4 Common Soil Problems that Hydroponics Eliminate
There are certain soil problems that I wanted to make you aware of that affect both the grower and the wider ecosystem; and give you a perspective of how hydroponics can help in reducing that impact.
Soil: an Invaluable Resource
But let’s see first what soil is. The soil has fed humanity for so long. It is such a valuable gift of nature and we are mistreating it. Around 24 billion tonnes of soil is lost due to erosion worldwide while this figure is nearly 1 billion in Europe only (United Nations report). The problem is massive.
Arable land is lost forever and this will be intensified. Some nations around the World have identified that there is an issue and have a plan to preserve existing soil resource (e.g. United Kingdom and the EU).
It is not only my view that it will be the main growing medium for the years to come, especially for the large-scale agriculture. That fact will make the soil loss even worse with the current practices of intensive agriculture which will push deforestation to new territories.
People will abandon deprived soil and will prefer to chop down forest (in countries where this is promoted or free to do so) rather than preserve and improve existing arable land.
Though, when we go smaller scale, hydroponics have lots to give and they will definitely be a solution to the above mentioned problem. Plus the food source comes closer to consumption and the carbon footprint drops significantly (Romeo et al. 2018, BBC article).
Common Soil Problems
Further to the limited availability of fertile soil, there are some common soil problems you can face when using soil as growing medium.
1. Fertilizer leaching
It is nearly impossible for some of the fertilizer added in soil not to wash away to the lower levels of subsoil and eventually in the water streams. That is an economic inefficiency and loss inherent in the cultivation based in soil.
2. Nutrient concentration
The take-up of nutrients by the plants is quite complex and depends on the relative concentration of the multiple nutrients in the soil, as well as pH, temperature and moisture. In addition, the mechanical properties of the soil play an important role in the availability of the nutrients to the plants.
By adding fertilizer in the soil you can achieve better concentrations of the elements in interest but as previously said, the concentration is not easily controlled; while in a closely monitored hydroponic system it is.
3. Water Logging
The excess water in the soil suffocates the roots of oxygen and creates productivity problems and if severe it can lead to plant death. The problem is not exclusive to soil, it can happen to hydroponics if not monitored. But with hydroponics the provision of water to the roots is automated and monitored more closely.
4. Increasing salinization
Each time you water plants in soil a small amount of salts accumulates and stays in the soil. The correct term is Salinization which is the accumulation of soluble salts in the soil, notably sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium, chloride, sulphate, carbonate and bicarbonate (Soil Salinization). As a result the soil fertility is severely reduced with direct economic impact to the grower.
Salinity is the concentration of the soluble salts in the water in parts per thousand or grams per kilogram.
It is a more common problem with soil (compared with hydroponics where the environment is controlled) especially when salt-rich water is used for irrigation or when drainage is insufficient.
Though, it is not all doom and gloom. Despite the above-described soil problems, soil can be very forgiving, invaluable characteristic if you are a beginner grower. The better the soil you use the more forgiving and productive it can be.
But hydroponics still have advantages you cannot overlook; have a look in my post 10 Benefits of Hydroponics for the Grower and the Ecosystem where I lay out 10 advantages hydroponics have to the grower and the wider ecosystem.