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Hydro 101 with Deonna Marie: Soil or Hydroponics?

For new growers, soil provides a gentler learning curve than hydroponics. For new growers, soil provides a gentler learning curve than hydroponics.

This is a question I get almost every day at The Hydroponics Outlet: “I want to start growing, but I don't know if I should start in soil or try hydroponics. What should I do?” As a long time grower and hydroponics retailer, I always recommend soil for beginner growers and for those on a budget. Soil is more forgiving and more affordable than hydroponics, so it’s great for you newbies out there.

No matter what you’re growing, soil will provide you a gentler learning curve.

Hydro can get touchy because you water all the plants at the same time, and if you over fertilize, you can damage every plant in the hydro system. A customer I had a couple months ago told me that he really wanted to start growing tomatoes, but he wanted to go the hydroponics route. I asked if he had much experience growing, and he said he was just getting set up. I suggested he stick with soil for the time being, and experiment a little to develop his skills before moving on to hydroponics.

I set the tomato grower up with the Advanced Nutrients beginners bundle nutrient program, some nutrient rich soil, and a ph meter. (Whether growing in hydro or soil, you have to have a good ph meter. I can't stress this enough.) He took the stuff home, and promised he’d be back in a couple of months to let me know how it went.

When starting out, it’s very important to get a feel for the crop you’re growing. Have fun with the process, and when you’re feeling confident in soil, then it might be time to try hydroponics. No matter what you’re growing, soil will provide you a gentler learning curve.

Another advantage of starting with soil is that you have some freedom to experiment a little more than with hydroponics. Since you water each plant individually, you can try a few different nutrient recipes and figure out which one works best for your needs.

When using a hydroponic system, you feed through a reservoir that feeds each plant in the hydroponic system the same nutrient ratio, so there's not much room for experimenting. If you try something that doesn’t work, every plant will suffer, whereas the individual watering process in soil allows you more grace. Also, with hydroponics it is imperative that you clean your nutrient reservoir at least once a week. If you don't, you risk all sorts of diseases and nutrient deficiencies that can ruin your crop. Most growers need to time to build up to that kind of attentiveness and dedication.

Remember this about learning something new: it doesn’t matter if it’s growing, playing chess, or learning the clarinet – if you’re a novice, you will make mistakes. That’s part of the process. But if you make mistakes in hydroponics, it can be very costly.

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Most beginners have no idea how difficult hydroponics can be for the first time grower. If you don’t get the results you’re looking for in your first few cycles using hydroponics, it can be disheartening. Some people even give up due to frustration, which is the last thing you want. Start slow, have fun, and soon you’ll get where you want to be.

So back to my tomato growing customer. He popped back into my shop here in Gilroy, California a couple months later and was ecstatic with his results. He said that even though it was more difficult than he first thought it would be, everything turned out great. I was so happy for him. He was glad he went with soil instead of hydroponics. He said that, as a beginner, he still needed to get used to growing plants in soil and once he perfected that, he might try hydroponics. But for now, he was excited to keep growing in soil and trying to get bigger yields, better plants, and share his fruits with some grateful friends.

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Want to learn the difference between different growing systems? Click here for the info you need.

Looking for bigger yields? Learn about the best CO2 enrichment – click here.

Have questions about maximizing your harvest …? Email our hydroponics guru, Erik Biksa.

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Deonna Marie heats up the beach and the hydroponics industry.
Last modified on Saturday, 01 September 2012 10:19

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