Hydroponics Offers a Healthy Alternative to Organics
By Cindy Rae
Organic food is not a fad, it’s a phenomenon that’s here to stay. The principle goal of organic agriculture is to minimize soil degradation and erosion, decrease pollution while optimizing biological productivity in harmony with the environment.
According to the Canadian General Standards Board, organically labeled foods do not represent specific claims to the health, safety, and/or nutrition of such foods. There is no disputing that organically grown produce is better for the environment and tastes better than soil grown crops that use polluting, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and systemic pesticides.
Hydroponic culture incorporates a controlled, ecologically sound environment. Soluble nutrient formulas are re-circulated and used by plant’s roots eliminating environmental waste. Plants tend to be healthier in a hydroponic system than those grown in soil, making them more pest resistant. Biological control agents, such as the introduction of predator insects prior to any infestation of destructive bugs, are used as preventative measures. Harmful herbicides are simply not required as there are no weeds in a hydroponic garden!
Over 40% of greenhouses in Canada employ hydroponics in their food production and this figure is rising annually. The limited crop failure and high yields reported by hydroponic producers keeps the cost to the end user down.
Organic farms must incorporate time consuming, labor intensive weed controls, as synthetic herbicides are prohibited. Expensive alternatives to pest control such as companion planting of non-profit, bug deterring plants is also a factor. To be certified organic, farmers must pay an annual fee of approximately $1,000.00 and undergo a yearly on-farm inspection by the Organic Crop Improvement Association to ensure they adhere to strict organic standards. All this is factored into the price of organic produce available in the supermarkets.
Hydroponics is a clean, safe horticulture technique that offers an economic, healthy alternative to organic soil gardening. A study comparing soil versus hydroponically grown tomatoes and sweet peppers was conducted by Plant Research Technologies Incorporated in San Jose, California. Their research found a dramatic increase in vitamins and minerals in hydroponics. In some cases up to 50% higher in vitamin content.
Plants use inorganic minerals for nutrition, whether grown in the field or in a container. Complex interactions involving weathering of rock minerals, decaying organic matter, bacterial decay of animals, and microbes take place to form inorganic minerals in soil. Roots absorb mineral nutrients as ions in soil water.
The minerals that a plant requires for growth are absorbed by the plant’s root system after they have been broken down into their basic elements and dissolved by water. By the time the plant ingests these mineral elements, they are no different from prepared nutrients. For example, nitrogen, an essential mineral element, whether derived from organic or inorganic matter, has the exact same molecular structure and appearance when observed under a microscope. Simply stated, nature’s elements cannot be changed regardless of how they are obtained or processed.
Plant nutrition is a term that takes into account the interrelationships of mineral elements in the soil or soilless solution as well as their role in plant growth. The interrelationship involves a complex balance of mineral elements essential and beneficial for optimum plant growth. In prepared hydroponic nutrients minerals are designated inorganic, however they are natural. Webster’s dictionary definition of natural; as provided by nature.
Through ash-residue analysis, scientists have been able to determine a plant’s exact requirements at both the vegetative and flowering stages. Researchers isolated the ideal parts per million (ppm) of each individual trace element required. In hydroponics, optimum growth is achieved through natural mineral supplements. Plants are fed exactly what they require, thus eliminating waste. Should a problem occur in a hydroponic garden, mineral imbalances are easily identified and adjusted if necessary.
There is certainly a need for concern over the cultivation techniques of soil grown crops. The safety of genetically altered foods and the use of hormones and antibiotics must be further investigated. In hydroponic culture, these are not an issue. As consumers become educated about the benefits of hydroponically produced food, demand will increase making it more available. Consumers should look for hydroponics when buying produce! It’s a healthy choice that does not harm the environment.
There are many prepared organic hydroponic nutrients and a wealth of recipes for homemade mixtures on the market today. These have been made available because of a huge consumer demand. However, it has yet to be determined if there is any real benefit to incorporating organics with hydroponics.