How to Grow Juicy Red Tomatoes in Aerogarden: Stepwise Guide
Want to grow fresh tomatoes indoors?
Fortunately, you don’t need an expensive greenhouse anymore to keep your tomato plants alive in winters.
Moreover, you don’t have to spend a fortune or need a large growing space anymore.
Just switch to aerogardening to grow tomatoes throughout the year indoors. There are several reasons people use aerogarden systems in contemporary homes.
- Excellent for compact spaces
- Effortless gardening
- 5x faster growth
If this sounds interesting, you can do much even with a small basic setup.
Tomato is the perfect option…I would recommend it to any novice aerogardener.
If you want to start indoor gardening, read my beginner’s guide on how to grow tomatoes in an aerogarden. To help you get the maximum produces, I have also suggested a few growing tips (see the pro tips) and care measures in this article.
So just dive in to explore the easy steps to grow aerogarden tomatoes for a faster harvest.
Best Tomato Varieties for the Aerogarden
Like many other growers, I started aerogardening with tomatoes. It was my mistake to jump-start without knowing the vital facts. I wish, I knew everything about it before starting. The results were frustrating- no flowers at all!
I wanted big tomatoes but didn’t know giant red heirlooms require an advanced growing kit. The stem and branches of the tomato plants are too tender to support the weight of large fruits.
In the lawn garden, you have plenty of space around the plants to set up a trellis system for support. The aerogarden kit on a countertop hardly has extra space for any form of support.
That’s why I recommend beginners to start with plants that get small fruits. This is easy to grow even in a basic grow system. Hence, the best aerogarden tomato varieties are:
- Cherry tomatoes (red heirloom/golden harvest/dwarf)
All of these varieties produce lightweight tiny luscious fruits. The branches can easily bear a load of these fruits without much support.
Essential Requirements to Grow Aerogarden Tomatoes
Aerogarden is an automated growing system for indoor plants. It reduces the tireless and messy work in the soil garden.
However, to start this graceful dream gardening method, you will need to do some early preparations. Take my word… it is worth every cent and all your efforts.
Just ensure you gather all the items mentioned below. Get these essentials and store them at your aerogarden spot. Keeping things in one place will make the entire process a breeze.
- Aerogarden system
- Seedpod kits (determine the number of tomato plants you want to grow at a time)
- Nutrient and fertilizers* (liquid/water-soluble tablets)
- Pumps and filtration system for water supply
- Children’s electric toothbrush (pollination)
* Some seed pod kits are available in a combo package with plant nutrients and fertilizers.
Step-by-Step Guide to Grow Aerogarden Tomatoes
If you don’t want to start with herbs, tomatoes are the ideal choice for beginners. It’s easy and hassle-free. You must perform all the steps exactly as I have stated below.
You can start with a new aerogarden system (if it is your first time). But if you already have a system, it is useful for growing tomatoes as well. For your help, I have added an extra step on how to clean and sanitize the aerogarden system before starting tomato plantation.
Step 1: Cleaning and Sterilization (For Old Aerogarden Systems)
Just brought a new aerogarden system?
You don’t need to clean it. It is a clean and sterilized system ready for use. So unpack with care and start forthwith step 2.
It is mandatory to clean an aerogarden system thoroughly before starting a new crop.
Cleaning and sterilization is the initial step (compulsory) for used/old aerogarden systems. It’s good if you have already cleaned it after removing the previous plants.
But it may still contain traces of toxins, pathogens, etc. An unhygienic aerogarden system can ruin the new plants.
- Add ¼ cup liquid chlorine-based bleaching agent or 5 cups of white vinegar (4%-8% acetic acid mix in distilled water) to a bowl of water
- Connect the aerator/pump to your aerogarden system and run the solution thoroughly (5-10 minutes).
- Now remove the cleaning solution and run fresh water into the system and rinse properly. This should not take more than 10-15 minutes.
- Take out the grow bowl and wash it thoroughly with plain water once again to hose down the remaining deposits
That’s all you need to do for the cleaning part. Your aerogarden is now ready for growing new tomato plants.
