Living in an apartment does not exclude you from growing your own food very successfully. Two main options are available for apartment growing; hydroponic or soil-based. Which growing option presents the best method for apartment growing?
Apartment gardens are a way for people to grow food even if they do not have space for a traditional garden. The choice of soil vs. hydroponics for an indoor garden likely depends on your preference, but hydroponics has significant benefits that offer the best solution for indoor gardens.
There are some significant differences between soil growing and hydroponic growing. Many of these differences will be determining factors in your choice, combined with the specific environment your apartment provides. There is enough flexibility in these growing systems for anyone to become an apartment gardener!
Hydroponics Vs. Soil
There are limitations associated with apartment gardening, which may make people think the challenges are not worth the effort.
The truth is that apartment gardening is easier than you may think, but you must make some choices regarding the best growing methods to use.
Apartment gardening poses the following challenges.
- Limited space. Space is probably one of the biggest challenges to apartment gardening.
- Limited sunlight. Limited sunlight in apartments can limit the success and health of plants growing indoors.
- Lack of airflow indoors. Plants need airflow to prevent the development of certain diseases and problems.
- Too much wind. Growing on an apartment balcony may be too windy for some plants, causing them to grow poorly.
All these challenges can be addressed whether you grow hydroponically or in soil, but there are some differences between the two options that may prompt you to choose one over the other.
Is Hydroponics Better Than Soil?
Hydroponics is a soil-less growing method with many differences from soil-based growing, which can be advantageous over traditional soil-growing methods.
The best way to evaluate these two apartment garden growing methods is to look at hydroponics vs. soil pros and cons.
Hydroponic Growing Pros
The following are the main benefits that make hydroponic growing the best choice for apartment gardening.
- Space saving. Plants grown in hydroponics do not need to have large root systems to absorb enough nutrients. The readily available nutrients in the solution allow the root systems to remain smaller, reducing the space the plants need to grow.
- Less weight. Hydroponics has a lower weight-to-plant ratio than growing in soil. Stacking plants to grow vertically is more feasible in hydroponics to save space, but soil is too heavy for this option.
- Hydroponics uses less water. The nutrient-laden water is recycled through the system, reducing water lost to seepage and evaporation. Hydroponics saves between 80% to 90% more water than soil-based growing.
- Fewer pests and diseases. Many of the pests and diseases in plants are due to microbes, bacteria, and small creatures such as aphids and mites hiding in the upper layers of soil. Hydroponics reduces the risk of infections and infestations from these soil-based problems.
- No problems with weeds. Weeds will not pop up in hydroponic systems, so the need to weed your plants is eliminated.
- Plants grow faster. The ready access to easily absorbed nutrients makes plants grow faster in hydroponics.
- Hydroponics gives more control over the growing environment. You have more direct control over the growing environment. This enables you to tweak nutrient levels, pH, and other metrics to create ideal growing conditions for different plants.
Hydroponics Growing Cons
As with any other growing system, there are some cons to growing hydroponically. However, the cons are easily overcome and can help to make you a better gardener.
The main cons of growing hydroponically in an apartment garden are as follows.
- Steep initial learning curve. There is quite a lot to learn for new hydroponic growers, but the concepts are not hard to understand.
- Requires more setup. Hydroponics requires more setup initially, but monitoring and maintenance are relatively easy once the system is set up.
Pro tip: If you want to avoid the steep learning curve with hydroponics, the easiest way to do so is to invest in a “push button” system such as AeroGarden. I personally own about 20 AeroGardens, and they make hydroponic gardening easy. Go here to check out the entire selection of AeroGardens on Amazon (Amazon affiliate link)
Soil-Based Growing Pros
Growing vegetables in soil in an apartment garden has benefits, which may persuade some gardeners to go this route.
- Familiar methods. Most people have a basic understanding of soil-based gardening, making it more familiar territory than hydroponic growing. This familiarity makes soil-based growing more beginner friendly.
