Strawberries are some of the easiest fruits to cultivate in hydroponic systems. They are the perfect crops to grow for hydroponics beginners who are looking for a reasonable challenge beyond the usual herb and greens. Master the little tips and tricks of cultivating strawberries via a hydroponic system and you will be able to enjoy this berry all year round.
Seeds or Runners – Which to pick?
Choosing the right starting choice can greatly simplify your strawberry cultivation experience. Many beginners make the mistake of choosing seeds. Unknown to many, it takes up to two to three years for strawberry plants to germinate and grow from seeds, which is certainly not a time most of us can afford or are going for. Additionally, strawberry plants that grow from seeds may not inherit the desirable qualities of the fruit they are derived from, which can be a deal-breaker.
We generally encourage seeds for more seasoned green thumbers who have their own outdoor garden. These seasoned growers probably have a plan to combat the unwanted microorganisms and pests that are a detriment to the growth of strawberry plants.
Runners are by far the more preferred option when it comes to growing strawberries via hydroponics. For those not familiar with what runners are, they are horizontal stems capable of sprouting roots and creating their own plants. These stems are typically harvested from mature strawberry plants and allowed to grow their roots out. They are then chilled and stored, and ready to be sold in gardening stores.
Types of strawberries
There are three common varieties of strawberries, categorized based on their growing seasons and light demands: Short Day, Day Neutral, and Everbearing.
The Short Day, also known as June Bearing, is the most common amongst the three. They are often found cultivated in the outdoors, instead of hydroponic systems. As their name suggests, this specific variation of the strawberry plant begins growing during the shorter days of winter, and bearing fruit usually by early spring
This variation takes some time to produce only one large harvest per year. Although you can increase the output by cultivating them in the hydroponic system, it is really not quite worth the additional effort and time spent. Generally for Short Day, we recommended cultivars such as Benton, Allstar, and Annapolis.
Day Neutral, on the other hand, is capable of producing fruit throughout the entire year, all the way from summer to fall. Due to this feature, they are the most popular pick for greenhouses and hydroponics.
For Day Neutral, we highly recommend cultivars including Seascape, Quinault, and Hecker, which also happens to be the popular choices for many.
The last of the three, Everbearing, are the earliest multi-crop strawberries variants to exist, developed way back in the 1960s. These everbearing strawberry plants can have up to as many as three crops growing in a season. The trade-off is, of course, lower fruit yields as opposed to Day Neutrals. Those who prefer higher yields may consider choosing Day Neutrals instead. One thing to note is that both of these types cease producing fruits during summer due to the intense heat.
For this variation, the popular choices are Picnic, Albion, and Laramie.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to cultivating plants in hydroponics. However, some factors to take note of are the supply of runners available for your purchase in your area. Generally, most stores are well-stocked and have enough runners to go about at any time of the year. Otherwise, keep a lookout during late winter and early spring, where runner stocks are typically the highest.
You can also procure your own runners once you start your own hydroponics strawberry crop. Remember to refrigerate them for around 6 – 12 weeks to achieve the required cold stimulation.
Light & Pollonation
Depending on the type of strawberries, the plants may require different amounts of light. Typically, 8 – 12 hours is sufficient for proper growth. There is no need to vary the light in the different stages of their growth.
To stimulate pollination in indoor hydroponics, one can simply brush your hands across the open flowers gently.
The ideal range of temperature is between 60 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit, or 15 – 27 degrees Celsius for strawberries. To stimulate daytime and nighttime temperatures, around 20 degrees Celsius and 10 – 12 degrees are ideal respectively.
Strawberry plants also hibernate for about two to five months during the winter months. To stimulate this, one can store the plants in refrigerators. Remember to wrap the plants securely in plastic.
Nutrients and trace elements are essential for the growth of strawberry plants. Ensure that you are using a nutrient mix specifically for hydroponics and your plants should be fine.
The essential nutrients include nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Nitrogen aids cell growth, potassium is needed for photosynthesis, and phosphorus for roots, flowers, and buds of the plant.
Trace elements such as iron, manganese, zinc, copper, molybdenum, cobalt, and chlorine, support healthy plant growth, which we recommend.
Optimizing EC & PH levels
The optimal pH level for the nutrient solution used to grow strawberries is generally in the range of 5.8 – 6.2.
For strawberries, the ideal EC is 1.0 dS/cm. In the case of hydroponics, it should be between 1.4 – 3.0 dS/cm.
Growing Strawberries via Wicking
Although there are many techniques to cultivate strawberries, the best method for beginners is the wick system, as one does not need to own water pumps and set up complicated irrigations.
Let us walk through the basic items you’ll need. First would be a reservoir to hold the nutrient solution. We suggest using a large five-gallon tub or bucket. Next, prepare growing containers. Individual pots or a single large trough both work. It is important that these containers can rest securely on the reservoir.
Moving on to the wicks, we suggest using nylon, rayon, cotton material strips, or ropes. For the growing medium, a combination of perlite-vermiculite or coco coir with perlite is recommended. The nutrient mix and strawberry runners can be bought from your local gardener. Remember to clean off all traces of soil and disinfect the plants.
Now for the process. Soak the growing medium in pH balanced water for half an hour, and then use them to fill two-thirds of the growing container. Fill the reservoirs with water and then the nutrient mix, and check for the optimal pH EC levels.
Clean the wicks in pH balanced water. After that, place them between the connecting growth containers in the reservoirs. At this stage, the wicks should be in contact with the growing medium and are able to freely angle in the reservoir.
Now, place the growing container over the reservoirs and ensure that it is secured. Then, place the strawberry plant in the container and ensure that the roots are spread evenly in the growing medium. You can add more growing medium to submerge the roots, but not the crown of the plant.
For daily maintenance, check the reservoir’s water levels and top up when necessary. It is important to check the pH and EC levels before refilling the container with a new nutrient water mix, and adjust accordingly if it is not in the recommended range. Ensure that the plants are getting enough light.
Additionally, flush out the growing medium with fresh water to get rid of accumulated mineral salts weekly. To pollinate, brush the flowers of the plants with your finger gently.
When fruits grow, wait till they are red and ripe before harvesting. It is recommended that you clip excess runners to be able to grow and enjoy home-grown strawberries throughout the year.
We hope that you are now better prepared to grow your own strawberries with hydroponics. Do not be afraid to experiment as it does take some trying to get the optimal growth and yield. Once you are familiar with the process, you can consider using other hydroponic techniques or cultivating other plants.