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Are Hydroponic Vegetables Less Nutritious?

When it comes to hydroponics versus conventionally grown produce, there are lots of pros and cons to consider. Nutrition Diva weighs them all.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
April 26, 2016
Episode #379

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Gina writes: “We have a new hydroponic veggie grower in town. How do they compare nutritionally to soil-grown veggies?”

How Are Hydroponic Vegetables Grown?

Hydroponics is a sort of high-tech farming. Instead of waiting until the right time of year, planting seeds in dirt, adding fertilizer, hoping for enough rain (but not too much), and combatting whatever pests, diseases, and or poachers might invade your field, hydroponic plants are nurtured indoors under grow lights, in a sterile medium that holds water and nutrients close to the plant roots, with precisely controlled temperature and humidity.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Hydroponic Farming?

Because the plants are not subject to the unpredictable depredations of nature, there is a lot less crop loss. Farmers don't have to worry about drought and hailstorms. They need fewer pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and so on.

See also: How to Reduce Your Exposure to Pesticides

Because they can artificially control the length of the day and the air temperature, hydroponic farmers are also effectively freed from the constraints of traditional growing seasons. They can grow tomatoes in January and spinach in July if they want to. Then again, hydroponic farmers also have to pay a utility bill instead of instead of getting most of their sunlight and water for free.

Hydroponic vegetables can also be grown just about anywhere. That means that Alaskans can enjoy fresh, local lettuce instead of paying for it to be flown in from the lower 48. Many argue that hydroponic cultivation is a more sustainable form of agriculture, consuming less water, space, and energy.

The fact that hydroponic vegetables never come into contact with soil also means that we don’t need to worry about them absorbing heavy metals from the soil, or being contaminated by disease-causing bacteria that may exist in manure-based fertilizers. On the other hand, we’d also miss out on the potential benefits of beneficial soil-based organisms.

See also: Are Soil-Based Organisms Beneficial?

Are Hydroponic Vegetables Less Flavorful?

Many argue that despite the obvious advantages, taking the plant out of nature takes some of the natural flavor out of the plant. And at an intuitive level, this makes sense. How could something grown under a fluorescent light bulb in a soil-less medium have the same flavor as a plant that has soaked up natural sunshine  and wiggled its rooty little toes in the earth?

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