Vegetable nutrition: Soil grown vs Hydroponics
Table of Contents
Vegetables are a great source of vitamins and minerals. Plants extract nutrients out of their surroundings to synthesize colorful, nutrient packed produce that lands on our plates.
A lot of these plants however, have different nutrient values based on where and how they are grown. Most commonly, the vegetables that we eat are mass farmed in the soil of overused land. This strips nutrients and water from the land which leads to the degradation of soil quality and can contribute to drought and desertification in some areas.
Using hydroponics greatly utilizes water. Much less land and water is used per unit produced using hydroponic farming techniques. If hydroponics are fed the right nutrient solution of the best quality, they can achieve capacity of healthy nutrients and vitamins. This means that you can potentially achieve the most nutritious result out of your hydroponically grown plants
Why is the hydroponic vegetable industry expanding?
The industry of growing hydroponic plants is expanding mostly due to government encouragement. It is now recognised that growing hydroponically better utilizes the country’s resources. In 2020 the US’ hydroponics market was estimated at 2.1 Billion USD.
There is also a high expected growth rate over the next 6 years. Here’s why it’s so beneficial in terms of food production, sustainability and cost:
● It maximizes space. Far less land area is required to produce the same volume of plant produce. This is because concentrated nutrients mean that plants are able to grow closer together, requiring less soil volume to obtain the nutrients that it needs. This means that more plants can be produced without needing to waste vast amounts of land area which often leads to a reduction in soil quality and destruction of the natural environment.
● Requires less labor. A main expense of regular crop farming techniques is low skilled labor costs. The land used to grow crops must be maintained and catered to consistently. This also includes machinery to do this. Hydroponics requires less labor as maintaining the system is much more straightforward and can usually be controlled from one small site eg. adding nutrients or topping up water from one single location. This is also much easier as there is less land to cover.
● It can improve food safety. There are more environmental controls, meaning that pest control, chemical and nutrient exposure and disease monitoring means that any produce that reaches your dinner table is guaranteed to be high quality and healthy produce. Currently in the US, a staggering amount of food produce coming into the country is failing safety checks. This calls into question, is imported commercially grown produce the healthiest most sustainable direction to go in?
● Probably the most advantageous reason to supplement some of our soil farming with hydroponics is the undeniable increase in crop yield. As you can directly control the nutrients being taken in by the plant you can ensure your plants are growing at the fastest possible rate. It also means that there will be no nutrient deficiencies which can hinder the standards of your plants.
● No soil is needed! Although soil is a renewable resource we are depleting the earth’s arable supply by irresponsible mass farming. We reduce the moisture content and nutrient density of soil leaving it unworkable and often don’t allow it enough recovery time. This is not sustainable if we want to produce enough healthy food for the human population.
Understanding of nutrients:
Nutrient supply directly impacts the quality and ability of your plants’ growth. It is important that your plants recieve all of the essential nutrients and minerals it requires and is also beneficial for micronutrients to be in good supply. The nutrients that are essential to your plant growth are; Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur.
These should always be in good supply and can be found in most hydroponic nutrient solutions. It is important that proper hydroponic nutrients are supplied to allow for proper absorption. Any nutrients supplied in improper form may not dissolve properly, can cause blockages and are thereby not available to be absorbed causing stunted growth and quality issues. Not only are nutrients more readily available in hydroponics, plants grown in soil have to work harder to source the nutrients that they need for metabolism and photosynthesis.
This is due to a lower nutrient and mineral concentration so plants must grow their roots wider to find the nutrients it requires. This takes up more of the plant’s resources and redirects the purpose of the energy it does have away from growing its leaves and produce etc.
Any nutrient deficiency may come directly from soil. If a particular nutrient or mineral is in short supply in a particular area of soil the plants may die or cease to grow.
Other considerations in hydroponics vs soil
Growing plants hydroponically also open up a wide variety of solutions to sustainability and humanitarian issues. Firstly, plants that can’t necessarily be grown in the local environment are now able to be supplied locally. This means that otherwise imported crops with astronomical carbon emissions due to transportation footprint can be produced to local demand.
This means that plants can be grown all year around and not just seasonally. This is all because the specific needs of that plant no matter the nutrients, light or temperature can be met. It also means that in areas where there is food shortage due to a lack of arable land, food can be grown in a controlled indoor system meaning that food is cheaper and in a more plentiful supply.
This could help contribute to supplying developing areas with the resources that they need. It may also be important for some to note that hydroponics can only be grown using nutrient fertilizers and so can not be grown organically.
In conclusion, although plants are not organic there are a number of benefits of hydroponics which should be considered and are often encouraged considering food supply and sustainability. It is a growing industry that is growing more and more each year as people realize the benefits of the farming technique.