Nutrients: How Sweet It Is

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February 14, 2015

Or isn’t, depending on your latest harvest’s tastiness. Should you have used a different nutrient, or is something else amiss in the indoor garden when your strawberries could be sweeter, or your tomatoes richer flavored? You can’t just add some sugar. Flavor is a delicate thing to achieve. One that relies on a number of inputs, including your growing environment.

Now, if you’re not using high quality nutes, this could be part of why your tomatoes are bland, or your berries don’t taste up to par. Low priced hydroponic nutrients are less expensive for a reason. You want top notch produce, so give your plants the good stuff… with extras. One of the vital things in plant nutrition that is missing in soilless growing is microorganisms. Without them the results from your garden will never be the same as what you can harvest from the soil. It’s a team endeavor. Plants need all those microscopic little workers a lot more than you think, so be sure to amp up your growing power by adding those microbes and beneficial bacteria. Don’t use lab created brands, you’ll be missing a lot of oomph there.

Standard nutrients give your crop the basics, but they’re missing important organic inputs like humic acid, amino acids, fulvic acid, and seaweed extract. These are all things known to raise the bar on flavor in hydroponic harvests. They help your plants to increase the uptake of minerals, and getting the mineral balance right is key to developing excellent flavor, or high brix as it is called. It also gives you the bonus of healthier, more robust plants.

What makes the sweetest strawberries? Part of it is the cultivar. You can’t make a low-sugar type of strawberry any sweeter than it was meant to be. If you’re growing commercial varieties of berries, then they’ll never be super sweet, because they’ve been bred for long distance shipping and long shelf life too. Sugar, you see, is the enemy of the mainstream food system. It causes early spoiling in produce. A huge factor in why homegrown food always tastes better – it’s not just vine ripening that is the secret. The same is true of tomatoes, which also had to have better shipping and storage attributes built in through breeding. So, choose your seed and starters wisely.

Sugar content in anything is a carbohydrate, and yes, even though they’re usually tangy, high carbohydrate content in tomato plants is what gives you that incredible tomatoey taste. You need to increase your potassium and lower the nitrogen to hit that sweet spot in harvest flavor. Why? Because nitrogen burns carbohydrates, and potassium steps up carbohydrate production. You don’t want to overdo it though, because the plants still need nitrogen in the flowering and fruiting stage, but not nearly as much as in the vegetation stage.

Believe it or not, the amount and quality of your indoor garden lighting is also a major player in arriving at flavor nirvana. Photosynthesis is a major part of the creation of carbohydrates in plants. If you don’t have sufficient light, you will never have the sweetest berries or most awesome tasting tomatoes, because you’re missing a big part of the system here. Light is far more crucial to the quality of your harvest than most indoor gardeners understand. LEDs, CFLs, and HO T5s are never going to give you this highly sought after result of big flavor in fruiting plants. These are great for getting seeds started for moving outdoors in spring, for vegetative stage growing in the grow room, and for growing greens, but if you want fruit you need more light energy. Not just for more robust plants, but for more carbohydrate production that leads to bigger flavor in the end.

Temperature can also be a problem. If it’s too low, your crop will slow down everything. If it’s too hot they’ll be stressed on the other end of the scale.

How’s your co2 level? Don’t think you need this? Aah, but you do. It’s an important part of your indoor garden’s ability to perform superbly, and flavor is a superb food attribute.

If you’ve got all of the above in total control, and you’re still left wondering what you’re doing wrong – it might be as simple as over-watering. Too much rainfall outdoors always waters down the flavor of the harvest, and you can come up against the same problem in your indoor garden. Too much moisture content also cause things like splitting in tomatoes, mild jalapenos, and produce that goes bad way before it should.

Flavor is fine tuning everything, and if you are super serious about achieving this goal, your might want to invest in a brix refractometer. It’s best not to guess, you don’t want the potassium to get too high either. It’s all about balance and providing an environment that allows them perform at optimum levels and in peak health.

Tammy Clayton

Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine
Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.
Tammy Clayton

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