Before we get your appetite wet (pun intended) to start your own hydroponic garden, we need to first figure out what is hydroponics and quickly examine the main difference between traditional and hydroponic farming. So, let’s get started.
What is hydroponics?
Hydroponics is a technique of growing plants without soil and without the limitations of space and climate. In the traditional farming system, plants depend on soil to obtain all nutrients needed for their growth. In contrast, a hydroponic garden provides all of these nutrients without involving sunlight, soil, extra labor, allowing farmers to benefit from efficiencies and to reap large produce yields.
Soil or water?
In traditional soil-based farming, nutrients bind with the soil particles. Roots extend to such particles for obtaining food under ideal conditions and uptake becomes possible by plants only in conducive environments. In a hydroponic garden, plants simply receive their nutrition from a nutrient-dense solution. Therefore, a hydroponic system allows plants to directly uptake nutrients with the benefits of water-based, nutrient delivery systems. The solution is thus absorbed by the plant’s root, making it very easy for the plant to utilize what it needs and grow well.
Instead of soil, plants grow in in a soilless medium. Instances of such mediums can incorporate Rockwool, coconut fiber, or other comparative choices. Just like the soil medium, the growing medium used in hydroponics provides a sort of anchorage or substrate for the roots. Specifically, we use Rockwool, which is inert/non-reactive and helps support the plant throughout its growth, without affecting the growing environment.
Hydroponics is usually practiced in a controlled environment for cultivating crops as this system offers some great advantages. The added benefits of controlling and managing pH, CO2, heat, air movement, nutrients supply, water needs, temperature and lighting scheme, help farmers boost production of their crops. It is not otherwise easy to handle such parameters in traditional farming. In many instances, one can achieve a managed environment using turkey hydroponic garden systems, which allow farmers to grow produce smarter and more efficiently. Some of these systems also come with the added advantage of growing vertically, which further minimize the footprint required to grow produce, while maximizing crop yields.
All things said and done, if the right amount of nutrient solution is provided to the plant in a controlled environment, it is very likely that your plants will thrive and you’ll be happy with the outcome.
To get you energized about hydroponics, we’ve assembled 15 reasons why you ought to have a hydroponic garden or farm.
1. Hydroponics saves water.
Irrigation is seen as a savior by many a farmer all over the world. To be perfectly clear in our opinion, irrigation has allowed man-kind to scale food production and feed more people, but water conservation is also very important.
Water demand is on the rise
Water is one of the most treasured resources in the world, yet it has regularly been treated as if there is an everlasting supply. As far as agriculture is concerned, water is the most critical issue worldwide and it is predicted that its demand will rise with an increase in world population in the coming years. According to the World Health Organization (2019 report), only 71% of the people worldwide used a safely-managed water drinking service and that by 2025, half of the world’s population will leave in water-stressed areas. In addition to the rise in population, we are experiencing climate change, which is further putting a spotlight on our shortening water supply. All of this is very alarming and calls for developing new strategies surrounding our resource management.
Agriculture uses lots of water
Traditional agriculture farming in the US uses around 80% of the surface and groundwater compared to hydroponics, which uses only 10% of that under controlled conditions. Water keeps circulating within the system allowing plants to absorb water necessary for active metabolism, while surplus water moves to the reservoir or storage tank to be cycled all over again. Obviously, there is no leaching, harmful runoff and little evaporation of water due to the finest and state of the art technologies that work under automated conditions.
Hydroponics can ease the burden on our water supply
The efficiency of a hydroponic system may save up to 90% of water. Thus, this type of system can be installed at a place where source water is not fit for growing agriculture crops or you have a limited supply of water for general farming. On the other hand, an added benefit is the enhanced production capacity of your hydroponic indoor garden system with a limited resource.
With that in mind…using hydroponics, not only will you help protect amongst one of our most significant assets, you’ll additionally lessen your water bill, gaining a competitive edge.
2. Advantage of soil-less gardening.
One of the great benefits of hydroponics is a fraction of a foot-print required to grow the same number of plants in caparison to traditional farming. Every plant grown using open agriculture farming, ties up a certain amount of land for a long duration (usually through the growing season). With hydroponics, one has multiple options of growing plants, which includes vertically, thereby drastically reducing the land requirements needed to grow crops. Crops can be grown in areas having limited soil, water-logged soils, snow-capped soil, nutrient-poor soil, contaminated soil or where the soil doesn’t exist at all.
