When it comes to growing food crops, either commercially or for your own pleasure at home, price is a big factor to consider. If growing your plants will cost significantly more than purchasing the food at a supermarket, many people are disinclined to do it – so is hydroponics cheaper than soil?
A hydroponic system is more expensive to set up than a soil-growing system. You need to buy equipment and install it, and the upfront costs can be high, although they are slowly decreasing as hydroponics becomes more popular.
However, the ongoing costs can be lower than with soil, especially when you take the efficiency and improved yields into account.
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Why Are Hydroponic Systems Expensive?
Two things make a hydroponic system quite expensive, both in terms of setup and ongoing costs. We’ll look at setup first, and then ongoing costs.
The setup involves quite a lot of equipment. You will have to purchase tanks, pumps, and controls, and these things can cost hundreds of dollars for just a square foot of growing space. You need to understand what is needed, and purchasing kits can be very expensive.
This cost is falling as more people move toward hydroponics and the technology to create the systems gets cheaper, but it can still be prohibitive for many growers. Getting into hydroponics is pricey.
You also have to think about lighting; you’ll need equipment that’s appropriate for your space, high quality, and reliable. This can also add significantly to the cost of a system.
Lastly, your main problem is choosing a flow system that allows for rich nutrient solution, giving your plant's roots the best chance of absorbing everything they need to grow fast. EBB and flow system and nutrient film technique are the two most popular.
You then have to consider the ongoing costs and the maintenance of your system. You will need to repair and replace equipment as necessary, and you’ll need to consider the costs of your system in terms of electricity. If you have to heat the space you are using, this must also be factored into your cost assessment and budget going forward.
If you are capable of maintaining and making repairs yourself, you will pay less in terms of keeping equipment in good shape, but you should still include this cost in case you need to call in an expert.
However, despite the expense of hydroponics, many people believe it contains the key to sustainable farming in the future. For example, PSCI.Princeton lists ten reasons that hydroponics may be the future of farming. These include:
- Sustainable and increased potential for growth in a smaller area mean the ability to feed a growing population
- More land can be restored to its natural state, decreasing the impact of climate change and allowing wildlife to flourish as ecosystems restore themselves
- Use of black water to decrease the strain on drinking water supplies
- Ability to grow food in areas where the land is not suitable for farming and in urban environments
- Reduced use of pesticides and chemical sprays
- Breaking the cycle of traditional soil borne diseases that are spread through the soil year on year
- Full control over nutrient solution and how much your plants will soak up
What Areas Will You Save Money In?
So, where is hydroponics economically attractive and viable? Let's look deeper at electricity and maintenance costs:
1) Better space use
Hydroponic gardening can firstly save you money via space-saving. It makes use of vertical space, allowing you to grow more in far smaller areas.
This can save a lot of money when compared with traditional farming, which needs vast areas of land in order to successfully grow crops.
Did you know: Plants grown in soil need more space than hydroponic gardens, as they need to spread their roots through the soil to find nutrients. With hydroponics, the nutrients are given directly to the plant roots and thus a small root network is all a plant needs.
2) Reduced water consumption
Water can be an extremely expensive aspect of farming, and if you don’t have a reservoir or rainwater collection system in place, watering your plants can cost a lot of money. Soil does not hold water well, meaning that you lose the vast majority of your water back into the ground.
Watering your hydroponic plants needs significantly less water and a higher quality nutrient solution, because again, the water is delivered directly to the roots. Some methods, such as aeroponics, use very little water because they only mist the roots, rather than washing them with it.
This is what sparks of the "hydroponics vs soil" debate, as water is the biggest worry.
3) Reduced weeding
A hydroponic system does not require you to weed your plants, and if you’re growing a lot of crops, this cuts a massive expense from your system.
You no longer need to worry about losing plants to weeds, and you don’t have weeds sapping away the nutrients that your plants need.
4) Faster growth
If you want to make the most of the growing season and maximize the crops you get from a space, hydroponics is the way forward. Hydroponic crops can grow up to fifty percent faster in some cases.
This means that you get a great deal more value from the space you own, with far more plants being ready to harvest in much shorter periods of time.
Whether you are growing crops commercially or just for your home, a doubled production is certainly worth the financial input and should pay great dividends.
Many experts believe this is due to the dense nutrient solution that a hydroponic garden uses.
5) Fewer pests
Anyone who has ever grown plants outdoors will know how quickly pests can decimate your entire food crop. You can lose everything in just days. Even if you aren’t that unlucky, pests can massively reduce your harvest.
With hydroponic gardening, pests are rarer. Insect pests can certainly still be a factor, but you won’t be faced by raccoons, pigeons, rabbits, squirrels, etc., trying to munch up your plants. You may also find that there are fewer insect pests to contend with, although they can spread quickly through a hydroponic system.
Final Thoughts On Hydroponic Gardening Costs
Hydroponic gardening is not necessarily cheaper than soil, but they do offer a lot of advantages. If you have the funds for the initial investment, you will probably find that the maintenance costs and ongoing cost of electricity, etc., balance with the increased crop yield and reduced workload.
This will depend a great deal on your system and your options for soil growing methods, but on the whole, hydroponics can be a financially viable alternative to growing in soil. It will likely become even more so in the future.