Soilless vs. Soil-Based Growing
The industrial revolution paved the way for agricultural methods that made production faster in ways that had previously not been possible. Conventional farming methods were accelerated using fossil fuels, and alluvial lands were discovered and used to set up spaces for growing crops at maximum efficiency.
Industrial agriculture kept on innovating and creating new economic possibilities, with biological research leading to great discoveries in crop genetics. These discoveries led to the creation of disease-resistant crop breeds that would later maximize yields and feed more people.
Due to the world’s dependence on soil, over-farming agricultural lands over the years has led to rising fertilizer usage and the need to protect plants from weeds, pests and other elements during farming.
The challenges facing soil-based agriculture have led to the invention of soilless growing, a.k.a. hydroponics, a method of growing crops without the use of soil. In soilless agriculture, crops are grown in nutrient solutions. This is a popular way to grow plants indoors that reduces the risk of crops being exposed to pests and harsh weather conditions.
Soilless agriculture is a method of growing crops in mineral solutions packed with nutrients. The composition of mineral solutions depends on the crop under cultivation. Ideally, mineral solutions contain essential cations and anions, namely magnesium, calcium, potassium, sulfates and nitrates.
Soilless growing methods include aeroponics and continuous flow solutions, or with mediums like coco coir, peat, or rockwool.
One of the advantages of soilless growing is that unlike soil-based agriculture, where farmers have to use fertilizers to increase crop yield and spray pesticides to keep weeds and pests away, crops grown in a soilless medium are more protected from pests and weeds. But the biggest benefit of soilless growing is the yields.
Yields from soilless cultivation are significantly higher as a result of intensive practices and the possibilities of continuous, year-round production. But plants grown in a soilless medium may be prone to pathogen attacks as a result of high moisture levels, plus more susceptible to rapid death as a result of their lower buffering capacity.
Plants grown in soil will be usually be grown either in containers or out in the field. Containers like fabric pots are used for growing plants that will most likely need to be moved at some point. Field cultivation involves the preparation of land and putting in some work, like preparing your beds and conditioning them with fertilizer.
In soil-based agriculture, different types of soils are used to grow different crops. For instance, root crops grow better in fine soils because such soils allow for better root growth.
Realistically, the best setting for growing in a soil-based medium is outdoors. Soilless growing conserves water, it conserves land, and requires less pesticides that increase a farm’s risk of runoff. In a world where growing in indoor environments has become the standard for producing quality plants, soilless growing is almost always the best choice.