Hydroponic growing techniques have made abundant fresh food possible in a truly sustainable way. Hydroponics is often described as the future of food and the future of farming. But, why?
When imagining a farm or a garden, most of us imagine a plot of land covered in soil and organized with lines of various plants. Instead, imagine a garden where control and sustainability are the biggest priorities; where farmers and gardeners can ensure that plants are receiving the exact growing conditions needed to thrive. Hydroponics have made this future of food possible. In this article, we will cover the advantages and disadvantages of hydroponics and why hydroponics represents the future of sustainable agriculture.
The future of food is here as hydroponic tomatoes and greens make their way to the shelves of grocery stores. But, why should you choose hydroponic produce options over all the other options?
Hydroponically grown produce is an uber-sustainable way of growing produce, resulting in highly-nutritious, organic harvests. Hydroponic systems are easy to set up within your own home, and odds are there is a local hydroponic farm near you!
Read on for the “why?” when it comes to hydroponics.
In simple terms, hydroponics is the method of growing plants without soil. This statement alone leads many to wonder, how can plants grow without soil?
In traditional gardening and farming, soil simply provides plants with a source of nutrients to fuel their growth. Good soil contains an abundance of nutrients that plants can seek out and absorb through their roots.
But, the soil is not the only way that plants can receive the nutrients they need to flourish. In fact, hydroponics provides plants with the necessary nutrients in a much more efficient way.
In hydroponic techniques, the soil is replaced with a liquid fertilizer that is added to the water in which the plants are grown. Depending on the hydroponic technique, the plants have access to nutrient-dense water in one way or another.
This eliminates the need for plants to use energy searching for nutrients in the soil. Instead, plants can absorb nutrients effortlessly through the water and use more energy to grow fast and in larger yields.
Not only are plants provided with optimized access to nutrients through hydroponics, but they are also provided with the exact conditions needed to thrive to their fullest potential. Control is a major perk of growing plants hydroponically.
Most hydroponic systems are set up indoors. Therefore, farmers can control the temperature, pH, lighting, water flow, and nutrients when growing hydroponically. By controlling the growing conditions, we can optimize plant production.
Plant production is optimized through hydroponics by controlling the growing environment. But, yield is also optimized by taking advantage of space.
Traditional agriculture requires hundreds of thousands of acres of land which is not sustainable nor efficient. Hydroponics allows for plants to be grown more densely through vertical and compact systems.
Sustainability is one of the most notable benefits of growing plants hydroponically. Hydroponics requires fewer resources than traditional agriculture while optimizing growth rates and harvest size.
Hydroponic systems use a closed water cycle or closed reservoir which reuses water throughout the duration of a growth cycle. Traditional farms and gardens water plants and lose excess water that is absorbed into the ground.
Hydroponics only uses about 10% of the water that is required by conventionally grown plants. Since hydroponic systems are climate-controlled and water efficient, plants can be grown in places where it was never possible before this technology.
Hydroponic systems can bring an abundance of fresh food to desert areas and other dry places where cultivation of produce is not possible in the natural environment. Additionally, many home gardeners are attracted to indoor hydroponic systems because they eliminate the need to stop growing plants because of winter seasons.
It is important to remember that there are many different methods for growing plants hydroponically. But, each method is similar in its basic principles.
To name a few:
- Ebb and Flow systems use a timed water cycle to feed plants throughout each day.
- Deep Water Culture systems submerge plants 24/7 in highly aerated water.
- The Kratky Method requires no electricity to grow plants in a reservoir of water.
Choosing the right hydroponic technique for you mostly depends on the type of plants you would like to grow. Microgreens require different conditions than leafy greens and fruiting plants like tomatoes require more maintenance.
You can learn about growing microgreens indoors here.
If you are looking for a foolproof microgreens growing kit, try out The Good Box (you can learn more here!)
Hydroponically growing food has provided opportunities for large-scale farmers and hobbyist gardeners alike. Hydroponic systems can be as big or as small as you would like.
Whether you want to grow some greens on your windowsill or a larger scale – hydroponics offers a way in which you can do so as sustainably and efficiently as possible. Continue reading for a breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages of hydroponics.
Advantages Of Hydroponics
When compared to conventional soil-grown plants, hydroponics offers the following advantages:
- In traditional gardening, a large amount of water is applied to the soil to allow adequate moisture to reach the root zone. When moving through the soil, the water evaporates and only a percentage of it reaches the roots. In hydroponics, the water immediately reaches the roots and in most systems, is reused in future water cycles.
- Plants do not have to compete for nutrients in a hydroponic system the way they have to in traditional farming. Hydroponics systems deliver a more nutrient-dense solution to the root zone so that plants can be grown closer together without competing for nutrients and root space.
- The optimal growth conditions that can be achieved in a hydroponic system allow for plants to grow as efficiently as possible.
- By minimizing the time between harvest and consumption, plants remain high in nutritional value.
- Hydroponics systems allow for plants to be grown year-round regardless of location or natural climate conditions because the grower is in control of the temperature, light, water pH, and nutrient-supply.
- Because hydroponics are most often grown indoors, insects, pests, and weeds do not present a problem. This means that no chemical pesticides or weed prevention are needed.
Disadvantages Of Hydroponics
When compared to conventional soil-grown plants, hydroponics has the following disadvantages:
- Hydroponic systems are not a one-size-fits-all type of thing. It is up to you to decide the size of the system that works best for you. But, large-scale systems can certainly become expensive.
- Active hydroponic systems require electricity to power grow lights, water pumps, aerators, etc. Therefore, a power outage can impact the entire system and potentially kill all plants if not resolved in time.
- More serious growers must carefully monitor and maintain the controllable elements of a hydroponic system. All components of a hydroponic system– lights, pH, nutrient level, water cycle, and temperature must be monitored to ensure the best yield results.
- Soil-grown plants are susceptible to their array of diseases that hydroponics avoid. But, waterborne diseases are a higher concern for hydroponic growers since the plants are grown within water.
Do Hydroponic Plants Taste Different?
Have you noticed that the produce purchased from your local farmer tastes so much better than the produce from the big grocery store? That is because the produce from your local farmer was grown locally and consumed shortly after harvest.
When you purchase produce from a large grocery store, it was likely harvested long before it reaches your plate which impacts the flavor and overall freshness. The less time between harvest to consumption, the better!
By growing plants hydroponically on a large scale, we can minimize the time it takes for plants to go from harvest to your plate. This means that the produce will last longer in your fridge, taste fresher, and contain more nutrients.
It is important to remember that the longer it takes for plants to go from harvest to consumption, the lower their quality becomes. From my personal experience of working on a hydroponic farm, customers were amazed at the weeks that our lettuce would last in their fridge. That is because the hydroponic farm allowed us to get produce from harvest to consumer in less than 48 hours!
In hydroponics, gardens and farmers can maximize the level of nutrients that are absorbed by plants which results in faster growth rates and higher yields. Studies have also shown that this also results in higher nutritional levels when consumed. So, the plants will taste fresher and contain more nutrients than their soil-grown counterparts.
Hydroponics are already paving the way to a future of sustainable, easily accessible, healthy food. Whether you are a hobbyist gardener or wholesale seller, the right hydroponic system can take your operation to a whole new level while providing some good fun along the way!
You can learn about all different types of plants you can grow hydroponically here.
You can learn about aquaponics (and how it compares to hydroponics) here.
You can learn about some plants that grow well in aquaponics here.
You can learn about some popular fish for aquaponics here.
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About the author:
Sofi is a passionate writer who studied communications and environmental studies at Eckerd College. You can get in touch with Sofi at https://slenzi4.wixsite.com/website.