Organic food is not a fad; it's a phenomenon that's here to stay. The principle goal of organic agriculture is to minimize soil degradation and erosion, decrease pollution while optimizing biological productivity in harmony with the environment. There is no disputing that organically grown produce is better for the environment and tastes better than soil grown crops that use polluting, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and systemic pesticides.
First let's look briefly at some of the requirements and challenges organic growers must meet and overcome to be certified organic, then what it means to be organically grown, and finally why hydroponically grown produce is a healthy alternative to organically grown produce and possibly better for you.
A certified organic farm must incorporate time consuming, labor intensive weed controls, as synthetic herbicides are prohibited. Expensive alternatives to pest control like companion planting of non-profit, bug deterring plants is also a factor. Also to be certified organic, farmers pay an annual fee and undergo a yearly on-farm inspection to ensure that they adhere to the strict organic standards. All of these costs are factored into the price of organic produce available in the supermarkets.
To the farmer, the word "organic" means no pesticides or herbicides or potentially toxic or hazardous materials are to be used on crops to control bugs, weeds and diseases. To the hobby gardener, "organic" usually means all of these things, plus that no unnatural or manmade chemicals are to be used
To the chemist, "organic" means something totally different. Chemistry has two distinct branches: inorganic and organic. Inorganic chemistry deals with non-living materials. Organic chemistry focuses on carbon containing compounds associated with life and its decay to carbon matter in the form of decaying plant and animal matter.
Plants use inorganic minerals for nutrition, whether grown in the field or in a container on your back patio. Nature's complex interactions involving weathering of rock minerals, decaying organic matter, bacterial decay of animals, and microbes take place to form inorganic mineral nutrients in the soil that the plant's roots are able to then absorb as ions from the in soil water.
The minerals that a plant requires for growth are absorbed by the plant's root system after they have been broken down into their basic elements and dissolved by water. By the time the plant ingests these mineral elements, they are no different from today's prepared hydroponic nutrients. For example, nitrogen, an essential mineral element, whether derived from organic or inorganic matter, has the exact same molecular structure and appearance when observed under a microscope. Nature's elements cannot be changed regardless of how they are obtained or processed. The same is true of the other two macro-nutrients; phosphorous and potassium and the micro-nutrients; calcium, sulfur, magnesium, iron, boron, manganese, zinc, copper, cobalt, chlorine, molybdenum, selenium and silicon.
All sixteen of these nature's elements are required for a plant to grow to its optimum level of health whether you are growing organically or hydroponically. These minerals are provided to plants in the organic garden as they are released from organic matter by the action of microbes, worms and bacteria over an extended period of time. In hydroponics, these same elements are provided immediately by water soluble mineral salts; most of which are now in liquid form and many being certified organic.
The nutrients in a hydroponic system are mixed with the water and sent directly to the root system. The hydroponic plant does not have to search for nutrients like the one does in soil for the nutrients that it requires. Those nutrients are being delivered to the plant several times per day or constantly depending on the hydroponic method. The hydroponic plant requires very little energy to find and break down food. The plant then uses this saved energy to grow faster and to produce more fruit.
Hydroponics is a clean, safe horticulture technique that offers an economic, healthy alternative to organic soil gardening. A study comparing soil versus hydroponically grown tomatoes and sweet peppers was conducted by Plant Research Technologies Incorporated in San Jose, California. Their research documented a dramatic increase in vitamins and minerals in hydroponically grown produce; in some cases up to 50 percent higher in vitamin content.
Don and Sandy Landers are owners Dream Garden Hydroponics, LLC, 26380 State Route 7 Marietta. Columns on hydroponic gardening appear monthly on Monday's life page.