Step 2: Prepare the Aerogarden Grow Tank for Plantation
- Open the lid to fill the water in your grow tank. Follow the mark titled ‘Fill to Here’ on the bowl.
- Add nutrients (liquid/water-soluble tablets) in the exact quantity as mentioned on the label of the bottle.
Use distilled water or normal tap water for best plant growth.
- Never use soft water to grow aerogarden plants. It can damage the crops. The water should be at room temperature.
- Don’t overfill the bowl with water or nutrient.
Step 3: Tomato Seed Pod Plantation
A ready-to-use seed pod kit makes this step the easiest of all.
- Place the seed pods in the holes on the grow basket*.
- Cover the pods with germination domes. Remove the domes when leaves start coming out of the pods.
*Tomato plant roots grow large with too many root hairs. Aerogarden systems have limited space. It may be disappointing, but you must leave some holes empty to provide enough room for plant growth.
It is wise to use only two holes in an aerogarden having 9 slots. For small models with 3-5 holes, I recommend starting with a single plant.
If you place the seed pods too close to each other, the root hairs can get intertwined as the plants grow bigger. Apart from affecting plant growth, this can cause several problems while cleaning the grow basket.
- Don’t forget to place the tiny germination domes on the seed pods. The domes retain the heat and moisture (much like the greenhouse effect) the seeds will need to grow faster.
- Close the empty holes with lids to prevent loss of water-nutrient solution due to evaporation.
Step 4: Install the Grow Lights
Tomatoes thrive well in warm temperatures. Therefore the plants will need plenty of lights to get the required heat.
Keep the lights on for at least 16 hours a day. During the germination stage, place the grow lights at the lowest height possible (1-2 inches above the domes).
- Don’t forget to turn off the lights for 8 hours every day.
- Adjust the height of the lights as the plants start growing bigger.
- The LED illumination should be placed close to the plant. Never keep them too high. The gap between the lights and the top of the plant should not be more than 2 inches.
- Keep the aerogarden system away from the windows during winter. Even a cold breeze can slow down plant growth.
Step 5: Plant Care during Various Growth Phases
Once you are done with step 4, the next step involves a series of care measures before the flowers start appearing. Just follow these plant care best practices to get a high-quality yield.
Note: You will need to prune or trim the plant several times during the entire lifecycle.
- Always use sharp pair of scissors or pruners for the job. Using blunt cutting tools may damage the trimmed part making it prone to infections.
- Use clean and sterilized cutters for pruning and trimming your plants for safety.
#1. Remove the Weak Shoots
When the tomato plant starts growing (during the 2nd week), you will find several shoots popping out of the same seed pod. When the plants are at least 1” long, monitor the sprouts closely. Cut off the weak shoots growing from the pod.
#2. Topping for Maximum Production
Novice growers may be afraid of stunted vegetative growth. But experienced aerogardeners do this to maximize the harvests.
Be tricky to allow the tomato plant to grow until it develops 5 nodes. When they have grown to a sufficient height, cut off the upper part of the main stem carefully.
Topping allows you to grow two main stems on a tomato plant instead of one.
#3. Trim the Leaves and Lower Branches
Tomato plants produce plenty of leaves. This looks good but often blocks passage for the light to penetrate the vital plant parts. Look for the leaves that are covering the bulbs or the stem to a large extent. Trim down the unwanted and dried leaves with a pair of ultra-sharp scissors.
Even after the flowers start appearing, you need to monitor the plant for unwanted growth. Chop off the lower branches of the plant as it grows taller. Remove the branches and leaves growing outside the light spectrum.
- You may trim up to 20% leaves at a time
- Never trim the bulbs when trimming the leaves. They will develop into fruits in the due course.
#4. Change Water at the Right Time
Most aerogarden systems give alerts when your plants need a freshwater supply. But it is a good practice to change the water in the system every 15 days.
#5. Don’t Forget to Feed the Plants
The nutrient is very vital for aerogarden plants. Tomatoes require a good supply of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus alongside some macronutrients (sodium, calcium, and magnesium) for proper growth. Plants in the outdoor garden receive these ingredients from the soil and fertilizers.
But aerogardening is a soilless cultivation method where you must add liquid nutrients to the water. This is the sole source of feeding your tomatoes in the system.