Start a hydroponic farm at a location of your choice
Limited space in the corner of your back yard, front yard, alleyway, etc can produce a large quantity of food under controlled conditions otherwise unfit for growing anything green. This includes being able to establish a hydroponic farm in commercial and industrial zones, where farms and gardens are not normally found in the city. In addition, hydroponics gives the advantage to even the most remote and isolated places and allows the residents to grow their own food all year long, regardless of the weather or soil conditions.
3. Facilitates a micro-climate.
Hydroponic systems provide complete control over the growing climate, because you have the ability to adjust temperature, light, humidity, CO2, and air according to the needs of the plants. Concentrations of nutrients can also be adjusted according to the needs of different vegetables and greens for their optimal growth. For example, our Containerized Growing System (CGS) is a turn-key system that works between -60F to 85F for year-round production of garden greens and allows for precise regulation of the growth chamber. CGS performs excellent without caring about the external environment or geographical location. System automation sets parameters to establish the most optimal growing conditions and allows plants to grow successfully, cycle after cycle all year long. In effect, the inside of a CGS is a microclimate that’s ideal for your vegetable production needs.
4. Efficient supply of nutrients.
In a hydroponic system, the nutrients are supplied with precision and accuracy, thereby not only lowering the fertilizer requirements per plant, but also allowing the plants to uptake just what they need for the best performance. Plants don’t have to spend time developing their root systems in search of nutrients as they do in traditional farming, instead, they can focus on developing their vegetative growth and growing much faster and more efficiently. Fertilizer needs are calculated prior to planting and the plants automatically receive precise dozing at regular pre-established intervals. The nutrients are delivered into the water supply reservoir and are circulated around the clock allowing plants to absorb what they need effectively. Plants use nutrients efficiently and no waste takes place in the process. Constant intake of nutrients can be observed from the health and vigor of plants. Additionally, due to the balanced and well-delivered supply of nutrient-rich water, there is no competition between plants and all cultivars grow equally well and have the same chance of success.
5. pH control.
pH determines the acidity or alkalinity of any media on the basis of concentration of hydrogen ions. All plants grow well in neutral or acidic media. For agriculture soils, pH control needs the addition of a number of acidic fertilizers and organic matter while in the hydroponic garden, pH can easily be controlled by adding some pH buffer solution to the reservoir. A simple and easy test can lead you to measure and correct the pH level required for better growth of your Hydroponic garden. This correction leads to the maximum nutrients uptake by the growing greens.
6. Improved quality of produce.
Growing hydroponically improves the quality and taste of produce, because the system utilizes quality of nutrients and clean water under controlled environment without pesticides or herbicides. In addition, because hydroponics drastically reduces the supply chain, the greens grown locally in a hydroponic system will often times taste much better than those that have traveled thousands of miles from a farm to the grocery store. This difference, of course, is much more noticeable and pronounced in geographical locations farthest away from the point of production of food. For the same reason, hydroponic vegetables retain more nutrition as nutritional profile starts to degrade as soon as the vegetables are harvested.
The produce you harvest from your hydroponic farm will always be fresh, healthy and delicious, clean and free of dirt, pests, and diseases. This makes hydroponic produce oftentimes not only fresher, but also safer to eat.
7. No limitation of location and space.
A hydroponic garden has very minimal restrictions in terms of space and location due to its compact size and controlled growing conditions. You can grow a large number of plants in a hydroponic arrangement compared to the open field. Our Generation IV Containerized Growing System (CGS) gives you an option to grow 450 plants of greens including lettuce, kale, thyme, mint, basil, chard, cilantro, parsley and many more in a single growing session. The overall yield is over 23000 fully mature plants per year, which is equivalent to about 1 acre of farmland. The CGS fits in an 8 feet by 10 feet space (80 square feet total) and yet allows you to grow on orders of magnitude many more crops than does a traditional farm. Many of our clients are located in some of the earth’s most remote regions with the harshest of environments. However, this doesn’t stop them from growing beautiful, fresh and tasty produce year-round.
8. Fast growth rate and consistency.
Yet another, extremely popular benefit of hydroponics is a fast growth rate – which means that you can put your hands on that harvest much sooner. Hydroponic indoor gardening provides you complete control on the use of resources for faster growth and a steady supply of many in-demand and trending crops.
