Due to their large water content and structural similarities to the extracellular matrix, hydrogels are an attractive class of material in the tissue engineering field. Polymers capable of ionotropic gelation are of special interest due to their ability to form gels at mild conditions. In this study we have developed an experimental toolbox to measure the gelling kinetics of alginate upon crosslinking with calcium ions. A reaction-diffusion model for gelation has been used to describe the diffusion of calcium within the hydrogel and was shown to match experimental observations well. In particular, a single set of parameters was able to predict gelation kinetics over a wide range of gelling ion concentrations. The developed model was used to predict the gelling time for a number of geometries, including microspheres typically used for cell encapsulation. We also demonstrate that this toolbox can be used to spatiotemporally investigate the formation and evolution of mineral within the hydrogel network via correlative Raman microspectroscopy, confocal laser scanning microscopy and electron microscopy.