If you’ve been thinking about starting up an indoor garden, but still aren’t sure which grow medium is the one for you, there are many different factors to consider before making the final plunge. Time, budget, and experience should all be taken into account of course, but most importantly you should always look towards where you want to learn, rather than what you already know.
If you’ve done a few soil grows, maybe the automated timer-based watering plans of hydroponics could suit your fancy, and if you’ve only been riding the hydro train so far, soil might be a fun alternative to the same-old airstones and nutrient mixes that can get old after the 5th or 20th cycle.
Gardening is all about exploration, discovery, and trying new things, so whichever method you might prefer this article can help you decide which one is right in the end.
Ask any soil grower and they’ll tell you, the one leg up they always have over hydroponics is safety. Not from the outside, but from the risk of anything going wrong in their room while they aren’t around to catch it.
If you grow hydro and want to go on a vacation for a couple of days, your garden becomes much like a house pet which can’t fend for itself without attention and care, so before you leave you’ll need to call up a friend and see if they can check in on a daily basis to make sure everything is still running smoothly while you’re on the beach.
With soil, leaving the nest for a few days doesn’t automatically mean the death of your plants, because adding a little extra water in the pots is all you need to make sure that nothing goes wrong in the time you’re gone.
With hydroponics there a hundred different factors which can all play into the final yield of your crop, but with soil growing that number is reduced down to just a select few. As long as you keep up the same nutrient recipe, light cycle, and strain-specific genetics you can expect similar results after every harvest and leave the surprise weighing sessions to the PVC crowd.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses in the land of growing in soil (figuratively speaking), because the same technology which puts hydroponic growers at risk can also give them the extended benefit of leaving the nasty bits of nature at the door, while others are left dragging
50 pound bags of bat guano through the downstairs hallway. Oftentimes many of the diseases and pest problems which can be easily diagnosed and eradicated in hydro are left to
chance in soil, because the roots of the plant aren’t readily visible to the naked eye. Depending on the blend of soil used, many different pests can be naturally attracted to the scent of your plants, and the familiarity of an outdoors system taking place inside can pull all kinds of nasties into your room without any provocation, other than creating the same kind of environment they tend to thrive in.
To some, hydroponics could be considered the ultimate realization of an idea that started in agriculture nearly 200 years ago, hatched in the minds of millions of farmers during the birth of the Industrial Revolution. The final combination of man and machine that graces him with the food he needs to feed his family, and the excess to provide for the rest of the community around him.
Of course, now we live in an era where corn that’s picked one morning in Iowa can be on a kitchen table in California by dinner, and the idea of locality has been thrown out the window in favor of interstate trucking and the excessive burning of fossil fuels. That doesn’t mean all progress is bad though, and out of modernization has come an entirely new method for sustaining crops that attempts to reach beyond the very limits of what organic life is capable of.
Depending on the route you take, hydroponics can provide incredibly high levels of control over nearly every part of the growing process; from germination of the seeds to seasoning the vegetables right before they hit the grill.
Levels of specific nutrients, increased yield, reusable water sources, the overall health of root masses, and the potential to cure disease are just a few of the many different areas that hydroponic growers have the advantage over soil…but all this transparency and yield boosting does come at a somewhat difficult to manage price.
The same technological advancements that give hydroponic enthusiasts the control they depend on to blow soil harvests out of their pots, can also be responsible for the complexity and fragility that scare many dirt growers off from making that big leap of faith.
If any piece of the system malfunctions while you aren’t home to catch it, you can lose an entire crop within a matter of hours, so often a backup power supply or constant monitoring programs are required in order to ensure eventual success. In recent years however, this garden-killer has become less of an issue, as more advanced toys are being released which can actually text the gardener’s cell phone about any alerts triggered from sudden changes in the system, at which point he can switch over to the webcam feed and assess the damage from wherever he might be in the world.
But before you rush out to the local shop and grab a couple buckets or a pump, these peace of mind luxuries do not come anywhere close to cheap, and unless you’re planning to fill a 30′x30 space with 200 potential sites the initial investment of these devices can far outweigh their benefit for anyone who plans on keeping things humble in their closet department.
No matter which direction you eventually choose, it’s obvious that there are many different factors to consider before entering into the world of growing your own food indoors. If simplicity and consistency sound more appealing than high yields or wild infusions of cutting-edge nutrient combinations, soil is the way to go.
And if you’re someone like me who enjoys tinkering with intricate systems and advanced feeding methods in order to achieve the biggest, bushiest plants around, then hydroponics could be the proper path for you.
Whichever side of the fence you eventually land on, the wonders of creating your own produce at home is an always an exciting adventure to embark on, and who needs to be right as long as everyone’s having fun?
Hydroponic Window Farming in New York(theurbn.com)
Bitponics: An Internet-Connected Hydroponic Home Garden(fastcoexist.com)
“produces an optimal growing condition”(franklinmatters.org)