By creating an optimal growing environment, you can increase your vegetable production compared to soil cultivation in the same period of time. A managed environment provides plants with sufficient moisture and nutrients, so they can focus on vegetative growth instead of competing for nutrients with the neighboring plants, which is observed in the soil environment. Many greens can grow twice as fast in a quality hydroponic system. Hydroponic plants can grow 40-50 percent faster and can produce 30 percent more than the plants growing in soil.
A combination of fast growth rate and a controlled environment creates predictable harvests on a consistent basis. This lowers the price and reliability risk for the wholesale produce buyer and lowers the revenue risk for the farmers alike.
9. No use of pesticides and herbicides.
Conventional farming needs excessive use of insecticide and herbicides for successful crop growth due to their exposure to multi-climatic conditions that support different pests and weeds infestation. In the case of a hydroponic garden, no soil is used, so there are no flare-ups of weeds and pest attacks. As a result, hydroponic crops are grown without these harmful agents. This is highly beneficial to the farmer that can sell produce without pesticide residue, which is otherwise seen as detrimental to consumer health. This is the real advantage for the people who want to eat healthy and clean food without pesticide residue. Likewise, farmers can easily grow non-GMO crops, because there is no need for pesticides and herbicides. Therefore, organic and non-GMO seeds germinate beautifully and grow into lush vegetables in a hydroponic system.
10. No pests, diseases, or weeds.
A large number of diseases and pests are soil born which tend to infest your garden during the process of growing. Therefore, in dirt farming, pests and diseases are major challenges that farmers face. Without the know-how or without resorting to herbicides and pesticides, famers may end up losing a large portion of crops. This can be very discouraging mentally and a big risk financially.
Another sneaky thing that can happen using traditional farming techniques, is seeds of the weeds can remain dormant in the soil and re-grow on arrival of favorable conditions to compete with your garden plants. That’s basically an ambush! And pests and diseases can cause a lot of damages to plants and can render seeds less viable.
Growing hydroponically (without soil) will reduce the stress of battling with pests and diseases. In soil-less conditions, there are no flare-ups of weeds and very little chance of pests and diseases.
As a note, while you’re planning to set up your hydroponic system, we recommend having a method in place for maintaining cleanliness in your growing area and using clean materials. This includes wiping down the surfaces and picking up organic matter to avoid any rotting. Also, check to make sure that you unknowingly don’t bring pests from the outside into your hydroponic environment.
11. Environmentally friendly.
Land usage statistics are becoming more alarming. Clearing of forests and pastures for agriculture farming to feed the increasing population worldwide is creating a threat to the ecosystem. Hydroponics helps by lessening this impact. It doesn’t emit toxins to the nearby environment and performs better under limited space to feed the maximum number of individuals compared to crops grown in soil. No fear of land erosion, no fear of harsh climates, no use of big water reservoirs makes hydroponics a popular form of growing greens. It also eliminates the need for transporting greens thousands of miles, which puts a tremendous load on the environment. Living in Alaska, the majority of our vegetables get here via a combination of a barge, a truck and a plane. The last mile logistics add another layer of complexity to the supply chain and increase the negative impact on our environment. In addition, many of our farmers are also not using packaging, further making hydroponic farming environmentally friendly.
12. Less waste.
The supply chain –
Weather grown hydroponically or traditionally, as a matter of science, produce starts to degrade as soon as it’s harvested. Then it starts to make its journey to the grocery store. Did you know that it can take more than 16 hours just to pack a mixed-use semi-truck with produce and other goods? The further the final destination is from the point of production, the more produce will experience shrink (wilted and thrown away). For us in Alaska, other similarly remote places such as Hawaii/Pacific Islands and other northern states, that means a very long journey. In the next blog post, we’ll examine the number one reason that makes produce expensive. Hint – it’s transportation. In addition to shrink, during transportation, the produce sits on store shelves and further spoilage occurs, leading to more waste. The USDA estimates that supermarkets lose $15bn annually in unsold fruits and vegetables.
Local produce oﬀers an opportunity to mitigate massive food waste, but for a variety of reasons, not all states can grow their own food. As of 2015 data, 39 states in the nation grow fewer fruits and vegetables than they consume. For Alaska, that represents a shortage of more than 95%! However, using hydroponics we can increase local production on the state level, especially for those crops that hydroponics excels at. Growing locally means less shrink, spoilage and less waste. Produce isn’t required to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles between the farm and the store, increasing the shelf life of vegetables and realizing a better revenue for the farmer and the grocers.
