(Image Credit: Gotham Greens)
I’m a realist when it comes to green technology – I tend to be a bit skeptical, but also very optimistic in the coming years we will see a lot of new technology build on itself to create completely sustainable systems.
One industry that got my attention recently is that of hydroponics – in a nutshell, this is growing plants without soil. I studied various techniques and went to some stores. Finally, I decided to try to grow strawberries with a hydroponic process. Much to my surprise, it’s working incredibly well!
Are Hydroponics Commercially Viable?
When I first started checking out the whole hydroponics industry I thought this was isolated to small farmers and home-grown operations who just wanted to supplement organic veggies of their own. I was wrong.
More and more commercial farmers are shifting towards hydroponic processes. Case in point, Temeculah Valley Strawberry Farm puts my little system to shame with their full acre, 50,000+ plant strawberry farm. Their per acre revenues shot from around $160,000 to north of $390,000 and that’s with young plants still not producing as much as the more mature plants still in rows out in fields! With 80% less water used, the argument for sustainability and profitability is all but impossible to ignore.
Taking Hydroponics Into the City
One of the many benefits of hydroponics is that so much less space is used. This is because plants can be grown vertically and much closer together since their roots are not fighting for resources. This makes hydroponic gardens an ideal candidate for the rooftops of large cities.
Think this is outside the box? Right in New York City, a company called Gotham Greens used just one rooftop greenhouse to produce more than 80 tons of organic produce last year. 80 tons. And Gotham Greens isn’t the only company looking to take advantage of the rooftops in New York City. More farmers are scrambling to get acreage reserved. Brooklyn alone has more than 1,000 acres suitable for hydroponic garden systems.
Other Applications of Hydroponic Gardens
Believe it or not, hydroponics may also be a serious solution for energy production. A new technique of harvesting algae to produce hydrogen and fossil fuels is quickly taking the energy industry by storm. The ideal growth environment for massive algae production is, you guessed it, hydroponic gardening.
Using sewage water to supply the algae, firms like Aurora Algae are looking at hydroponic systems for growing massive harvests of algae with little to no energy footprint. All this can be grown right in the city, manufactured in town, and supplied locally to gas stations and other energy-consuming sources.
Just How Easy is Hydroponic Gardening?
I was able to build my first single plant hydroponic garden for less than $20 including the plants, pots, food, and light bulbs. Then, it cost me less than $2/month to run it on a 10W Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb. My bigger strawberry garden with 30 plants was under $100. I check it about once a day and clean the water out once every few weeks. It’s really that simple.
As educational materials become more widely available and simple do-it-yourself kits that actually work hit the market, I believe we will see more and more hydroponic gardens in homes and communities all over the world. The biggest winners will be large cities who have had to pay a premium to get organic fruits and vegetables. Now they can have local organic farms who grow on the roofs and sell in the streets.