Due to so many environmental issues affecting our health, people’s interest in how plants are grown and harvested has increased significantly. While some consumers choose to grow their own food in a safe way, others consider starting more eco-friendly food production businesses, such as hydroponic gardens and farms.
Hydroponics refers to growing plants by using nutrient-rich water instead of soil. Although there are a few different approaches to creating hydroponic gardening systems, the core principles are basically the same. You just provide the crops with fresh water, sufficient oxygen, some root support, plenty of nutrients, and artificial lighting.
Whether you have decided to take up hydroponic gardening as your hobby or you are willing to grow plants hydroponically for commercial purposes, you should first learn more about hydroponic farming in general. To help you get started, here are 10 advantages and disadvantages of hydroponics.
Advantages of Hydroponics
Along with allowing gardeners to grow some herbs to use in the kitchen, hydroponics is also an excellent way to produce plants for large-scale commercial purposes. And there are plenty of reasons why more and more people are choosing to invest in hydroponic farming.
The advantages of hydroponics include being able to grow plants year-round, the production of faster-growing and higher-yielding plants, the reduction of water consumption, the need for little to no pesticides, and the ability to set up a hydroponic system pretty much anywhere.
Below are the pros of hydroponics:
Hydroponic Gardening Lets You Grow Plants All Year Round
One of the major benefits of hydroponics is that it allows you to grow plants year-round. Whether you are doing it at home or for commercial purposes, hydroponic systems are ideal for producing plants during all four seasons. As hydroponics offers extended growing seasons, growers often refer to this process as four-season gardening.
This is because hydroponic gardening grants growers full control over their crops. No matter if you are setting up an indoor hydroponic garden or creating one outdoors, your plants can grow perfectly healthy as long as you provide them with sufficient water, suitable nutrients, and artificial lighting.
Besides, when growing plants hydroponically, you do not have to worry about different weather elements damaging your crops or impacting the yield. Even when growing plants in the middle of the winter, you can keep your crops warm enough to grow by regulating temperature, light, and nutrient supply.
Hydroponics Produces Faster-Growing and Higher-Yielding Plants
Generally speaking, hydroponic systems are expected to promote the growth and yield of plants. This is mainly due to the fact that gardeners carefully monitor and adjust different environmental factors when growing plants hydroponically.
To produce higher-quality plants for more people, growers adjust 6 major factors in their hydroponic systems:
- Water – as a rule of thumb, the pH of the water should be in the 5.0 to 7.0 range;
- Temperature – the temperature should be from 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (10-21 degrees Celsius) for crops planted during fall/winter months and from 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (15-27 degrees Celsius) for those planted during spring/summer months;
- Light – when setting up an indoor or enclosed outdoor hydroponic system, plants should receive 8-10 hours of direct artificial light per day;
- Nutrients – the plants should be grown in nutrient-rich water with sufficient amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium;
- Oxygen – an air diffuser might be needed for proper aeration or circulation of nutrients in hydroponic systems;
- Structural support – when growing plants hydroponically, they require additional root support to remain in place.
By creating optimal growing conditions, gardeners ensure that the plants are grown in a less stressful environment, which results in improved yield.
Read more about six essential considerations for creating optimal growing conditions in hydroponic systems.
Hydroponics Reduces Water Consumption
Although it may sound ridiculous, hydroponic systems reduce water consumption. Regardless of the fact that plants grown hydroponically are submerged in water, this type of gardening requires about 80% less water than the traditional one.
When growing plants in the ground, a large amount of water is required to saturate the soil and keep the root zone moist. Throughout the process, the water evaporates and only a small percentage of it actually gets to the roots. Contrarily, in hydroponic growing systems, the water is in direct contact with the roots, meaning that much less liquid is evaporated or lost.
Another reason why hydroponics is more water-efficient is that the water can be recirculated a few times before it is discarded. This is why hydroponics is considered one of the best alternatives to traditional gardening as it requires much fewer resources
Hydroponics Allows You to Grow Plants with Little to No Pesticides
Typically, hydroponic systems are either built indoors or outdoors in enclosed facilities. Besides, since plants are grown in water, pests find it more challenging to attack the plants. Therefore, growers have to deal with much fewer pest problems than in case of traditional gardening.
By using little to no herbicides and insecticides, growers make produced plants safer to consume. According to WHO, pesticides can be toxic to humans and, on some occasions, they cause adverse health effects, including but not limited to cancer, reproduction problems, and conditions linked with the immune and nervous systems.
By building an entirely closed hydroponic system, you can grow a variety of plants without worrying about soil-borne pests or birds. And along with growing clean and healthy plants, you save some money on chemicals that traditional gardeners use as pesticides.
