What you should know when investing in a soilless medium
How do you think food production will be in the next 40 years with the declining arable land? In real sense, crops grow in a soil-based medium. It acts as a medium for micro and macro-nutrients, moisture, and support for optimum plant growth. Plants develop roots that travel through the soil and absorb nutrients as they grow. However, over the years, crop production has been advancing and has seen the development of soilless culture. This involves efficiently delivering nutrients that are premixed in a water reservoir or moisture to the plants’ roots. Soilless growing creates an artificial cultivation system and facilitates the production of high-quality crops and increased yields without any soil. The medium regulates water flow, permits the exchange of gases, provides physical support to the plants, and acts as a reservoir of nutrients. As a grower, some mediums that you can use include hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics.
This article explains the need for soilless cultivation, the advantages, requirements, and various types of soilless farming methods. Dive in and explore more!
Need for soilless cultivation
Over the years, land used for agriculture has been declining. Farmers need an innovative growing medium to grow more with fewer resources to address food security. As the global population grows, there is a need to produce more food to meet the increasing demand. By 2050, food production should rise by 60% to sustain the population. With the depletion of resources and rapid urbanization, a soilless growing medium can be a crucial way of maintaining the productivity of food crops.
What are the advantages of soilless farming?
There are various benefits of soilless agriculture which include:
Faster growth: Soilless media enhances the root systems’ growth rate since it directly delivers nutrients to the plants. The nutrients are supplied by advanced irrigation and drainage systems that distribute them evenly to the roots. Unlike conventional soil growing, soilless agricultural methods such as hydroponics promote faster growth and create an optimized feeding plan. This means increased crop yields, more growing cycles per year, and more revenue from farming.
Saves water and nutrient use: By recycling the water used in the system, soilless methods such as aquaponics and hydroponics cut the water required by close to 90% compared to soil-based techniques.
Growing in a controlled environment: The growing medium used in the soilless system is a closed-loop with a controlled environment where there are less moving soil particles and more use of growing media. There’s no loss or contamination from water, nutrients, or harmful microorganisms such as pathogenic bacteria and fungi between different production cycles. Besides, it optimizes conditions such as light, airflow, humidity, and temperature within the growing environment. It also keeps birds, pests, and other harmful organisms from your farm. When integrated with greenhouses or indoor vertical farms, optimal growing conditions enable you to produce all-year-round. Growing in a controlled environment helps you maintain high food safety standards, grow high-quality crops, and predict crop timing. Also, it shields your crops from harsh weather and harmful chemical properties.
It is sustainable: Growing in controlled environments minimizes the carbon footprint, reduces soil erosion and dependency on soil fertility, and helps in creating green economies.
Uses less space: Crop production per square foot rises with vertical or stacked systems. Soilless growing media use less space to produce more while still maintaining the plant nutrition.
Basic requirements for an excellent growing medium
The selection of soilless growing media is less complex compared to soil-based media. The basic needs of an excellent growing media include:
- Compatibility with many plant varieties, seedlings, and cultivars.
- Good drainage properties
- Highly efficient
- Proper water retention and circulation capabilities
- Easy to work with, maintain, and reduce your dependency on non-renewable inputs.
Soilless growing media can be applied in various applications, including under-house plant cultivation, soil-based hydroponics systems, stack grower farming systems, etc. They are highly efficient in urban environments where space is limited.
Types of Soilless Farming
There are various types of soilless farming systems that you can use, which include:
Hydroponics is a popular approach to growing plants without the use of soil. The growing medium consists of inert materials such as clay pellets, perlite, expanded clay, or gravel. Coconut coir and peat moss can also be used.
The most crucial aspect of hydroponics is the control over environmental conditions. Some methods include adding chemicals to the water to change the pH or make nutrients more readily available.
In a properly designed system, drip irrigation is used to keep the medium moistened and is also used to transport oxygen and dissolved nutrients such as magnesium and calcium evenly throughout the growing area. In a hydroponic greenhouse, natural light is augmented by artificial lighting. This can be done with regular fluorescent lighting supplemented with sodium lights. Artificial lighting allows hydroponic growers to produce crops around the clock, regardless of the season.
Some of the advantages of hydroponics are:
- It is land and water-efficient: It uses less space which means it can be a perfect option for places where land is limited.
- It is suitable for urban and peri-urban areas
- Hydroponics has a lower resource consumption
- It records higher yields.
In this method, the roots are directly in contact with dissolved nutrient solutions. Hydroponics mainly includes:
Deep flow cultivation technique (DFT): The root systems stretch into the deeper liquid layer in this technology. Rapid changes in the nutrient solution concentration create a stable growth environment and promote root development.
Nutrient film technique (NFT): Plants are grown in a shallow flowing nutrient solution. The roots are not fully immersed in the liquid layer in this technique.
Floating capillary hydroponics (FCH): This method uses root separation technology and creates an oxygen-rich environment. It uses a large amount of nutrient solution and overcomes the disadvantages of NFT. Liquid temperature changes are relatively low, and the crop rhizosphere environment is stable.
This is another innovative farming technique of misting the roots with a hydroponic solution. The roots are suspended in the air, and water and nutrients are sprayed on the roots precisely. Farmers using this method are able to control various factors such as water conductivity, pH levels, temperature, and humidity. They receive ample oxygen, which translates into faster growth. Aeroponic systems provide a perfect environment for plant growth. Both the flowing water and growing medium are absent in this farming technique.
Advantages of aeroponics
- It saves water, fertilizers, and pesticides.
- It enhances crop growth and promotes faster yields.
- Aeroponics protects farmers from climate impacts such as harsh weather since the crops are grown in a controlled environment such as a greenhouse or indoors.
What are the disadvantages?
- Aeroponics is highly dependent on technology: The entire system might break down entirely if key system components fail.
- One is required to have some basic knowledge of how the system works.
- It is relatively expensive.
- The technique requires constant monitoring.
This growing system combines aquaculture and hydroponics within a closed system. In the aquaponics process, three biological components are introduced: plants, bacteria, and fish. The waste excreted by fish is used as fertilizer for the plants, while the plants purify the water for the fish. This shows a symbiotic relationship between the fish and plants.
Advantages of aquaponics
- It is environment-friendly
- It is a sustainable method: Aquaponics uses organic fertilizer and sustainable farming practices.
- It’s water and space-efficient
- Aquaponics can be used in a big greenhouse commercial farm and small spaces such as an aquarium.
- It provides a healthy environment for plant growth.
Time for Action
Are you intrigued with innovatively growing crops, or are you stuck on how to choose the right soilless mix for your indoor gardening? To succeed in indoor gardening, you need to select the best system that works for the crop you are growing. For instance, hydroponics is a perfect system when growing crops such as strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and herbs. Also, check on the market demand for the crops you plant to grow, time, equipment, costs of setting up the soilless system, and space available.
We have no idea how much we will lose in the near future. The most pressing challenge will be meeting the rising demand for food to sustain the growing population with the shrinking arable land. Vertical gardening solves the problem and enables farmers to grow more food with less resources.
At Mazero, we offer high-quality equipment and exceptional, professional services to help you set up your hydroponics system. Besides, we provide tailored solutions to help make your vertical gardening a success. Contact us today and get assistance from our team of experts. Let’s get growing together!