Friday 17 August 2018

Looking At hydroponics

This is a collaborative post.

So following on from my post about conserving water I’ve also been thinking lots about different growing methods and if I’d like to try any others, particularly if they’d be better in a hot summer.
From searches about straw bale gardening, to no dig, to minimum tillage, one that keeps popping up again and again is growing hydroponically.

Straight away I can see one major downside to this, the initial cost of set up. Having a good hydroponic system set up isn’t going to be cheap but once its set up all you have to provide are the hydroponic nutrients, water and a medium for them to grow in and keep the system working.

I remain sceptical about it all but I did speak to a strawberry farmer, who is a friend of my fathers, the other day and he said to me “No one growing strawberries commercially does it in soil anymore, that’s a thing of the past.”

Now that does make me feel a little sad but then it also makes me wonder what I’m missing out on by not growing like they do. I came close to trying it a few years ago, I had a huge tray ready to be set up, all I needed was a pump and some of the insulation they grow the plants in. But time stopped me, although I have the tray still (some industrial guttering) so maybe I’ll try it in the future.

It’s a shame really as I’m useless at growing strawberries. I like my food to grow in the soil, but is that just old fashioned?

When you look at the positives of growing using their method there are lots of positives, especially in a hot year.

It’s said to use up to 20 times LESS water. That’s a huge deal when looking at a field of strawberries, and the water can keep being cycled round so less needs to be extracted from rivers or water sources. 

That can only be a good thing on a crop that are normally heavily irrigated. This would also work well on a smaller garden scale and would mean that drought periods didn’t need to affect your crops.

You can grow anywhere as the soil condition isn’t important. I’m sure we’ve driven past the fields with the plants all raised up. Far better for your back or that of the picker, and it doesn’t matter what the soil conditions are like under the trays. Also it keeps some pests at bay reducing the need for sprays or other intervention.

Sterile growing medium - less pesticides are needed early on as all the plants grow in new medium each time. Also reduces the need for crop rotation so plants can be grow in the same spot year on year.

Less space – as mentioned above there is less space needed for growing them so they are often grown in trays. I’ve even seen shipping containers converted into small farms when the plants are all in trays one on top of the other with artificial light shining on the plants.

It’s far easier to give them just what they need – feeding them something that’s ready mixed means they get just what they need. It ties you to buying feed for the plants but means you don’t have to spend years building and improving your soil.

In conclusion I’m still in two minds about hydroponics. I think the efficient part of me really wants to try it whereas the traditional bit of me doesn’t in case I like it! I think trying it on something like strawberries might be worth looking at although I’ll need to look at cost and see if it would still be viable.

What do you think? Would you (or do you) use hydroponics? What do you think the main advantages are?


  1. I went to a big PYO the other day where they still have a few areas of strawberries growing in the ground but most are hydroponics under cover. I can see the advantages- predictable, easy picking, no slug and little insect damage, but the massive downside was the flavour. Even fully ripe just off of the plant they were insipid. Sweet, but watery. I know they were a different variety but the ones in the ground were much tastier. I would also think the nutrition in the hydroponic ones would be lower. They’ll get the macronutrients but be missing out on all sorts of micronutrients from the soil. I know herbalists say that plants that haven’t had to put up a bit of a fight don’t have many beneficial compounds so I think the cosseting may exacerbate the lack of flavour/nutrition. That makes it not worth it for me (I came home determined to expand my soft fruit growing) plus I avoid anything that involves technology! Not a Luddite, just not technically inclined 😁

  2. Like Hazel, I, too, can tell the flavor difference. I won't buy the ever-available store berries at all, preferring just a couple of seasonal quarts each spring from a local farmer growing the old fashioned way. Those berries may be smaller, but each one is a flavor explosion.

  3. I wanted to try hydroponics, but it looked so complicated. I was fascinated that Ikea have a hydroponic indoor system for sale in the UK, if it was sold over here in the States I would have bought it!


  4. I know nothing about hydroponic growing. What organic/chemical dfree liquid food would you use Kev? Our cucumbers and tomatoes have loved my cow dung and nettle tea this year.

  5. I read up on it too. I thought it might be something new to try. But right now its cost prohibitive for me. Also I need to find a permanent space for set up. The set ups I looked at included a tank on the bottom for raising fish and plants on top. Is that what yours is about? Or would you just raise the plants?

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  8. Personally I'd love to be able to grow fodder, probably barley grass, hydroponically for the horses, less reliance on the hay merchants and according to articles I've read you can have a crop within 6 days. Of course the initial expenditure prevents me :(

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