Large clean and dry harvest –
Another aspect of waste has to do with post-harvesting activities. In dirt farming, a lot of produce cleaning needs to take place which is time-consuming even with the use of technology and leads to waste as well. With hydroponics, you can harvest clean, fresh produce from your garden, How? There is no soil, no pests, no diseases, no pesticides. Just clean and dry harvest ready to be devoured.
13. Predictability and seasonality.
A bit shocking, but when it comes to traditional farming, prices can vary by as much as 300% across a year for crops even as simple as lettuce. Wow, right?! This is a result of seasonality and lack of harvest guarantee (lack of predictability). With that in mind, wholesale buyers usually have to hedge against possible crop loss by making contracts with multiple farms, which takes much effort and time and increases risk. Crop loss can happen for a variety of reasons from natural occurrences and man-made ones. With hydroponics, there is much more consistency and reliability in crop production. As a result, hydroponics offers a way to enter into longer-term contracts with fixed pricing with fewer farmers. It’s a win/win for the farmer and for the buyer, as they can both more accurately predict what their costs and revenues will be, thereby mitigating the risk for all involved.
Hydroponics isn’t easy per se, but it is simple. This is not just theory; it’s the feedback we’ve received from our farmers. Maybe the most exciting part about hydroponics is unlike traditional farming, you don’t need generational knowledge and loads of capital to get started. Most larger commodity crop farms in the US today are a product of a family business. And even if you have the capital and want to start a smaller farm, you have to apprentice at an established farm for several years to learn the seasonality of farming, because after all, it’s a complex business. This kind of specialized knowledge is not readily available to people nor is it always practical to obtain it.
Insert hydroponic farming. What we love about it so much is how our clients have made farming a family affair, because even the kids can get into this. None of our clients have previously farmed using hydroponics and many haven’t ever farmed or grown much of anything at all. And yet, to reiterate, growing produce hydroponically isn’t a difficult endeavor when you’re working in a controlled and automated environment.
And another major bonus, it only takes about 12-15 hours per week to operate one of our Containerized Growing Systems (CGS). We always tell people to plan for 20 hours to start with and in a few months, your efficiency will improve. We supply all of our clients with everything needed to get started in hydroponic farming. This includes system installation, team and operator training, consumables and growing supplies, ongoing support and maintenance.
15. Growing a variety of crops.
And something fun for the last point, surprisingly, your hydroponic garden can offer you a vast variety of produce growing options. Think about growing just about any leafy green or herb. It’s also a fantastic way to grow funky things like catnip, chamomile, and even flowers. Let’s say for example that you’ve traveled to South America and discovered some herbs that you would love to incorporate in your cooking. Grow it hydroponically is the answer. Would you like to impress your friends with hard to come by vegetables? Grow it hydroponically! Have you been wanting to infuse your water or other beverages with healthy herbs? Grow them hydroponically. Are you juicing like a mad man or a madwoman? Grow the greens yourself, so you can enjoy the freshest green juice around. You get the idea. The best part, you can grow a large variety of greens at the same time and on a continual basis, to keep your veggie supply running smoothly.
Not to mention, you can actually grow plant starts in your hydroponic system too. They grow healthy and fast and you can transplant them straight in the ground. Think about growing pepper starts, tomato starts, cucumber, zucchini…. Whatever you want, really! You don’t need to spend money on starts, as they aren’t cheap. Just do it yourself and you can have the control of what nutrients and cultivars you use.
Hydroponic garden in conclusion.
There are many other reasons to get into hydroponics now. LED technology is getting better and cheaper, farmers markets are exploding, people want fresh and healthy, people love to know their farmer and where their food comes from, etc.
As the population is growing geometrically and food production is growing arithmetically, we need to rethink how we will feed yet another 2 billion people by 2050. Perhaps decentralizing our food supply can ban part of an answer and hydroponics does just that. Hydroponics can make anyone a year-round food producer. Need we say more?
Ok, one more thing. Yes, these are mojitos made with hydroponic mint – super easy to grow, extremely flavorful and aromatic. Cheers to you, friends!
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Mojitos with hydroponic mint were on point last night. This paired well with an all Alaska salmon quiche! 😍😋#hydroponics #homegarden #officegarden #akgrown #alaska #anchorage #entertaining #dinnerwithfriends #mojito🍹 #mint #hydroponicmint #indoorgrown #cooking #alaskacuisine
As always, to your health!
The team at VHH