing and is also available in plug form to use with seedlings in a propagator. These can then be transferred to your hydroponic system without disruption.
Conditions for growing hydroponic strawberries
Strawberries need at least 12 hours of light per day. Natural light works best, but grow lights can give your crop a boost, particularly if you’re growing out of season.
Maintain temperatures at 18-25 degrees Celsius as your plants will go dormant if they cool too much (although there is a chilling cheat that you should look up later).
Keep humidity levels down with a dehumidifier to minimize risks of mold and mildew. A container of bicarbonate of soda can also reduce humidity while also releasing carbon dioxide (which plants love).
Ensure you get the right schedule of hydroponic nutrients for Strawberries. Most hydroponic stockists offer a guide of which of their products to use and when with pre-mixed beginner options. These are obviously not as precise as the ones you tweak yourself but it’s a good starting point while you get the basics right.
There you go!
Easy isn’t it, when you put it like that? Now with all your basics covered, you just need to go shopping for your Ebb and Flow system, your nutrients, and your seeds. Then it’s largely a game of waiting, watching and timing things right.