This article considers the prospect of building hydroponic farming systems at home, including the energy requirements and costs.
Image Credit: Floki/Shutterstock.com
The global hydroponics market is booming. Experts predict that it will grow at a CAGR of 13.7% from 2019 to 2025, reaching a value of over $17 billion. The reason for the accelerating interest in hydroponics is due to its many benefits over traditional farming that make it more environmentally friendly and sustainable.
For example, in comparison with traditional farming, hydroponics is up to 90% more efficient in its use of water, more food can be produced in less space, the time between sowing seeds and harvested crops is decreased, and no chemicals are needed to manage crops. Additionally, hydroponics allows crops to be grown in almost any space, therefore the challenge of securing arable land is not relevant to hydroponics.
The issue of climate change is influencing all sectors as pressure increases to establish more sustainable methods. Hydroponics offers an alternative to traditional farming that offers a route that will allow the agricultural industry to evolve so that it can fit in with the changing landscape.
The success of hydroponics in agriculture has seen the technique adapted for use on smaller scales, such as at home. Here, we discuss the technology required to set up an at-home hydroponic system and to what extent it can help an individual or family become partially self-sufficient. Additionally, we consider the energy requirements of hydroponics and evaluate if this outweighs the environmental benefit in an at-home setting, and review the costs involved in setting up and running a hydroponics system.
What Technology Do You Need?
The main difference between growing plants traditionally and growing them with hydroponics is that with hydroponics no soil is required—the plants are grown in water. There are six kinds of hydroponics systems, and the simplest of which, called deep-water culture (the easiest to adopt at home), requires little more than a container to hold nutrient-filled water and a pump to oxygenate the water.
There are many online sources for building at-home hydroponics systems. While these systems rely on the same basic principle as those used at larger scales, they only require basic equipment. Often, the required apparatus is limited to simple containers (e.g. buckets. or even plastic bottles), seeds, nutrients, and a simple form of aeration.
How Far can an Individual or Family become Partially Self-Sufficient with Hydroponics?
Hydroponics can be used to grow a wide range of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, such as tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries, watermelons, basil, coriander, and much more. Additionally, hydroponics systems can be scaled to meet the need of the individual or family. Hydroponics can be set up indoors and requires minimal space. In order to grow a sufficient amount of food for an individual or family, far less space is required than traditional farming would demand.
Therefore, hydroponics can help individuals and families take a significant step towards self-sufficiency. In order to have access to a sufficient food source all year round, hydroponics owners can read up on what crops thrive at different times of the year, or which crops grow well together. Hydroponics growers can also consider their own and their family’s nutritional needs when considering what crops to plant.
Further Reading: Architecture Meets Agriculture in the Jian Mu Tower
Energy Use vs Environmental Benefit
The main concern when deciding whether to set up a hydroponics system at home relates to the energy consumption of such systems, and whether this offsets the environmental benefit of this type of farming. While hydroponics systems require technology such as pumps and lighting (and even sensor technology in large-scale operations), these technological demands are far smaller in at-home systems.
It is advised that those planning to establish an at-home hydroponics system should carefully estimate how much energy their proposed system might use. That way, calculations can be made as to the cost of running the system, both financially and environmentally. This is important because one of the major draws of hydroponics is its environmental benefit.
Therefore, systems should be planned to keep energy use to a minimum in order to maximize the environmental benefit. At-home growers can also invest in meters that calculate how much energy their equipment is using to help them understand where energy demands are most intensive and make adjustments accordingly.
Costs of Set-Up and Running
As at-home hydroponics systems require only basic equipment, the initial set-up costs are low. However, depending on how many plants are intended to be cultivated, the energy requirements may equate to a hefty energy bill, as discussed above.
A way around this is to build an at-home hydroponics system that is powered by a renewable energy source, this also helps to make the process more sustainable. This solution also helps to tip the scales in the direction of the environmental benefit when considering the burden of energy consumption. Another solution would be to start small so that the costs of running the system can be understood before growing the system to meet the full needs of the individual or family.
References and Further Reading:
(2018). Food security: vertical farming sounds fantastic until you consider its energy use. [Online]. The Conversation. Available at: https://theconversation.com/food-security-vertical-farming-sounds-fantastic-until-you-consider-its-energy-use-102657 Accessed February 2022
Barbosa, G., Gadelha, F., Kublik, N., Proctor, A., Reichelm, L., Weissinger, E., Wohlleb, G. and Halden, R., 2015. Comparison of Land, Water, and Energy Requirements of Lettuce Grown Using Hydroponic vs. Conventional Agricultural Methods. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12(6), pp.6879-6891. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4483736/
Shayla Love. (2016). Hydroponics at home: It doesn’t have to be hard, or ugly. [Online]. The Washington Post. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/hydroponics-at-home-it-doesnt-have-to-be-hard-or-ugly/2016/08/23/4a24d0f2-5fd6-11e6-af8e-54aa2e849447_story.html Accessed February 2022