- Fast setup. It is quicker to get a soil-based apartment garden set up and ready to receive plants.
- Mistakes have less of an impact. Mistakes in soil growing, such as forgetting to water for a few days, have less of an immediate effect than with hydroponics.
- Requires less monitoring. If you get your soil mixture right, you do not need to constantly monitor nutrient and pH levels.
- Less equipment is needed. Soil-based growing requires less equipment for monitoring and maintenance than hydroponics.
Soil-Based Growing Cons
An apartment garden using soil can have some negative aspects. These aspects of growing in soil are what convince people living in apartments to go with the soil-less option of hydroponics.
- Less versatility. Soil-based growing does not have the same versatility as hydroponic growing. Hydroponics has more configurations and varying system designs, allowing the grow system to be customized for better space utilization.
- Fewer plants per square foot. Soil growing requires more spacing between plants for the large root systems needed when grown in soil. Hydroponics has a higher crop density, allowing you to grow more plants in the same space.
- More chance of weeds. Weeds can grow in soil-based systems, robbing plants of nutrients and requiring more work by the gardener.
- Higher incidence of pests and disease. Plants grown in soil are at a higher risk of contracting diseases or pest infestations.
Hydroponics Vs. Soil Crop Yield
Plants have easier access to nutrients in hydroponic systems than in the soil. They use as much of the nutrients in the hydroponic solution as they need, allowing them to grow faster, grow larger and produce a higher crop yield.
Plants grown in hydroponic systems have shown a 20% to 25% yield increase over plants grown in soil. The added advantage of growing more plants in the same space using further hydroponics increases the yield over soil-based growing.
This increased yield is especially important for those with limited growing space in an apartment. If you live in a small apartment and yet want to grow a decent amount of food, hydroponics is the best option.
Hydroponics Vs. Soil Taste
Many people believe that vegetables grown in hydroponics have a watered-down flavor profile compared to plants grown in soil.
Soil does not add flavor to plants; the nutrients the plant uses to produce the fruit affect the flavor. Most people find that hydroponically grown vegetables have a better flavor profile than soil-grown plants because the nutrients are more easily available to the plants.
Hydroponic growers adjust the nutrients offered to the plant during the flowering and fruiting stage to enhance the quality and flavor of the fruit produced.
If your hydroponic vegetables have less flavor, you may need to make nutrient adjustments during the fruit production stage of your plants.
Is Hydroponics Cheaper Than Soil?
Hydroponics can have a higher setup cost for an apartment garden than soil, but it depends on the complexity of your hydroponic system.
A simple hydroponics system, such as a Dutch bucket system, could cost less to set up than an equivalent soil-based system.
Gardeners must replace the soil in a soil-based system, and fertilizers must be added from time to time. Hydroponic systems also need nutrients, but using nutrients in these systems is more efficient, keeping costs low.
If you use a grow medium in your hydroponics, such as clay pebbles or perlite, these mediums can be cleaned and used time and again, reducing long-term costs for your apartment garden.
Why Is Hydroponics Better Than Soil?
Once you become familiar with hydroponic growing, you will find that similar principles can be applied to growing a wide range of plants indoors. Hydroponics becomes easier the more you do it!
In my experience as a gardener that has grown plants in both mediums, hydroponics has proven to produce faster, stronger, healthier growth in plants.
Once the system is set up, it does not take much maintenance, and hydroponics’ versatility makes it more customizable to a wider range of apartment garden sizes and configurations.
Some apartment gardeners prefer a soil-based apartment garden, but these are probably people that have not tried hydroponic growing!
If you are a soil-based gardener or want to start an apartment garden for the first time, try hydroponics by starting with a small system to find your hydroponic green thumb! You may find yourself a convert to soil-less gardening!
If you enjoyed this article, you will likely also enjoy these related articles.
- Regrowing Green Onions from Scraps
- How to Grow Vegetables Indoors in Winter
- What Types of Grow Lights Do I Need for Hydroponics?
- Storing Seeds Long Term