Hydroponics vs Soil

Hydroponics vs Soil

When discussing Hydroponics vs Soil, why should you choose Hydroponics. Read more

When it comes to the options of growing plants at your home, initially you had only one option. I.e, growing the plants in soil. But with the improvement in technology and agriculture, now you can grow your plants using hydroponics.

With the evolution of hydroponics, of course, there was a rival between hydroponics vs soil. Search has its own benefits as well as demerits. However, which one stands out to be more user-friendly, efficient, and cheap? Before we dive deep into the parameters to choose the better among them, let’s define what hydroponics and soil farming is.

What is hydroponics?

In Latin, the term hydroponics refers to “working water”. Hydroponics is a subset of hydroculture in the agriculture style that involves growing plants in nutrient-filled water rather than soil. 

What is soil farming?

Soil farming is what we think of as a traditional crop field. The principles are more or less similar to that of hydroponics only. They describe the plants grown in soil for human consumption.  The main method of delivering nutrients to the roots is through compost and mulch in organic systems or mineral fertilizers in conventional farming. Since soil farms are usually outdoor-based, yields can be variable based on uncontrollable factors.

what is soil farming

Is hydroponics setup natural and healthier when compared to the soil?

The soil provides nutrients to the plants, and we can even add additional fertilizers, enhancers, and other nutrients, in the same way, hydroponic nutrients are derived from the mineral salts in water. 

Usually, the minerals in the store-bought soil, have come from the same manufacturers as the hydroponic minerals. The difference in hydroponic vs soil is that the soil-based minerals have a  slow-release mechanism whereas hydroponic minerals have a fast release along with fast up-take. Thus it provides optimal results and faster growth.

Hydroponics vs Soil

Debating on soil vs hydroponics can be a pretty contentious topic. There is a division of opinion, with die-hard people on both edged of the wall. We will be discussing several parameters that will help you decide which one to choose depending on your needs and availability. So let’s get started.

Space Requirements: hydroponics vs soil

Space Requirements hydroponics vs soil

For Soil: Soil gardening consumes a lot of space even if you decide to grow them in your backyard or ground.

Usually, a plant’s roots require space to spread out through the entire soil.

Since the plants derive all their nutrients from the soil, if you place them too close, then there might be competition among the plants for better sunlight, resources, and nutrients. Eventually, Darwin’ Theory will prevail, the fittest plant will survive. 

This will lead to loss of plants and money.

For Hydroponics system: Hydroponics system doesn’t need soil to get nutrients, it derives its nutrients from the nutrient-rich solution which comprises water, growth medium, and essential nutrients as per the requirements and suitability of the plant. 

Instead of making soil as a carrier for nutrients, hydroponics uses a customized nutrient solution to encapsulate your plants in a perfectly calibrated nutrition till the time the plant grows completely and is ready for harvesting.

As a result, they don’t need much space to grow. No doubt that you must give them a considerable spacing( depending on plant size eg: 18-24 inches for bell pepper, 12-14 for basil). This is done to ensure that when the plants grow in size, they don’t clog with each other and get adequate sunlight. 

If you have enough nutrient-rich water, there will be no competition among the plants.

Thus there are huge space savings in the hydroponics system when compared to soil gardening. 

Vertical Farming methods: Hydroponics vs soil

For Hydroponics system: If you want, a hydroponics system can be set up vertically in stacks. This is called vertical farming. This is a space optimization method as plants are grown vertically rather than horizontally. Most of the hydroponics systems follow this vertical farming method, even methods like aquaponics and aeroponics.

For Soil: If you are planting your crops in soil on the ground, then you will be limited to the option of horizontal growth. However, if you make use of some large pots placed on stacks, then the vertical farming method can be implemented.

There is hardly any issue if you have a huge backyard with lots and lots of space. But if you have space restrictions and still want to grow your own plants, hydroponics is more favorable in terms of spacing requirements. 

Vertical Farming methods Hydroponics vs soil

Water Consumption: Hydroponics vs soil

With the judicious use of water, agriculture schemes are being implemented to save water in the best possible way. Also when growing a large number of plants, water isn’t always readily available and becomes expensive.

For Soil:  Usually every few days or alternate days, the gardener has to dump a good quantity of water into their soil. This is done, ensuring good penetration of water into the soil so that the roots can suck it up. There is no parameter to know when you have over water or water your plant. Only when the soil becomes excessively saturated, can you get a fair idea that enough water has been provided.

Also, water starts leaking out from the bottom of pots and containers into the ground if you are using them. If you are using a soil bed also, most of the water evaporates when the soil becomes saturated. Only a tiny percent of the water is actually used by the plant.

