Starting your garden can be a great challenge but also a great reward. More and more people are drawn to the benefits of home-produced food for its convenience, freshness, and flavor.
Choosing between hydroponics and soil gardening is a personal preference. Hydroponics allows growing plants indoors and conserving water but is more expensive and harder to learn. Soil gardening is a recreational and affordable way to grow plants but comes with the downside of pest control and climate dependability.
There is no right or wrong answer to your gardening journey. But below, you may find some surprising facts that could change your mind on the topic. Continue to read to learn more about the pros and cons of hydroponics vs. soil gardening.
Table of Contents
- 1 Hydroponics Vs. Soil Gardening
- 2 Hydroponics
- 2.1 Hydroponics Pros
- 2.1.1 Hydroponics Use Less Water
- 2.1.2 Hydroponics Provide Year-Round Production
- 2.1.3 Hydroponics Deliver Shorter Harvest Time
- 2.1.4 Hydroponics Do Not Need Pesticides
- 2.1.5 Hydroponics Lower Plant Cost Over the Long Run
- 2.1.6 Hydroponics Allow Gardening Anywhere Anytime
- 2.1.7 Hydroponic Vegetables Taste Better
- 2.1.8 Hydroponics Require Little Maintenance
- 2.1 Hydroponics Pros
- 3 Hydroponics Cons
- 4 Soil System
- 4.1 Soil System Pros
- 4.2 Soil System Cons
- 4.3 Example Gardening Starting Kits
- 5 Conclusion
Hydroponics Vs. Soil Gardening
Both, hydroponics and soil gardening offers excellent benefits, and both have disadvantages. Here is a snapshot of the pros and cons of hydroponics and soil gardening compared side by side.
|Cost||The initial costs for this would be pretty high—$ 300 to $2,000, depending on size and features.||$238 for materials and supplies like seeds and soil and depending on the size and the nature of the materials(1)|
|Potential Earnings Per Year(1)||Between $200,000 and $250,000 per Year||Between $20,000 and $30,000 per Year|
|Time to Yield||Fast||Slow|
|Weeding / Pest Control Needed||No||Yes|
|Maintenance||Replace Nutrient Solution and Monitor pH||Water Plant and Keep Soil Fertilized|
|Light||Natural or Artificial||Natural|
|Best for||Herbs, leafy greens, strawberries, cucumbers||Everything|
Hydroponics allow farmers to grow plants in water mixed with a fertilizer solution. Plants need a nest of supporting material like:
The roots of the plant swim in the water with nutrient solution.
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of growing plants hydroponically.
See also: Is Hydroponics Worth It?
Hydroponics, or so called “wet farming,” offers a lot of benefits that can truly transform gardening the way we know it.
Hydroponics Use Less Water
It is believed that hydroponically grown vegetables can save significant amounts of water since the water is being recycled in the process. In this Hydroponic Spinach | How Does it Grow? video, the farmers reuse all the water, which makes for an economically feasible solution.
Hydroponic gardening of lettuce utilizes land and water more efficiently than conventional farming. Therefore, it could become a strategy for sustainably feeding the world’s growing population, according to a study issued by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Hydroponics Provide Year-Round Production
Hydroponics is gaining popularity in urban areas or areas with unfavorable climates for its indoor design resiliency. It is not affected by the weather. If you do not have space or the weather on your side, you have an important reason to switch to hydroponics.
Hydroponics Deliver Shorter Harvest Time
Hydroponically grown plants are super-efficient in absorbing all the nutrients from the water solution. This is because plants that are grown hydroponically live in water and minerals. They are not “waiting” for rain or garden sprinkles. They can absorb water and minerals on demand. This allows the plants to grow faster and yield bigger and more produce.
Hydroponics Bring More Yield
A study by the University of Nevada, Reno, USA, comparing hydroponic and soil systems for growing strawberries, found that the hydroponic strawberries had a 17% higher yield compared to the soil grown strawberries.
Hydroponically grown plants can grow faster and produce more fruit because they have direct access to the nutrients they need. In addition to that, hydroponic plants are proving to live longer as their environment is controlled with precision to create perfect growing and high yield conditions.
Another study found that plants in the hydroponic system can produce 20–25% higher yields than a soil-based system with productivity 2–5 times higher.
Hydroponics Do Not Need Pesticides
While pesticides are a necessity in soil gardening to eliminate insects, soil-less gardening does not seem to need them.
Soil is paradise for:
Dirt carries bacteria and microbes that the plants need, but the pests thrive on. The same study on strawberries showed hydroponics are more resistant to certain insects, which could be revolutionary for reducing pesticide control in general.
Hydroponics Lower Plant Cost Over the Long Run
Farmers do not want to apply pest control, but they have to. Most often they use:
- To fight insects that destroy the plants
- To fight fungi that spread disease
- To kill weeds, so they do not steal the nutrients from the plants.
