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While the taste and nutritional value of fresh vegetables is appealing, buying them from a store can be expensive and freshness is often compromised. Many people are turning to growing their own fruits and vegetables at home for a huge cost savings and the reward of straight-from-the-garden freshness. An alternative to the traditional outdoor garden plot is hydroponic gardening, a popular choice of urban gardeners and large-scale laboratory operations. Hydroponic vegetables are the product of an indoor system that uses nutrient solutions, artificial lighting, and water pumps to achieve optimum growing and harvesting conditions.
Traditional planting methods involve planting vegetables in nutrient-rich soil, which must be watered and have ample access to sunlight. In hydroponic gardening, plants are situated in a neutral material such as rock wool, clay balls, or vermiculite, and they are positioned above a nutrient solution that is specifically formulated for the nutritional needs of the plant. A pump system delivers water and nutrients directly to the roots of the plant, and artificial lights provide light and warmth around the clock, regardless of the season.
The advantages of hydroponic vegetables over traditionally grown vegetables generally involve the maximum efficiency of the method. Hydroponic vegetables have been argued to be of higher nutritional quality because they are fed the specific nutrients needed by the individual plant, instead of being grown in potentially deficient soils. Pesticides and weeding are not needed because hydroponic systems are not vulnerable to outside invaders the way outdoor gardens are. While seasons and weather dictate the success of outdoor gardens, hydroponic vegetables can be grown year-round indoors, thanks to a constant water supply and light source. There is also the added benefit that plants stay a manageable size because roots do not need to spread out to find water and nutrients, which also can make them produce greater yields.
There are disadvantages, however, to growing hydroponic vegetables. In order to power the water pumps and lighting, electricity must be constantly available, which can be expensive. There is also a learning curve involved in determining the nutrient and lighting requirements of certain plants in order to properly imitate nature with a hydroponic system. Different hydroponic vegetables will need separate nutrient solutions, which may require separate setups, and some plants will require a period of dormancy, which naturally occurs in the autumn and winter months. Automated timers might be necessary to ensure the system is watered and lit correctly, and a power outage could prove fatal to the entire crop.