For Hydroponics sysem: In case if you don’t have a rainwater system, a hydroponic system is always a better option. They are designed in such a way so as to consume less water. (Most of them, some of them like aquaponics, still consume ample water). 

The problems that traditional soil gardening faces are overcome by the recirculating nutrient reservoir. Plants will use up only the water needed at that time and the rest will remain in the reservoir. 

There is no reason to worry about evaporation also since the nutrient-rich water is stored in a reservoir. It can be refilled whenever needed. You can even check the pipes in which the plants are placed to get a clear idea if the plants are in need of water or not.

This permits the same amount of water being used for a plant in soil for a day as compared to watering a plant in a hydroponics environment for days or weeks at a time.

Thus, switching to a hydroponics environment can help you save 90% of the water being used in soil gardening.

Weeding: Hydroponics vs soil

One of the most important comparisons between hydroponics vs soil gardening is weeding. Weeds are the extra, non-useful plants that grow alongside the main plants. They need to be cut from time to time or else serve a threat to the main plants by consuming up to their nutrients and resources from the soil.

For Soil: Weeds are such plants that grow ONLY in soil. YOu have to spend a lot of time and effort to remove the weeds from the soil.

For Hydroponics system: Since weeds grow only in soil, there is no tension in sharing resources here. So no time and effort are spent on pulling weeds.

Insects and Critters: Hydroponics vs soil

Hydroponics vs Soil

For Soil: Depending on the soil type, different types of insects and predators like rabbits, raccoons, birds, squirrels will feast and infect your plants. You can keep a check on the insects invading, however, predators are a bit difficult to manage. You can’t be spending your whole time in and around your plants. Thus growing on soil attracts more insects and critters.

For Hydroponics system: Mostly hydroponic systems that are grown in balconies or inside the home, stay safe from insects and predators. But since hydroponics involves the use of water, several pathogens can invade the roots of the plants in hydroponics. Harmful viruses and microbes can cause wilting and root rot which is also difficult to identify at times.

Also if not monitored periodically, then there are chances of spreading of water-borne diseases among the plants.

On top of that, if you have kept your hydroponic system open, lawn or outside, then apart from the pathogen and water-borne diseases, the plants will attract insects and predators too.

So as far as Insects and Critters in hydroponics vs soil is concerned, soil gardening is a better option in general. However, in case you are settling your plants on your balcony or inside your home, hydroponics is still better than soil gardening.

Time taken: Hydroponics vs soil

For Soil: Time taken for growing in soil depends on the plants being used

For Hydroponics system: The best thing about hydroponics is that the plants growing comparatively take less time than soil growth. 

This is because you can make adjustments and customize the nutrients of the medium. For example: adding the nutrients, growth medium, checking the pH of the water using pHmeter, measuring the temperature of the water. 

Some plants, like lettuce, can even grow and can be harvested twice as fast in a hydroponics system as compared to planting in soil.

Studies have shown that hydroponics improves the growth rate by 30% to 50% faster. This is a visible growth rate that you can notice in no time.

As a result, it gives a better and more yield in less time and saves an ample amount of time and money.

So if time is taken into consideration, growing in a hydroponics environment will be faster as compared to soil. Or for the same time taken, hydroponics will give you more yield than soil. This is one of the best advantages of hydroponics vs soil.

Time taken to maintain the plants during growth: Hydroponics vs soil

For Soil: You have to spend your time watering the plants every alternate day or even consecutive days. You have to take care of weeding( which, believe us, takes a lot of time and most people don’t like doing it at all). YOu have to look into the insects and critters that infest the plants.

For Hydroponics system: Pest control is minimized to a greater extent if plants are allowed to grow in an indoor environment. You initially have to fill the reservoir with sufficient water and fill it every 3-4 days when the water level goes down. No waiting time for the wedding either!

So overall, you will have to spend a bit less time in and around your plants if you are using a hydroponics setup rather than soil gardening.

Hydroponics vs Soil

Location: Hydroponics vs soil

For hydroponics system: As hydroponic systems don’t depend on external soil or weather conditions, they can be set up almost anywhere.

Even at places where the external environment is completely inhospitable to plants. So they can even be grown in Urbanic regions where cultivable soil and spacing are under limitation.

Also if you have paced the setup where there is no sunlight, artificial light and LEDs can serve the purpose.

For Soil: Soil-based farming can allow the growth of a limited amount of crops, depending on the:

  • Type of soil
  • Texture of soil
  • Nature of soil
  • Composition of soil
  • Weather conditions

Better control over the environment: Hydroponics vs soil

In a hydroponics setup, you are the master of the plant’s environment. As mentioned earlier, depending on the requirements of plants, you can create a perfect nutrient mixture, growth medium, temperature, pH, humidity, etc. Since soil farms are usually outdoor-based, yields can be variable based on uncontrollable factors. This advantage of hydroponic setup gives you a dominating approach than soil-based gardening.