If no chemical control is used, pest infections may lead to enormous economic losses for farmers. Reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides can bring savings to the farmer. If farmers stick with hydroponics, they are more likely to save from the investment than traditional gardeners.
Hydroponics Allow Gardening Anywhere Anytime
Hydroponics offers a new perspective into growing food sustainably. A great benefit of this gardening method is that the water is recycled, allowing crops to be grown in areas with dry climates to enjoy fresh produce.
Hydroponic systems are also useful in urban areas with little space as soil-less grown plants maintain small roots. Using a hydroponic indoor growing kit equipped with LED lights will allow you to grow healthy and nutritious herbs and vegetables even in a small city apartment.
Hydroponics Provide Opportunity for Experimentation
If you are not the type that likes to get your hands dirty, hydroponics may offer a fresh take on gardening. You receive the benefits of a freshly grown tomato at home at your own hydroponic “lab”.
And yes, you can still call yourself a gardener if you have a crunchy piece of lettuce in your hands coming from your hydroponics system. You are a gardener / scientist! Just make sure you follow the instructions in your hydroponics kit to grow your food safely.
Hydroponic Vegetables Taste Better
The absorption of nutrients by plants grown in hydroponic systems is higher compared to plants grown in soil. This means that the need for fertilizers in hydroponic systems is eliminated.
Also, some studies report that vegetables grown in a hydroponic way taste better than traditionally grown foods. According to this video, How Aerofarms’ vertical farms grow produce, hydroponic or also called “vertical” farming may improve the taste of our salads. The farm reported that hydroponically grown arugula tastes “more peppery” and the kale’s flavor is “sweeter”. This could be a winning point for parents who want their children to eat their greens.
Hydroponics Require Little Maintenance
A hydroponic system lasts through multiple seasons. Therefore, a new nutrient solution needs to be added regularly. In comparison, the dirt in the garden must be replaced and fertilized often, and crops should be rotated, so the nutrients in one garden spot do not get exhausted.
Hydroponics has a lot of great benefits, but you should make an informed decision before you dedicate your time and energy to it. Here are the disadvantages to hydroponics you need to know about:
Higher Startup and Energy Cost
Cost for growing crops in hydroponic systems may be twice as high than regular soil pots. There is a cost for all the elements that comprise the hydroponic system including:
- Drip ring
- pH adjuster
Often the main reason farmers are turned off to try this novice gardening approach is the initial cost.
Hydroponics is usually used to produce greens such as:
The energy required to produce bigger vegetables like potatoes and other root vegetables makes hydroponics impractical.
For example, to produce one kilogram of tomatoes or other fleshy vegetables, you would need to account for about 1200 kilowatt-hours of electricity just for the artificial indoor lighting. This does not include the electricity required to keep the temperature in the room warm for the plant to grow.
Hydroponic system requires attention to detail and commitment. You need to check and monitor the pH levels and nutrients’ concentration of the water. Adjusting and replacing the chemicals in the hydroponic reservoirs may take a couple of hours each month.
Hydroponics Not Any Healthier than Soil Gardening
Some consider hydroponic farming to be healthier than traditional soil gardening. However, hydroponically grown plants do not have the label “organic”, because they use chemically synthesized nutrient solutions. Even if hydroponics requires little or no pesticides for weeds, and insects, hydroponically grown plants still need to draw nutrients from the synthetic solutions in the water. These non-organic salts include:
- Nitrogen and phosphorus that keep leaves green.
- Potassium that keeps fruit strong and healthy.
The defenders of hydroponics claim that soil-less approach to gardening is not any different from traditional farming as it uses fertilizers. They are just poured in the water vs. the soil.
Higher Technical Skill for Growing Plants Hydroponically
Growing food hydroponically can be challenging at first. It requires careful following of all instructions and immaculate monitoring of the pH levels of the nutrient solution. The stakes could be high, as the chemicals may damage the plants and harm us when we eat them. Also, there are a lot of connected pipes and cables in a hydroponics system that could be an electrocution or stumbling hazard.
Example Hydroponic Kits
If you are ready to grow your food year long, and cost is not an issue, you can start your hydroponics garden now.
Best Value Hydroponics System
AeroGarden Harvest Elite comes with everything you need: programmable reservoir, herb seed kit, plant food and LED lights. It lasts all season, so you can grab fresh spices from your home garden any time.
Layered Hydroponic System
It is possible that you got inspired to start a hydroponic garden because you have seen a few level systems with leafy greens happily growing in it. This VIVOSUN Hydroponic Grow Kit features 3 levels and is easy to build and use.
If you are interested in making your own hydroponics system, equip yourself with:
- Herbs: Try this starter kit with 15 Varieties Herb Seeds Variety Pack
- Hydroponics Reservoir
- Atwater Hydropod: a basic kit that includes drip ring, air pump, rockwool cubes and nutrients to start growing your garden in a 5-gallon bucket.
- Recirculating Deep Water Reservoir: a higher end hydroponic kit that includes air tubing, clay pebbles, recirculating pump and drain pump to make hydroponics for beginners easy.
