Hydroponic gardening costs more compared to traditional soil cultivation for the typical hobbyist grower.
You need to spend more on equipment and deal with the cost of electricity. Yet, hydroponic farming can offer a more cost-effective option in the long run.
A large hydroponic farm business is likely to save money and resources, thanks to the unique features of hydroponic cultivation. A hydroponic system requires less space, uses less water, and eliminates the need for soil.
Also read: Best Affordable Hydroponics System
So, how much does hydroponics cost?
The answer depends on your preferences. A small aeroponic unit may cost less than $100. Larger systems designed for an indoor farm can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
In the following article, we’ll examine the costs of setting up and maintaining a hydroponics system.
What Makes Hydroponics Expensive?
- Grow tray or piping
- Tubes and drains
- Lighting equipment
Some hydroponics methods also require a timer or controller. For example, an Ebb and Flow system need a timer to control the cycle of flushing and draining the grow tray.
The hydroponics method that you decide to use also impacts the cost. All types of hydroponics belong to one of two categories – passive hydroponic and active hydroponics.
Passive hydroponics involves growing plants with a tank of non-circulating water. They don’t include pumps, tubing, or large tanks, which reduces the cost.
The most common types of passive hydroponics include the Kratky method and the wicking system. Both methods involve placing the plant in a container filled with a nutrient solution.
The only equipment needed for these methods include:
- A bottle
- A net pot or tray to hold the hydroponic plant
- Growing medium
- Liquid plant food
- A light source
A wicking system uses a wick to draw nutrients up to the roots. With the Kratky method, the water level starts above root level. The roots continue to grow as the water evaporates.
The Kratky method and wicking method are easy to set up but require more work for large-scale food production.
Hydroponics gardening requires you to check the nutrient concentration and pH level frequently. As you can only grow one plant per container, checking multiple plants becomes a chore.
Active hydroponic systems include a pump to circulate water. The water is pumped through the grow tray or pipes holding the net pots. Some of the most common active hydroponics methods include:
- Deep-water culture (DWC)
- Nutrient film technique (NFT)
- Ebb and Flow system
Deep-water culture (DWC) hydroponic systems include a container that holds one or more net pots. The roots extend down into a water tank containing the nutrient solution.
A pump keeps the water flowing continuously. These systems tend to work best with plants that have shallow root systems, such as lettuce and leafy greens.
Lettuce production is one of the most common crops found in hydroponic greenhouse facilities. It’s also a simple choice for any beginner hydroponic grower.
The nutrient film technique (NFT) is a hydroponic method that uses a narrow channel, such as a pipe, to hold plants. The narrow channels work well with vertical farming setups. You can easily stack an indoor vertical farm on top of another using the NFT method.
The channel is placed at an angle, allowing water to stream past the roots. The water is recycled through a tank that sits below the channel using a continuous flow, as with the DWC systems.
The Ebb and flow system doesn’t use a continuous flow of water. The water travels through the grow tray containing the plant roots and drains back into the nutrient reservoir.
A timer waits a set number of minutes before flushing the grow tray with water again. The ebb and flow of water provide increased oxygenation, which promotes healthier plants.
What Is the Least Expensive Hydroponics Method?
Countertop DWC systems are often the least expensive store-bought option. Some of the smaller units hold a single plant and basically consist of just a bucket and a water pump.
The passive hydroponic systems are typically the least expensive to build yourself, as you only need a bottle and something to hold the plant.
The NFT and DWC systems are typically the easiest and least expensive active hydroponic systems to build. Both options use a water pump that delivers a continuous flow of water, eliminating the need for a timer or controller.
Size of the Hydroponic System
The size of the system is another consideration. Small countertop hobby systems provide enough space to grow six to nine small plants with a maximum height of 12 to 14 inches. They often cost $200 or less and include everything needed to start growing, including a built-in LED grow light.
If you want a larger system, you can expect to spend more. Grow boxes, high-end aeroponic systems, and indoor vertical farms with space for a dozen or more plants may cost hundreds of dollars.
Did You Know? A hydroponic farm business can be more profitable compared to traditional agriculture. It requires a bigger investment and higher operating costs but tends to generate more revenue.
The average acre of traditional farmland can generate $20,000 to $30,000 per year. An acre of hydroponics can generate $200,000 to $250,000 per year.
DIY Hydroponics Versus All-in-One Hydroponics Kits
When you buy a high-end hydroponic system for hundreds of dollars, you’re mostly paying for convenience. The most expensive systems are all-in-one units with quality grow lights, sturdy enclosures, and automated controls.
DIY hydroponics systems involve more work but save money. The biggest expenses include the pumps and lighting equipment. The structure that holds the plants can be made with affordable materials.
For example, nutrient film technique (NFT) and DWC systems are often made using PVC pipes or plastic buckets with holes drilled to fit the net pots. However, if you don’t have the right tools, a DIY active hydroponics system becomes more of a challenge.
Hydroponic gardening can be cost-effective for those who want to produce large yields. However, setting up a hydroponic system requires a bigger upfront investment.
Building a hydroponic system may require trays, water reservoirs, net pots, pumps, tubing, and other components. Premade systems are available but tend to cost a little more compared to the DIY approach.
While hydroponics costs more compared to buying a planter and fresh potting soil, you can grow more crops. A hydroponic garden typically produces quicker plant growth and fuller harvests.
The cost of a hydroponics setup varies depending on the size of the system and required equipment.
If you want to get into hydroponics but are worried about the costs, try starting with an affordable countertop unit.