Hydroponic Vegetable Gardening: Could Soil Go Out of Style?

Reader Contribution by Emily Kennedy
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Recently a trend in farming has resurfaced and gained national attention that has grown in popularity with some, but has left others with mixed feelings. Vertical farming, sometimes categorized as one type of urban farming, generally refers to when plants are grown hydroponically. This means that plants can be grown without soil and natural sunlight, and every aspect that contributes to the gardening process is controlled to ensure consistent crop production.

In hydroponic vegetable gardening, the seeds are planted in some type of container or tray, sprayed with a nutrient-enhanced solution and exposed to artificial light instead of natural sunlight. The containers that house the plants can be stacked on top of each other to save space. The most talked about place to keep these stacked plant containers are old, abandoned buildings. According to The Vertical Farm Project, the new method prides itself on year-round crop production, ecosystem restoration and sustainability of food. It also explains statistics that the human population will increase by 3 billion and conventional farming practices will not be able to produce enough food, but the high crop production resulting from vertical farming will simply solve the problem.

This method typically requires you to purchase startup services and supplies. There are many companies out there that provide equipment and services. Aerofarms is a company that provides everything from startup support to sales and marketing for potential vertical farming prospects. Hydroponics.com provides information on where to find garden kits with everything included to start your hydroponic garden; all you need to do is add water.

Although there are aspects of hydroponics that could be seen as advantages, some pose the question of whether they outweigh the disadvantages. Here is a short list of both advantages and disadvantages of gardening with hydroponics from HydroponicSearch.com that may help you form your own opinion.

Year-round crop production
Reduction in maintenance and space
A completely controlled environment

Pests and diseases could potentially affect each plant because of close proximity
You must have a substantial amount of knowledge before attempting this method
Hot weather can damage or even result in crop termination

Many argue that this trend is the future of food and has the potential to completely sweep out natural or organic farming practices. However, with lack of soil, artificial light and the application of a nutrient-enhanced solution, one must wonder if this farming practice produces the same quality of food that traditional farming practices produce. The Effects of Hydroponics on Vegetables gives more information on this issue. They claim that soil-grown vegetables may be better for your immune system than vegetables grown hydroponically.

For all you readers that love gardening — the feeling of the warm soil in your fingers, the warm sun above — this move toward controlled farming sans sun and soil might feel flat out sad. The question is, will this method of growing food become the future of agriculture? What do you think about vertical farming and hydroponic vegetable gardening? Please post your comments below.

Photo by Leslie J. Marris/iStockphoto