Soil seems so essential to our concept of vegetables that those grown hydroponically – that is, in water rather than soil – may seem confusing. Even futuristic. But hydroponic crop farming is in fact here now. In the last five years, the hydroponic crop farming industry has shown an annual growth of 4.5 percent, according to the U.S. market research firm IBISWorld, and new companies are projected to continue to expand over the next five years.
Hydroponic farms produce high yields in a small area. Often grown indoors – in warehouses or greenhouses and in artificial light instead of sunlight – they are protected from extreme weather. Hydroponically grown vegetables, which are fed by nutrient solutions in the water, may be just as nutritious as field-grown vegetables and, depending on the solutions they’re fertilized with, can help meet the rising demand for organic produce.
Curious to learn more about hydroponic vegetables, we asked Rebecca Elbaum, MPH, RD, CDN, a clinical dietician in New York City who has worked with hydroponic farms, particularly small, rooftop gardens, to fill us in on some of the basics:
What, exactly, are hydroponic vegetables?
Hydroponic literally means “water-grow or survive,” so basically hydroponic vegetables are those that survive, and likely thrive, in water. Hydroponic vegetables are grown in a closed system in which their roots are submerged in water. This water is fortified or “spiked” with nutrients, such as potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. In conventional farming, natural soil contains vitamins, minerals and trace elements that water does not, so hydroponic farmers need to add those nutrients into the water. Conventional farming also uses the natural light of the sun, which helps vegetables develop their nutrients. Hydroponic farming mimics sunlight through greenhouses. Read more