Ask Alex #3: Soil or Hydro? (Bonus Announcement Included)

WSJ Team October 19, 2011 1

Another major top question asked in the horticultural field is “Do I use soil, or do I use hydroponics?”

Let me put out the first obvious answer – if you have the open land area, GO SOIL. Nothing rocks more than a good soil permaculture (excepting vertical farming hydro systems, of course,) and you can reap major yields if done properly. This depends on your soil composition and nutrient regimen.

From there, we should always analyze the cost, as well as difficulty. People think hydroponics is difficult, and this could not be further from the truth. If you have ever properly managed a fish tank, or a pool, then you can do hydroponics without any troubles for the most part. It is very simple and you only need to know a few basic things, and then have a little money to invest in building your setup. Hydroponics can vary so much and be DIY very easily again as long as you know a few basic things.

Now, there are disadvantages to soil and hydro. If you are new to hydro, and are using unbuffered nutrients, you will need to pay close attention to your system, as nutrient concentrations and pH ranges will change, you will want to check at least three times a week to ensure no problems are occurring. In soil, the soil acts as the buffer, and you won’t have to worry so much as long as you keep the pH around 6.3-6.5 (optimal.)

Soil is slow to show issues, however, whereas hydro can go south in a heartbeat and it will let you know. One’s attention span will be crucial with regards to either type of growing medium.

There is also soilless culture – not quite hydro, not quite soil, involves more micro-organisms to make sure things are balanced out properly. If you can maintain this type of system, this is one of the best you can possibly do, and I would highly recommend it.

If you choose hydro, you have many methods. For purposes of quality and yield, I suggest either DWC/SWC or NFT systems over all other systems,  just speaking from personal experience amongst many crops.

Any questions, comments, concerns, as always, address them in the comments below!

One Comment »

  1. askalex October 21, 2011 at 6:48 PM - Reply

    I neglected to make the bonus announcement. Red LEDs have just recently surpassed an equivalent of 160+ lumens per watt. This now puts all high-quality LED bulbs (blues have been at this level for a while, which is why high-lumen white diodes use them as bases) at levels surpassing HID excepting low-pressure sodium, which while at 200+ lumens per watt, has almost no usable light in the visible range for plant life.)

    This is exciting, as we can finally start seeing more truth to yield/energy used claims made by panel resellers. The whole 90w LED = 400w HPS claim only really held true for vegetative plants (and with current tech that I have seen and personally developed, we can do more with even less than that, now, for regular food crops.) It never held true for fruiting and flowering. The photon flux density just wasn’t there. (note: I hate using lumens to describe light output. Photon flux density is the standard used by photobiologists.) Now, those photon flux densities are possible. Also, new cooling tech advances have made it possible to pack INSANE amounts of LED power into a tight space, further increasing the center-measured PPFD. Still pricey, however this will come down as the tech ramps up in production and matures.

    Get ready, as horticulture will never be the same. This makes space-based farming so much closer to reality!

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