You Can Set Up a Hydroponic Growing System at Home
Unlike traditional farming, hydroponic gardening can be performed pretty much anywhere, meaning that you are not limited to specific locations and climates. Therefore, hydroponic growing systems are becoming increasingly popular among both house and apartment owners. As long as you have sufficient space to grow some herbs for your kitchen, you should definitely consider setting up your own hydroponic system.
Besides, growing plants hydroponically is considered one of the most entertaining and relaxing hobbies, especially for those spending the majority of their time at home. It has been scientifically proven that taking care of indoor plants can reduce stress levels, help with depression and anxiety, boost your productivity, and offer many other therapeutic benefits.
Disadvantages of Hydroponics
Although hydroponics offers a myriad of benefits, growing plants in water-based systems comes with its drawbacks. Prior to creating a hydroponic garden, make sure you gain knowledge of what to expect before, during, and after growing crops this way.
The disadvantages of hydroponics include high initial costs, the need for proper expertise, the fact that hydroponic systems heavily depend on adequate water and stable electricity, the ability of waterborne diseases to spread easily throughout the system, and the need for constant monitoring and maintenance.
Below are the cons of hydroponics:
Setting Up a Hydroponic System Is Linked with High Initial Costs
While building a tiny hydroponic system on your balcony may not be that expensive, setting up a larger growing station for large-scale production or commercial purposes comes with high initial costs. This also depends on the type and size of the system you have decided to build.
However, no matter what kind of system you want to build, setting up a hydroponic station requires containers, proper nutrients, high-quality artificial lighting, and other equipment that will allow you to monitor and adjust growing conditions as needed.
While prefabricated hydroponic systems are already quite expensive, purchasing a custo-made system with selected components and individualized design can be even more costly. However, customization allows you to achieve the most optimal growing conditions based on the location of the system and the type of plants being grown.
Growing Plants in a Hydroponic System Requires Proper Expertise
While growing plants in water may sound like a pretty simple task to do, hydroponics requires some expertise. And this is especially true if you are considering growing plants hydroponically on a larger scale.
To grow clean and healthy plants, you will need to understand how to set up, monitor, and maintain the hydroponic system. When it comes to building a hydroponic garden, you can actually hire professionals to complete the equipment setup process for you. However, you still need to have proper expertise on how to use different features to properly regulate pH, temperature, and oxygen supply.
In addition to that, you should learn more about plant-specific growing conditions and how different types of plants work in hydroponic gardens. Without having knowledge in this field, it would be hardly possible to grow and harvest healthy plants through hydroponics.
Hydroponic Gardens Heavily Depend on Water and Electricity
Another disadvantage of hydroponics is that these systems heavily depend on water and electricity. Although they require much less water than needed for watering soil-based plants, they still need adequate water to grow healthy. Besides, without stable electricity, your plants may not thrive.
As hydroponics uses water instead of soil, there is no need to explain why a sufficient amount of water is required. But why do these plants rely on electricity? The answer is pretty straightforward.
In order to create optimal growing conditions, gardeners use special devices that monitor lighting, temperature, humidity levels, pH, nutrient supply, and oxygen concentration. In case of a power outrage, the plants may not receive sufficient lighting or the temperature may drop to the point that is not quite suitable for them to grow.
Waterborne Diseases Can Easily Spread Throughout a Hydroponic System
Although soil-borne pests do not really affect the plants grown hydroponically, we should not forget about water-borne diseases. And on some occasions, these infections can be even more dangerous.
The main reason for this is that the water circulates continuously in hydroponic systems, meaning that water-borne diseases can spread even faster. In the worst-case scenario, water-borne infections can kill all the plants in the system within 24 hours.
While water molds and diseases can be spread across the plants through recirculating water, they can also be transferred from dirty surfaces or other equipment pieces. Therefore, it is crucial to keep trays, containers, and tools clean when growing plants hydroponically.
Hydroponics Requires Undivided Attention and Constant Maintenance
Another disadvantage to consider before setting up your hydroponic garden is that growing plants in water is not a low-maintenance process. In reality, hydroponics requires plenty of time, undivided attention, constant monitoring, and continuous maintenance.
These factors are absolutely crucial for maintaining a suitable growing environment for plants. Besides, monitoring your hydroponic system is essential for protecting your plants from potential water-borne diseases. If you fail to regulate the temperature and pH as needed, you may create an optimal atmosphere for the infections to spread. Although unintentionally, this can kill your beloved plants within hours.
Although hydroponics allows you to grow clean and healthy plants, the overall growing process is pretty time-consuming. So, before you invest in the equipment, make sure you can devote sufficient time and attention to your plants for them to thrive.