- LED Light: this Bloom Plus Grow Light will replace natural sunlight and help your hydroponic plants grow.
- Nutrient Solutions: these Flora Grow, Bloom, Micro Combo nutrient concentrates are perfect for growing flowers and vegetables.
- pH Control Kit: this pH Test Kit will help you balance the nutrient levels in your hydroponic garden.
Now you are ready to start gardening in soil-less environment.
See also: Here’s How to Make Money Gardening
Soil gardening continues to be the way most farmers and home gardeners grow produce. There is something inherently compelling about being close to the ground and feeding it, so it can feed you.
Soil System Pros
Soil gardening is preferred for many reasons, and we have listed the most popular ones below.
Any Produce Can Grow in Soil
The great thing about traditional farming is that it allows you to grow anything:
The cost for electricity or complex floating plant and water recycling systems are eliminated.
Soil Gardening is Simple
Gardening the traditional way is an orderly practice. Choose the place, enrich the soil, plant the seeds, water the plant, remove the weeds often. If there are too many dry days, water your vegetables with a garden hose or water bucket and watch them grow.
Soil Gardening is Generally Safe
Growing a fresh red dense tomato is a safe endeavor! But you do have to be persistent and dedicated. Put your plant in a bed of fertilized soil, watch it, give it water, watch it more, accept that weather will not be always on your side. There is no need to mix chemicals that can burn you or your tomato plant.
Gardening is Good for Your Body and Mind
The health benefits of gardening are endless. It is known to:
- Decrease blood pressure
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Prevent osteoporosis
- Strengthen heart
- Reduce stress and provide relaxation
Gardening also counts as exercise. You can burn between 200-400 calories per hour, just as much as you would in a 30 minute-aerobic exercise.
Gardening is Practically Free
If you already have a yard, it is only natural to designate a sunny spot in it for a garden. You do not need to pay for artificial lighting as the biggest light bulb your vegetables need 8 hours a day, the sun, is at your disposal. Watering is required occasionally, but mother nature would typically take care of most of the work.
If you are gardening in pots, a $25 fifty-quart bag of potting soil can nourish your plants for up to 6 months. An initial investment in pot gardening is affordable and for that reason, preferred by both, experienced and new gardeners.
Check out this article to get you started with soil gardening.
Soil System Cons
Soil gardening does not have too many disadvantages, but it is greatly criticized for the use of fertilizers.
Gardening Uses Harmful Pesticides
A gardener is constantly battling with weeds, gnats, squirrels. To prevent pests like feeding worms, caterpillars, and beetles, from eating the plant, farmers need to treat their vegetables with pesticides. Pesticides can be toxic to people. Pesticide poisoning can lead to:
- Thyroid problems
Understandably, the use of pesticides is a concern, but farmers have not found a way to grow rich nutrient vegetables and fruits without them.
Gardening Needs Space
Growing plants, the traditional way, could be quite challenging for someone living in an apartment. Gardening is messy and requires a lot of room. Balconies may work for a small batch of herbs, but if you want to get serious with gardening, you will be forced to explore community gardening.
According to researchers at the University of Arizona, plants grown hydroponically use about 10 times less water than soil farming.
Example Gardening Starting Kits
Unlike a hydroponics system, gardening requires just a few simple tools. Here is what you need to start growing your plants in soil.
A garden without tomatoes is not a garden. These assorted Heirloom Tomato Seeds provide a colorful variety of eight organic types. Each packet includes 40-60 seeds.
If you are ready to start your gardening journey but do not have a ton of space, you can begin by buying plastic containers. This 3-pack GROWNEER plastic rectangular kit is perfect for vegetables and flowers.
Save yourself some time and do not buy vegetable and flower Grow Bags. They are too flimsy. They are advertised as easy to transport anywhere because of their soft material, but we doubt you are taking your garden anywhere.
Best Value Potting Mix
This Miracle-Gro is excellent for indoor and outdoor plants and lasts for up to 6 months.
This Espoma AP4 has only natural ingredients and is perfect for conscientious organic gardeners who carefully inspect every bite from the ground to table.
Whether you grow plants in a garden or pots, you still need to fertilize the soil to provide important nutrients for your plants. This Miracle-Gro nutrient supplement is ideal for vegetables, flowers and houseplants. It just needs to be mixed with water and sprayed on the plant every two weeks.
This eco-friendly Coco Mulch is perfect for preventing weeds. Mix it with water, let it expand and apply to your plants.
Now you are ready to start your garden. If you choose this method, the total cost for your soil garden this season will be much lower than with hydroponics solutions.
If you are willing to do some experimentation and feed your plants unconventionally, give hydroponics a try. If you see your food as sacred and traditional that can come from only one place, the ground, then maybe you do not change a thing and keep gardening in soil.
There is no right or wrong answer. Regardless of if you choose a hydroponics or soil system, you are receiving the benefits of home-grown herbs, fruits, and vegetables, and that is all that matters.