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Hydroponics Versus Soil: Comparison Gardening 101

Will your female flowers grow as well in soil as they grow in rockwool? Will your female flowers grow as well in soil as they grow in rockwool? © RosebudMag.com

A friend of mine conducted an interesting experiment in his hydroponics garden- he created a customized soil mix and grew his plants without using any nutrients additives.

Everything his plants needed to eat, they would have to get from the soil.

He grew six clones in the same room as he grew six other clones in his regular system…an ebb and flow with rockwool and added hydroponics nutrients.

So other than the root zone and the presence or absence of added nutrients, the growing conditions were exactly the same. What was going to happen?

He made sure that his soil mix was loaded with everything your plants need for good growth.

Included in his soil mix was organic compost, kelp meal, worm castings, several kinds of guano, perlite, green sand, bone meal, lime, Epsom salts, and other ingredients.

As is prudent, he mixed the soil and then let it season for a few weeks, while also treating it with a homemade compost tea, testing soil pH, and adding a little more perlite to increase aeration and draining.

Only after the soil was well-seasoned and just the right consistency did he start his plants in it.

What were the motivations for his experiment? One motivation was to grow his hydroponics crops as close to 100% organically as possible. Another was to see if his hydroponics nutrients program was providing faster growth and bigger yields than if he grew his plants without adding nutrients, providing nutrients only via soil.

A further motivation was to compare the taste, aroma and other quality factors from soil-grown with crops grown using synthetic base nutrients and synthorganic supplements.

One thing that he wanted to settle was a debate arising from some growers who claim that you can get fast growth and large yields from a soil-grown, non-hydroponics crop that are equivalent to what you get from a synthetic soil-free hydroponics growing situation.

Obviously, if growers could use rich, fertile soil and provide their plants nothing else other than water, light, atmosphere and the right temperatures, it would seem to be easier than growing with hydroponics nutrients in rockwool or some other soil-free system.

Of course, it might be easier, but would it be as worthwhile?

My friend added up all the money he spent on hydroponics nutrients and rockwool, how much he spent on his soil mix, and also calculated the cost of his gardening time at $23 per hour, which is what he used to make when he was an electrician before he changed careers to become a full time hydroponics grower.

He also valued the output and market price of his crops, so he had a good idea of what he was spending on nutrients, how much time he was spending preparing nutrients, and how much his nutrients-fed crops were producing.

As he grew his comparison garden, he kept track of how much time his soil-grown plants took compared to how much time his hydroponics nutrients-fed plants took.

Indeed, his control over gardening parameters, and his attention to detail, are part of a successfully-designed scientific approach to testing various hypotheses in your hydroponics garden to do a cost-benefit analysis for various strategies, materials and equipment.

We talked about comparison testing a little while ago in another article, and there will be more articles on comparison testing techniques. For now, you can see the linear and logical set-up for my friend’s test as follows:

* Information to Gain: Determine how plants grown in soil with no added hydroponics nutrients perform compared to plants grown in the same garden using hydroponics nutrients and rockwool.

* Test Method: Procure 12 healthy, rooted clones from the same mother; plant 6 in soil mix, 6 in rockwool. Provide identical and optimal conditions to all plants except do not provide nutrients to soil-grown plants.

* Data to Gather: Monitor and record growth rates, plant health, plant quality characteristics, plant yield, as well as cost of nutrients, time to prepare nutrients

* Results and Conclusions: Compare and contrast data to determine cost-benefit factors

In our next installment in this series, we will talk about my friend’s results. How well did his soil-only plants do compared to plants grown using synthetic and synthorganic hydroponics nutrients in the same grow room? Stay tuned to rosebudmag.com, and you’ll find out!

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Last modified on Wednesday, 20 October 2010 20:31

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