10 Benefits of Hydroponics to the Grower and Ecosystem
There are benefits of hydroponics to you as a grower and benefits to the wider ecosystem, somewhat interlinked. Hydroponics can be advantageous not only in large scale such as vertical farming, but more importantly in smaller scale, indoors or in environments where the conditions need to be controlled.
Needless to say of course that soil has lots to give and will be the main medium at least for large-scale agriculture; I have expanded on this in my post 4 Common Soil Problems that Hydroponics Eliminate. I m not disregarding the value of soil. On the contrary I see the benefits of hydroponics as a means to preserve soil and its value.
To note, I am going to focus on hydroponics that are mostly relevant to indoors rather than large-scale installations, although the principles remain similar. Let’s have a look.
Benefits of Hydroponics to the Grower
1. Can you trust your soil?
Your backyard has lots of space to grow your vegetables, you have chosen a nice sunny spot, but can you trust your soil? What if it is contaminated with toxic substances that will then transfer to your crops? Numerous studies confirm a direct association of toxic substances in the soil and the levels of those substances in the produced crops (e.g. from Mcbride et al. or from Sharma et al. though many more studies exist).
Therefore if you don’t know what your soil is, you either need to do a soil analysis and determine the levels of the potentially harmful elements, or think of hydroponics!
One of the benefits of hydroponics is that it offers an absolute controlled nutrient environment whereby the plant gets fed by what you chose to give it. No other elements and most importantly toxic and harmful ones get in the way.
2. Water efficiency
Especially if you are in an area where water falls from the sky not very often, you understand. Water is precious when is scarce.
Studies (e.g. Alshrouf – more studies are out there) have shown that hydroponics use on average 5-20 times LESS water than traditional cultivation methods in soil. Of course it depends in the type of hydroponics or how efficiently water is used in traditional farming. But the order of magnitude is significant, regardless!
That water efficiency goes immensely up when hydroponics is combined with vertical farming where. A real example from Dubai Hydroponics: The power of water to grow food published by Harvard University showed that vertical farming can use only 1/2500th of the water amount compared with traditional cultivation methods in soil. That is revolutionary!
Hydroponic set-ups take up less space compared with soil-based cultivation because the roots do not need to “travel” far to reach out for nutrients. Nutrients are delivered directly to the roots, so the space the plants need is determined by how big they become above the roots.
The vertical or inclined stacking adds in space efficiency, especially suited to smaller plants (that do not get really tall).
However, there are fundamental factors to consider, one of which is how much lateral space and height you will need when selecting hydroponic plants. Check out my post 6 Factors To Success When Selecting Hydroponic Plants for more information.
4. Higher yields
Right…this is a burning topic, though unlike other sources, I would not want to provide misinformation and claim that hydroponic yields are superior in all cases.
It can be, but it is a matter of the metric used or the type of hydroponics or the cultivated plant.
- Is it yield per plant per growing cycle or annual?…or yield per area of land?
- Is it yield of any type of hydroponic system or for those that are more sophisticated but more expensive too?
- And is it for tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce, kale or cucumber?
The answer is not that simple. Hence you will find studies that are seemingly contradictory, but in reality are studies that have considered different hypothesis and parameters.
Overall, for the same plant it seems hydroponic cultivation promotes faster growth but not necessarily higher yield (in weight rather than in number of fruit). But given that in hydroponics, the density of plants per area of land is higher, the yield per area of land is higher in hydroponics.
In addition, because with hydroponics more than one growing cycles can be achieved (controlled environment, protected by the elements of nature) the annual yield is also higher.
How much higher? Perhaps based on studies, it could reach up to 30% for the sophisticated fine-tuned hydroponic systems.
5. Less ongoing effort
It definitely needs some effort; to set it up correctly. Some types of hydroponics are more complicated than other and thus need more effort in the beginning (check out here the Types of Hydroponics).
However, once set-up correctly and maintained regularly they need less effort to keep them running and result in high yields compared with traditional cultivation methods. You don’t have as many pests or pathogens, you don’t have weeding or work against the weather elements. Of course you will have to be checking the set-up if everything works properly and calibrate the nutrient solution, but that would be it.
Planting out in your garden’s soil, apart from the problems we mention above, your plants will be exposed to the elements. My tomatoes this year did not do well because sun hours were not as many as required. Or, it was too wet and plants suffered from diseases, and so on.
One option would be to build a glasshouse and I would avoid much of that, not all.
The indoor hydroponic system though would be able to nearly eliminate all those problems. I could have my favourite fruit and vegetables any season within the year without worrying about mother nature!
Benefits of Hydroponics to the Ecosystem
You got some idea from the previous section. The entire ecosystem has lots to benefit from hydroponics.
7. Water savings
Using a tiny fraction of the water we currently waste in the agricultural process would be enough to feed us all. Places that are now hostile to cultivate anything, like deserts can be used to feed the local populations. There will be parity and justice in food supplies, bringing peace in some troubled places.
8. Usable Area
Places with no suitable soil (again deserts or arid places are a classic example) can host hydroponics to produce enough food for the local populations
9. Grown in cities / Less carbon intensive
Food can be grown closer or even IN the cities where the consumption is. Less transport, less carbon emissions. Local produce would be harvested closer to maturity rather than early in order for it to last the transport time and miles. So, limited refrigeration will be required (so less carbon emissions) and people will be enjoying fresher and better quality food.
10. Nutrients and pesticides
The nutrients are manufactured using fossil fuels resulting in carbon emissions. By comparison though, traditional agriculture uses fertilisers and even more pesticides. Most of the fertilisers in traditional agriculture is washed away and pesticides are there to combat nature. Overall hydroponics uses less resources and thus once more save carbon emissions for the same output.