Horticulture Magazine

How To Grow DIY Hydroponic Strawberries

strawberries growing hydroponically

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a perfectly ripe, sweet, soft strawberry. As one of the nation’s favourite fruits, many of us are keen to try and grow our own.

One method of producing this beautiful berry in our gardens is hydroponic growing. And, whether you’re a hydroponic beginner or know your stuff, we’ve laid out a DIY guide below.

Grown in half the time of using traditional soil, hydroponic growing methods can result in strawberry produce all year round. Hydroponic gardening removes the need for soil, as the berry is grown in a nutrient-rich container.

For those that are completely new to hydroponic berry production, strawberries are a great starting point. They’re easy to grow and will give you the experience and confidence needed to grow other types of produce in this way too.

Background

Hydroponics is part of the hydroculture family. In garden terminology, this simply means that plants can be grown without the use of soil. The traditional growing method is replaced with a nutrient-rich water solvent, which sees plants thrive and even grow better in some cases than they would with the use of soil.

The term hydroponics may sound pretty futuristic, but humans have been using similar methods for thousands of years. The earliest examples being the Hanging Garden of Babylon as well as The Floating Gardens of China. Today, thanks to the assistance of modern technology, we can apply the same gardening principles to grow plants quicker and faster.

In modern hydroponics, William Frederick Gericke of the University of California in 1929 began to promote the method as a way of growing ‘soilless plants’ and claimed that hydroponics would revolutionize plant agriculture.

Can You Grow Strawberries Hydroponically?

Hydroponic systems give you the ability to grow strawberries at any time. Unlike the results of traditional growing methods, you can find yourself enjoying succulent strawberries even in the winter months.

Due to their high water content, strawberries do exceptionally well when grown hydroponically. Using the method you can grow them anywhere from your garage to your kitchen – there are very few limitations.

red and green strawberries growing in a hydroponic system
It’s a beautiful sight once the plants start to bear fruit

If you want to grow your strawberries using a hydroponic method, you’ll need to set aside a bit of cash to get started. We’re going to introduce you to the two main system set-ups and explain how they work.

While it may be initially off-putting to have to invest money into setting up your own DIY hydroponic system, the results are certainly worth it. There are lots of advantages of growing strawberries using this method when compared to traditional soil, which we will come on to later.

What Is The Best Hydroponic System For Strawberries?

There are multiple hydroponic systems for growing strawberries. Both of the options we’ve set out below (which are popular amongst strawberry growers) will require you to set aside some money for the bits of equipment. Once set up, however, you’ll reap the benefits of using either of these soilless techniques…

These are the two most common techniques used to hydroponically grow strawberries:

N.F.T.

As the most common hydroponic technique used for strawberries out there, N.F.T (nutrient film technique) involves sitting the plants in a net pot ensuring that their roots are hanging liberally in the ‘root zone’.

This efficient technique also allows for a reusable nutrient solution. The growing tray is set down on an incline with the solution being pumped continuously around a circuit. You’ll need an alternative power source readily available in case of electricity failure.

Ebb and Flow

Otherwise known as the flood and drain method, this hydroponic technique is very similar to that of N.F.T. The plant’s roots will stay submerged in a growing medium and large amounts of nutrient solution is pumped to flood. The cycle will last a few minutes altogether.

Through the use of gravity, the solution after being flooded on the growing medium will drain itself naturally.

Hydroponic Nutrients For Strawberries

If you want to grow strawberries using a hydroponic method you’ll need to consider the nutrients you’ll use in the solution. As the berries will be entirely dependent on the elements available to them, you should ensure that the following are used:

  • Key nutrients – This includes Nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. These 3 nutrients are essential for a strawberry’s survival. Nitrogen will help to build cells and aids the growth of the plant’s leaves and stems, phosphorus is crucial for healthy roots and potassium will allow photosynthesis to happen.
  • Trace elements – Outside of the key nutrients, strawberries will also rely on some elements to be present in very minuscule amounts. Manganese, copper, iron, cobalt, chlorine, zinc and molybdenum should be used in your nutrient setup. Without these, your plants won’t grow fruits.

Hydroponic Strawberries vs Soil Growing

There are several benefits to growing hydroponic strawberries when compared with traditional soil growing. As mentioned above, growing strawberries hydroponically requires no soil whatsoever.

Water use

Choosing to grow strawberries hydroponically is far more water-efficient than growing these plants in soil. In a hydroponic system, the drainage water is collected and reused. In traditional soil growing, strawberries are watered from above. Some farms have reported using 85% less water through the use of hydroponic systems.

Pests

Hydroponic systems eliminate the thread of pests as without soil there isn’t the environment in which to host them. A further advantage of this is that hydroponic strawberries require no pesticides, making them more wholesome to eat. Strawberries that are grown in the soil also have to compete with weeds to grow.

Planting

Using a hydroponic system, strawberry plant containers can be stacked vertically, saving space and making them easier to tend to when compared to strawberries grown on ground-level. The advantage of using such a system is that it also allows for an increase in the density of plants in an area.

