Updated: Dec 1, 2020
We all know that plants require both water and nutrients to survive. If we can simply grow plants in water, some may ask, why do you need soil then? What is the difference? If I could be using a cleaner media that does not attract pest and diseases, why not?
As usual, I will write down some summarized facts and thought processes here and you can decide the kind of media that you prefer at the end of the read. In this topic, sunlight will not be discussed because the change of media doesn't affect the amount of light uptake.
Before that, let's have some recap.
Why do plants need water?
Water not only helps the plant to photosynthesize, it acts as a transportation system nutrients from the roots to the leaves and other parts of the plant. Just like humans, we need to drink water to maintain the bodily fluids in our body.
What are nutrients for?
Nutrients are essential elements for plants to grow, fight off diseases and pests and reproduce. Like us, we require nutrients in our body to serve multiple functions and maintain our health.
To answer the question above, we will ask ourselves 2 basic questions:
Which media can provide the most efficient amount of water for plants? *Efficiency meaning how well-available are they for the most optimum amount of time*
Which media can provide the most abundant amount of nutrients?
Make sense, right?
So, let's start with some thoughts.
Soil with Water
Water in soil dries up in a matter of time. Either we provide irrigation or it shall depend on rain.
A good mix of soil can retain adequate amount of water. A bad mix of soil can cause water logging. A pot with hole can help improve drainage, a pot without a hole can contain more water.
Hydroponics with Water
Duh, obviously we don't have to worry about not having enough water in this case. We also don't have to worry about water loss. Unless the system doesn't allow water to automatically top up. Unless the system is built under a super hot environment and the water dries up faster than it is available. Unless the water is contaminated. Unless the water is untreated. But who would build a shitty system if they are all up for it?
Water Babies with Water
Water is absorbed in the gel beads and less watering frequency is required as compared to soil due to its water-retaining capacity. The process of releasing water can continue for days. Once they lose most of their moisture and become small, it would require a few hours for it to absorb water again.
Soil with Nutrients
Soil mixture contains "natural nutrients" because of its content and binding abilities thus it is convenient and natural for us to use them for planting. In what we call good soil, it should contain a fair community of organic matter, bacteria, micro organisms or friendly creatures like earthworms which helps to break down elements in the soil, making it more "digestible" for plants to absorb. This means that nutrients will be readily available in many forms if the soil is well mixed. Of course, these are in ideal situations where the soil properties like water content and pH are suitable for the plant/crop.
In bad soil, nutrients may not be available or present, or in forms that plants cannot absorb. But, it can be fixed as there are available external add-ons like fertilizers to help maintain the nutrient availability.
Soil mixture is easily amenable in time even after it has lost all its nutrients.
If we know how to balance the organic matter ratio, soil nutrients can also be self sustainable.
Hydroponics with Nutrients
With a well-designed system, you definitely do not have to worry about providing enough nutrients for your plants. You would have accurate and specific amounts catered to its needs. Nutrients added would be water-soluble and easily absorbed by the roots. We can also easily adjust the pH of the water. Your plant would be happy to be receiving consistent and accurate amount of nutrients required.
Water Babies with Nutrients
Water Babies are known to be "substitute" for soils. BUT. They do not contain any natural nutrients. This means that you will have to manually add plant food into the water.
Alright now let's move our thoughts to why people choose these media for planting (comment if you think i'm wrong).
Summary of Benefits: Soil
Contains more natural nutrient. Even those that you didn't know we may require.
Definitely dependable to grow a decent crop. Many years of success stories in history.
Cheap and readily available in the market
Summary of Benefits: Hydroponics
Cleaner than soil
Controlled environmental conditions
Less laborious maintenance work
(Lemmi add one more based on my opinion - it's cool and unexplored deeply yet)
Summary of Benefits: Water Babies
Cleaner than soil
Aesthetically pleasing for indoors
Reduces watering frequency
Summary of Disadvantages: Soil
Heavy and laborious
Attracts organisms like millipedes, especially if put indoors
(Honestly in my opinion none that outweighs its advantages)
Summary of Disadvantages: Hydroponics
Expensive to build
High machine maintenance
Contamination affects all crops
Summary of Disadvantages: Water Babies
Does not contain natural nutrients
Harmful if children eats it by accident especially those with colouring. x Choking Hazard x
Dries up and causes roots to be exposed if you forgot to water
Does not last forever. After a while it "melts" away and you have to replace them
So, ask yourself. Since both water and nutrients are essential anyways, will you choose to reduce watering or adding nutrients into the soil as frequently for your plants to thrive?
Think about it. No matter what media we choose to use, it still boils down to maintenance. Every media and plant has its deemed challenges; you merely pick your own battles.
I will choose soil anyday over hydroponics or water gel, honestly. But i'm also trying all of them at my own pace to discover more convenience for myself as a planter ^^
Update: As requested, here's a summary of advantages and disadvantages in table format!