Just follow the indicator and add the required dose of nutrients. In general, your plants will need a fresh dose of nutrients every two weeks.
#6. Pruning the Suckers is Vital for Healthy Plant Growth
The weak stems growing between the base and the branches are called suckers. These stems will never produce any fruit or do any good for healthy plant growth. Rather they would consume the bulk share of plant nutrients.
Check your plants periodically and remove the suckers with sharp pruners.
Step 6: Perform Artificial Pollination at the Right Time
Insects do the natural pollination for outdoor tomato flowers. But for aerogarden plants, you will have to do their part. You can follow any of the two methods:
This is the most preferred and convenient way to pollinate indoor plants. Rub the flowers with a mild using an electric toothbrush. That’s all!
Allow the pollens to blow naturally to the female flowers using a table fan. But you must ensure that it is blowing at a low speed. High-speed air from the blower fan can cause acute dryness and damage to the plant parts. The delicate flowers can blow away or dry out.
Step 7: Attach Plant Support
When the fruits grow bigger, some branches may bend down or break due to heavyweight. This can damage the entire plant before getting a harvest. Check the branches with maximum fruit. Tie them to a support system before they bend down.
Small tomatoes such as cherry varieties can grow with little support. If any support is required, you may tie the heavy branches to the grow light stand or anything reliable with a string.
Step 8- Harvest the Aerogarden Tomatoes
Depending on the tomato variety, you can expect the first harvest in 9-12 weeks after the plantation. Don’t try to pull the tomatoes during harvesting. It can damage the plant parts. You can use a cutting tool for this purpose.
- Harvest the tomatoes at the time when you want to eat or cook them. This keeps the flavors and freshness intact.
- If you want to keep them for future use, harvest with some part of the stem and a few leaves. They continue to provide nutrition to the fruit even after detachment from the living plant.
Aerogarden Tomatoes- Growth & Timeline
Week 1: Germination
This phase requires maximum labor on your part. You need to configure the aerogarden system, adjust the lights, connect the pump, supply water and nutrients, plant the seed pods, etc.
For quick and healthy germination, you need to maintain 75°F temperature for the water and lights for at least 16 hours a day.
Week 2: Sprouting
By the second week, you should see a young stem with tiny leaves coming out of the pods. Once the plants come out, remove the domes immediately.
Week 3-4: Early Vegetative Phase
There is not much during this phase of tomato plant growth. However, you must check the water and nutrient level. Change the water or add a fresh dose of nutrients when you get alerts.
Week 5: Topping the Main Stem
By the 5th week, you should see the 5 nodes coming out. This is time to perform the topping. Follow the instructions as mentioned in the stepwise guide.
Week 6: Pruning and Stretching
Keep trimming the dried and big leaves blocking the lights. Don’t forget to raise the lights as the plants grow taller.
Week 7: Flowering and Pollination
By this time, you should see the flowers on your tomato plant. Pollinate the flowers as early as possible. If you delay this process, the flowers will dry out and fall. All your efforts will go in vain. The plants won’t produce any fruits without pollination.
Note: If your plants have too many flowers, pluck some of them to provide sufficient space for the fruits to grow.
Week 8-10: Young Fruits
By this time, small fruits should start appearing. If there are no fruits yet, do the pollination once again. Certain varieties take more time to produce fruits.
Week 11-12: First Harvest
Squeeze the tomatoes to check if they are ripe enough. Harvest them when you need them. Don’t wait too long for harvesting. This can lead to over-ripening.
The flowers will continue to appear on other branches. Pollinate them at the right time to continue receiving fresh produces regularly.
Aerogarden plants grow 5x faster than other forms of gardening. Just follow the system alerts to change the water and add the required dose of nutrients.
Tomatoes have an extended lifespan than most other aerogarden plants. With good caring, you can get juicy fruits for up to one year from the first harvest.
During the entire lifecycle, it is vital to clean the grow basket and change the water in the bowl at regular intervals. This keeps your plants safe from bacterial, fungal, and algal diseases.
I hope this guide will help you to grow fresh tomatoes that you will enjoy on the platter every day.