Cost

While it’s true that the upfront costs of setting up a hydroponic system are significantly higher than choosing the soil route, you’ll benefit from yields all year-round. Many commercial farmers can benefit from greater revenue thanks to the quality of the plants.

Yield

When comparing yields, hydroponic systems generally are crowned the winner. Losses are also smaller than that of soil methods, where plants are at threat of pesticides, the weather and other external factors.

Setting Up A Hydroponic System For Growing Strawberries From A Plug

Now that we’ve covered the ins and outs of the types of hydroponic systems that can be used to grow strawberry plants, you’re probably eager to get started.

Generally speaking, most gardeners will choose to grow their strawberries in a greenhouse that has been set up especially for hydroponic methods. However, you can also take a DIY approach and grow indoors too.

If you’ve decided that you want to grow the fruit using this soilless method, you’ll want to ensure that you have everything required before you begin your new gardening project.

In this DIY guide, we’ve set out the steps for growing strawberries using a starter plug, which can be bought from your local garden store or via an online retailer.

Starting point

Clean away any soil from the root of the plug. You can do this by shaking the plant gently. Next, soak the plant’s roots in water then rinse using cold running water to get rid of any last bits of soil.

Secure the plant

Using your net pot, you’ll need to secure the plant using clay pebbles, or another growing medium.

Tips for planting

When you’re planting your plug it’s really important to ensure that the crown of the plant is placed at the right height inside of the growing medium. By planting too deeply you risk root rot and in contrast, if planted too shallow, the roots risk drying out. Always place the plant slightly lower than normal and then pull it up the growing medium while simultaneously shaking the pots to keep roots seated.

Within a few weeks…

You should begin to see flowers develop and you can use runners from the plant to start others.

Removing flower buds

While you may already see flowers growing after just a few weeks, it’s advised to remove them as this will encourage the plant’s healthy growth. Once the plant has reached an ideal size, the flowers can be left to produce fruit.

Continuous fruit production

Once your plants begin to produce the strawberry fruits, you’ll be able to keep this going throughout the year. Unlike soil growing, strawberries grown indoors using a hydroponic system aren’t dependent on the seasons. Ensure that your plants have the correct environment and that the solution used for hydration also contains the right level of nutrients to keep the plants thriving.

Frequently Asked Questions

If our above guide hasn’t answered all of your questions surrounding hydroponically growing strawberries, we have a few more bits of information for you below:

Are Hydroponic Strawberries Organic?

Technically speaking, hydroponic strawberries are not organic. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the debate as to whether or not a hydroponic system is classified as an organic growing method.

Some hydroponically grown produce has been certified as organic, however many farmers argue that this certification should only be applied to produce grown using soil.

How Long Does It Take To Grow Strawberries Hydroponically?

The process can take quite some time, but the good news is that once fruit begins to emerge, you can expect yields throughout the year.

From seed, it can take 2-3 years before the plant begins to produce fruit. However, if you use rootstock you can expect fruit to begin to grow within 2-3 months depending on the variety used.

Which Variety Of Strawberry Should I Use?

There are lots of delicious strawberry varieties out there, which can leave you wondering which exactly is best for growing in a hydroponic system. It’s always advisable to go for a day-neutral as they are capable of flowering and producing fruit year-round.

We’ve set out some of the varieties that you could use below:

  • Seascape – firm, good-sized with delicious flavour.
  • Albion – sweet with a long, conical shape.
  • Quinault – wider berries that are self-pollinating.
  • Mara de Bois – firm, good-sized with a sweet delicate flavour.
  • Tribute – flavourful and medium-sized.

No matter which variety of strawberries you chose to grow, taste and quality are never compromised using a hydroponic system. The quality of the fruit has been reported as superior in some cases to traditional soil-based strawberry growing methods.

Growing plants hydroponically will never limit the taste of the herbs, vegetables or fruits produces because they are sure to still receive the same nutrients due to the carefully prepared solution used.

How Often Should The Nutrient Solution Be Changed?

This is an important question and something that needs to be considered to ensure that the plants can grow healthily. Smaller plants will require fewer nutrients. When growing, the strawberry’s consumption of nutrients will increase and, in the summer,  they will consume more water in comparison to the winter.

You should measure conductivity daily to help you understand the intake of the nutrient solution and change the solution based on this.

A Final Note On Hydroponic Fruit

Hydroponic growing systems aren’t only limited to smaller fruits and plants. Many people who are interested in growing their hydroponic produce will generally start out with a simple fruit such as strawberries.

Tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes, raspberries and blueberries can all be grown in this way too.

Vegetables are also commonly grown using hydroponic greenhouses too. Two of the highest valued veggies, basil and mushrooms, can grow healthily and turn over a large profit for farmers and those who grow crops for an income.

So, if you’re up for a new gardening challenge or, you’re simply looking for a less strenuous alternative to scooping down to harvest your strawberries, hydroponics could be the ideal solution for you.

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