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Everything You Need to Know about Hydroponics

Hydroponics is a rapidly growing sector of agriculture, and we've got everything you need to know about this way of farming and what it means for you.

You may have heard of hydroponics, especially given that it is one of the most rapidly growing types of agriculture. People have actually been growing food indoors for centuries now, either by growing produce in containers in direct sunlight or by using greenhouses. Of course, growing food indoors is not revolutionary or new, but what makes hydroponic produce different is that it is grown without soil. Instead of growing fruits and vegetables in nutrient-rich soil, hydroponic produce grows by submerging the roots in nutrient-fortified water.

Benefits of Hydroponic Farming

— A large volume of fruits, vegetables, and herbs can be grown in a fairly small space.

— Hydroponic farms can grow food that cannot realistically be grown traditionally in certain places such as urban areas (not enough green space), or climates where the weather or geography limits growing ability (for example, in Alaska).

— Since hydroponic farming can be done indoors, farmers don’t have to worry about crop loss due to extreme weather conditions or events, such as storms, droughts, extreme heat waves, unanticipated freezes, or natural disasters.

— Crops grown with hydroponics are less prone to damage from insects or annoying weeds, meaning you don’t have to worry about herbicides or pesticides being used on your food.

— Hydroponic farming uses up to 90 percent less water than traditional farming operations.

— Because some hydroponic farmers use lights to grow their food, they can manage the amount and type of light the plants receive, thus producing food year-round and increasing yields since the crops don’t depend on natural sunlight.

— There is no danger of hydroponically-grown fruits and vegetables absorbing dangerous heavy metals that could be found in soil.

— Since hydroponic produce can be grown just about anywhere, this could reduce the carbon footprint associated with transporting produce to the consumer.

Commonly Grown Hydroponic Foods

Currently, not all types of produce can be grown using hydroponics. The most commonly-grown fruits and vegetables available through hydroponic farming today include leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens, etc.), various lettuces, tomatoes, herbs, peppers, strawberries, and cucumbers.

Nutrition of Hydroponically-Grown Fruits and Vegetables

Right now, there is not a great deal of research that compares traditional, soil-grown produce to hydroponic produce as this research is challenging. Farmers working with soil or water as a growing medium can both affect the nutrient composition of the fruits or vegetables they are growing by adding nutrients to either the soil or the water. Other factors influence the nutrient content of produce, such as the species of the plant, the amount of ripeness of the fruit or vegetable when it is harvested, and the duratio of time and conditions in which it is stored after it has been picked.

How Do They Taste?

You may be wondering, how does the taste of hydroponic produce compare to fruits and vegetables that are grown in soil? Well, you might be surprised to learn that produce grown with hydroponics tastes absolutely delicious! The circumstances that impact flavor, such as humidity, air temperature, light and nutrient availability, and moisture, can all be precisely controlled and accurately reproduced with hydroponic farming. Taste varies according to plant variety, growing conditions, and freshness, but hydroponic farmers can specifically breed plants for the best flavor, texture, and nutrient content, especially since they don’t have to worry about breeding for resistance to pests, mold, or for extended shelf life.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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