Looks of the garden: Hydroponics vs soil

For Soil: People often prefer traditional soil gardening because of the natural and classic beauty that it possesses. They look very appealing and vibrant and aesthetically pleasing.

For Hydroponics system: On the other hand, hydroponic gardens look very commercial and utilitarian. However, you can beautify them by painting the pipes, drawing designs on them, and adding some showpieces.

Final Thoughts

If we keep all these factors into consideration, we can easily conclude that a hydroponics setup is far more easy-going and convenient than soil farming. In terms of space-saving, water-saving, time-saving, weeding, and time is taken for harvesting.

How is it commercially being affected?

Hydroponic growing means stronger, healthy, vibrant, and tastier plants with more nutrients compared with soil-based plants.  Also, the ability to control the growth factors like temperature, humidity while conserving an ample amount of space is of paramount significance for yield per square meter plant yields and commercial profits. 

The recirculation water has also been beneficial to set it up in places where there is a lack of water sources. The use of hydroponic gardening by commercial growers is increasing exponentially, BUT only for certain regions where particular crops can be grown or where there are no suitable conditions or any way to grow the plants.

Then where does the loophole exist?

The hydroponic system is expensive than Soil based farming

There are various factors that actually influence how the hydroponic system is more expensive than soil farming.

  1. Size of the garden:

If you have a huge garden, a hydroponic system will be worth it. But again if you have a small space, the initial setup of a hydroponic system will be more expensive than soil farming. 

Solution: Of course, if you are a hobbyist or a novice gardener, you can find replacements to the actual components like using cups, egg cartons, low-quality seeds, etc. Thus you can save money with a DIY hydroponics system at home.

  1. Ongoing costs:

Apart from setting up the infrastructure of the garden, you have to spend money on the lighting, lED, nutrients, growth materials, and electricity to power the vertical garden. In soil farming, one can replace the cost of fertilizers with manure or compost piles.

  1. Which plant you are growing:

Some plants need more care and sophistication. These plants are more cost-effective to grow in a hydroponic garden. So if you are opting for a traditional garden, choose the easiest vegetables to grow, which won’t need as much time and effort. 

However while producing on a proper large scale, the amount spent on infrastructure is quite high. So no matter how many praises of hydroponics farming are sung, a few shortcomings make it especially difficult for a business or farmer to grow commercially. The operation of a hydroponic system is labor-intensive. Unfortunately, hydroponics still rely on fertilizers, whose components have been extracted by drilling or mining. So this isn’t a 100% organic solution.

Which plant you are growing

Hydroponics vs Soil, So ultimately which is one to prefer?

  • If you are a hobbyist or a novice gardener, with a limited budget, then you choose to use a DIY hydroponics system for cultivating basil, tomatoes, strawberries, etc.
  • If you are growing simple vegetables and have space limitations, traditional farming might cost-effective
  •  If you are a well-experienced gardener willing to grow the same crops on a commercial basis, a hydroponics system can provide you with far more advantages than soil farming. However, you have to spend a lot on the budget for the equipment. Nonetheless, overall, profit will be on the larger side owing to faster yield and less maintenance.
  • If you want to grow crops like rice, on a commercial basis, the best and the most preferred option is Traditional farming. Growing rice requires a lot of effort which if you compare with hydroponics, will not be economically feasible at all. Moreover, it can grow under specific conditions only.
  • However, for growing rice in space-restricted and urban areas, a DIY hydroponic system can be used (for limited amounts only).

So the ultimate gist is that if required to grow on a large scale with specific conditions, traditional farming will be still prevalent unless something is done on the cost issues. However if an overview is taken into consideration, hydroponics come with a lot more added advantages and thus, has an ample scope of future development.

FAQs on soil vs hydroponics

What are the ideal plants which can be grown hydroponically on a large scale?

Ans: It’s often a better choice for plants, like lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, etc. than traditional planting.

How do you fix nitrogen deficiency in hydroponics?

Ans: Adding the right nutrient composition of organic and inorganic fertilizers, especially nitrate or ammonium-based fertilizers works effectively in treating nitrogen deficiency.

Do hydroponic peppers taste different?

Ans: Yes. but mild changes. There are many factors that change the taste of hydroponic peppers like controlling nutrient level and light.

What is the best soil for gardening?

Ans: There are three main types of soil. They are sand, silt, and clay. The best soil is the one that ensures optimum growth is a rich, sandy loam because it is an even mixture of all three types of soil.

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