The prospect of growing hydroponic produce excites many green-fingered people with limited space in their gardens. There is also the appeal of being a little more self-sufficient but not so much when you start adding messy soil into the mix.
With so many hydroponic kits out there, you might fancy giving hydroponic growing a try. But, are these hydroponic vegetables a safe and healthy way to get some of your 5-a-day?
It is understandable if you are a little concerned about turning to this alternative growing solution for your food. There are plenty of critics that aren’t convinced that soil-free vegetable growing is the most beneficial option out there.
There are questions about the quality of the food and nutritional content. But, with more and more veg and leafy greens entering stores from hydroponic facilities, is it time that we took another look?
Are Hydroponic Plants Safe And Healthy?
Ultimately, hydroponic plants are as safe and healthy as their soil grown counterparts. The growing method would not make hydroponic plants unsafe. However, the nutrients, additives, pesticides, and any other external chemicals can cause both hydroponic and soil plants to become unsafe and not healthy.
Under the right conditions, produce from hydroponic facilities can have high levels of nutrients and minimal risks from other chemicals. The right additions to the water supply should create plants that are no different from those in soil. But, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some potential drawbacks to consider before making a switch. Hydroponic plants for food aren’t for everyone.
Hydroponics is a reliance on water for the health and generation of crops rather than soil. Plants are suspended in the water and fed nutrients for healthy growth.
There are different camps when it comes to attitudes towards hydroponic vegetable growing. On one side, you have those that see it as the future and, on the other, those that question its worth over natural methods.
Let’s look at some of the key issues and questions in more detail to get a better idea of what to expect with hydroponic produce. Below, we will answer the following.
- Why are we growing so many hydroponic plants for food?
- Is the nutrient content any higher or lower in this sort of plant?
- Are there any benefits to being out of the soil when it comes to health and safety?
- What about pesticides and herbicides?
- Is it true that you can get Salmonella from hydroponic plants?
- Are hydroponic growing solutions a better choice for the future?
Why Hydroponic Growing Has Become More Common
Hydroponics is a convenient way to grow larger numbers of crops in small spaces. Indoor facilities allow us to stack specimens on top of each other without the need for soil.
This means a higher yield with no external influences for better food production throughout the year. You don’t have the same risks of drought or pest control.
It is also possible for the average consumer to try hydroponic systems as a way of growing more fruit and veg at home.
The growth in popularity of this soil-free process helps people without gardens try out a new way to get pleasure from growing something. If you can eat it, save money, and maybe help the planet, then why not give hydroponic gardening a try?
Hydroponic Plant Nutrient Levels
When hydroponic vegetables are grown correctly, there shouldn’t be any concern about their nutritional content.
Growers can provide the right feeds and alternative growing conditions to create something akin to vegetables grown in the soil. This does, however, raise some questions about home-grown vegetables by those new to hydroponics. Are these vegetables going to be as safe and nutritious as those you would have planted in compost?
Typically the nutrient levels of plants grown hydroponically versus in soil are about the same. There are studies that show plants grown hydroponically grow faster and have more nutrients than soil. However, this is an unfair comparison from the nutrient standpoint since the soil may not have had as many nutrients as the hydroponic water.
All this is to say that the nutrient levels should be comparable between hydroponic and soil grown plants. The reason why hydroponic plants may be more nutrient dense is due to the fact that the nutrients are ready to absorb in the water. So the plants can easily uptake the nutrients they need and with hydroponics you are providing optimal nutrient for the plants.
Remember that the nutritional content of vegetables varies from crop to crop. They always say that you should never compare apples and oranges. Well, you shouldn’t really compare one type of carrot to another neither. It isn’t fair to say that one form of carrot that was grown in hydroponics is worse than another variety grown in the soil. It might not have anything to do with growing conditions. If your normal variety is now weak, pale, and tasteless, then you’re probably doing something wrong.
Benefits Of Hydroponic Growing Versus Soil
The criticism of hydroponics is that you lose access to the soil, which many see as essential to growing healthy, nutrient-rich produce. A good soil that is organic and rich with nutrients can create tasty, vibrant, and healthy vegetables. There are concerns that an artificial microbiome or supplemental feed can’t replicate these benefits.
However, advocates for hydroponic would argue against this and say that you can still get all the nutrients you need this way with careful control and management. Growers can adapt levels of solutions and nutrients to suit the needs of the plant, rather than leave it all up to Mother Earth and hope for the best. There is also the argument that soil conditions have declined and aren’t as fertile due to intensive farming.
Then there is the fact that no nutrients are lost when growing in hydroponics. Nutrients in the soil can leach out through rainfall or end up being consumed by other plants or weeds. Here, whatever we add into the water stays there and is 100% available for use by the plant.
So in hydroponics the grower has more control over the plant than a soil grown plant.
Pesticides And Herbicides
Pesticides are a big problem with cheaper produce grown in the soil. You may wonder whether there is any need for pesticides or other chemicals in a setting such as a hydroponics facility.
Typically pesticides and herbicides are not commonly or frequently used in hydroponic growing. However, commercial facilities may use pesticides if they have a bug infestation.
Remember most hydroponic facilities are growing plants indoors within a large warehouse. So there will not be any weeds growing near the vegetables and most pests are kept out by the building itself.
However, the only way to truly know if a plant was sprayed with a pesticide or herbicide is to grow it yourself. You do not need pesticides or herbicides for small scale hydroponic gardening.
Can Salmonella Come From Hydroponic Plants?
Salmonella can come from hydroponic gardening since these vegetables grow in facilities with high levels of humidity.
This higher level of humidity can increase the risk of salmonella contamination. However, this is a low risk and you shouldn’t be concerned about food poisoning as long as you wash and cook the vegetables properly. But there is a risk of bringing that bacteria into your home.
To put this risk into perspective, purchasing produce from the store means the plants left the farm, traveled on a truck, and were placed into a store. There are many steps along this journey where a plant can pickup bacteria such as salmonella so I would not use salmonella as the reason for not growing hydroponically.
Are Hydroponics Better For The Future?
Some consumers may come around to the idea of eating something that came from a hydroponics facility if they know that they can have a safe, healthy vegetable with the same nutritional value as soil grown produce. It is also a helpful way to provide a reliable source of produce in times of difficult growing conditions.
However, it is difficult to see hydroponics replacing all traditional growing methods. We like the romantic notion of growing something in the soil and watching it develop. There is also the fact that setting up hydroponics systems require a good amount of money versus planting seeds in the dirt.
There certainly is a place for hydroponics as we want to have fresher food and need to grow more produce to support more people. Having urban gardens in garages, balconies, rooftops, and warehouses provide a great way to help feed this world.
Hydroponic Gardening At Home
If there are still concerns about the origin of hydroponic vegetables in stores and mass production, such as the uncertainty about salmonella and the use of pesticides, you could just grow at home. Simple home hydroponic solutions give you full control over what goes into the water, how you manage the system, and which varieties to choose.
Everything is in your hands for greater peace of mind over what your family eats.
There may be some bumps along the road where you struggle to balance the fertilizers and other nutrients correctly. You might find that the first crop isn’t as good as it used to be in the ground. But, with practice, you can fix the errors and find a way to make hydroponic plants a safe and healthy way to feed your loved ones.