Hydroponics Yield

There are many reasons why gardeners choose to grow their crops using soil-less hydroponic methods instead of traditional soil-based methods. Some of hydroponics key advantages include more space-saving, more energy/water efficient, less weeding, and fewer pests to contend with. Hydroponics also allows the grower more control and creativity their crops so that they may provide the most ideal conditions for plants. However, the single most compelling reason for gardeners to switch to soil-less gardening is its ability to significantly increase crop yield. Let’s review the factors that influence hydroponics yield in order to demonstrate why this type of gardening is better than soil in nearly every respect.

Misconceptions about Hydroponics Yield

Some people are under the impression that hydroponics will produce much larger plants than soil. This isn’t necessarily the case. Each seed has its own genetic code which determines the plant’s size, flavor, and yield potential. In other words, you can’t transform a cherry tomato into a Roma tomato, but you can turn a cherry tomato seed into the genetically best possible cherry tomato plant if you provide the perfect growing conditions. Hydroponics gardening gives plants the best opportunity to reach their full genetic potential. More often than not, this translates into healthier, larger, and more flavorful crops.

Hydroponics Yield vs. Soil Yield

It can be difficult for plants to reach their highest genetic potential in common soil. This is because there are hundreds of variables in soil’s makeup that can influence a plant’s growth. Hydroponics, on the other hand, gives the grower the ability to micromanage and control the growing conditions so there are no surprises from Mother Nature. Soil-based plants use a lot of energy to seek out their food source, while hydroponics plants are given exactly what they need when they need it. Thus, hydroponically-grown plants can direct all their energy into producing higher yields, denser vegetation, faster growth, and more flavorful crops. It is more likely that hydroponic crops reach their genetic potential, and thus, is often considered a superior form of agriculture.

Hydroponics Yield : Lessons from Dr Howard Resh

In his book “Hydroponic Food Production,” hydroponics pioneer Dr. Howard M. Resh makes a compelling case for ditching the dirt and going soil-less. He discusses the main advantages of hydroponics over soil culture, especially for regions of the world which have non-arable land. Resh outlines the efficiency of regulating the nutrients and water, the low cost and ease-of-use to sterilize the medium, as well as how hydroponics allows for higher density planting and – ultimately – increased yields per acre.

In the table below, Resh compares the yields per acre in soil vs. soil-less culture:

Crop Soil Hydroponics
Soya 600 lbs 1550 lbs
Beans 5 tons 21 tons
Peas 1 ton 9 tons
Wheat 600 lbs 4100 lbs
Rice 1000 lbs 5000 lbs
Oats 1000 lbs 2500 lbs
Beets 4 tons 12 tons
Potatoes 8 tons 70 tons
Cabbage 13000 lbs 18 lbs
Lettuce 9000 lbs 21000 lbs
Tomatoes 5-10 tons 60-300 tons
Cucumbers 7000 lbs 28000 lbs

Source: Hydroponic Food Production by Howard M Resh

As you can see, his findings are quite dramatic. It is no surprise that urban planners and policymakers are often proponents of hydroponic gardening.  Hydroponic gardening has wide implications for the future of practical, efficient, and cost-effective farming across the world. Because crop yields of hydroponically-grown plants can be up to an astounding 100 times higher than crops grown in the field, hydroponics yield is the clear winner.

Hydroponics Yield Factors

So why exactly are the crop yields so much greater for hydroponics? Let’s look at the most important factors of hydroponics yield.

1.  Year-Round Gardening Means More Crops Per Year

One of the most important factors influencing hydroponics yield is its ability to grow crops indoors and year-round.   Field crops are often limited to one harvest per year because of frost and other weather variations.  Since greenhouse and hydroponic crops are grown indoors – away from Nature’s elements – you can cultivate 12 one-month crops, 5 seventy-day crops, or whatever crop harvesting time frame you choose. As a result, you can increase crop yield each year by a factor of 2x to 8x by growing indoors and year-round with hydroponics.  

See our Hydroponics System, Best Grow Tent, Grow Tent Kits, and Hydroponic Weed System, pages for the tools to grow successful hydroponic crops.

2.  Higher Plant Density Allows for More Crops Per Acre 

Hydroponics allows for higher plant density in one or more of the following ways:  hydroponic crops can be grown 1. closer together than in soil, 2. grown vertically as opposed to horizontally, 3. in layers, and 4. with much less walking space between rows. Employing any one of these methods can increase crop yields, but incorporating several can result in even more plant density. Overall, you can increase plant density by a factor of 4x to 16x with hydroponics.

See our Hydroponic Tower page for the tools to grow high-density hydroponic crops.

3.  The Crops you Choose May Increase Yield

Which variety of crops you decide to grow can influence the hydroponics yield. While you can cultivate nearly any crop in a hydroponics system, some will give you better results and a higher yield. For example, leafy crops – like lettuce, chard, kale, and arugula – produce great results, as do herbs like basil, chives, parsley, and sage. Tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers can also result in high yields with hydroponics. Certain crops present more of a challenge – like watermelons and strawberries – but with special attention, they can also produce great results. On the other hand,  root vegetables, corn, and plants that vine  are not recommended for hydroponic gardening. Depending on the crop variety you choose, hydroponics can increase yields by 2x – 4x over soil farming.

See our Hydroponic Herbs page to learn which herbs to grow in hydroponic systems.

4.  Proper Lighting is Key

Plant growth is dependent on adequate lighting.   They tend to do best with a light of wavelengths in the 360 – 760 nm (nanometers) range.  Plant photosynthesis responds to blue light (around 430 nm) and red light (around 660 nm).  Plant germination, stem, and flower growth thrive when red light is around 660 nm and infrared light wavelength is around 735 nm. White fluorescent lights provide a light spectrum which includes these preferred wavelengths. While field grown crops depend entirely on the sunlight for their growth, greenhouse or indoor hydroponic crops utilize grow lights to mimic the sun’s natural light. With the proper grow lights, hydroponics plants will receive the optimal spectrum of light throughout the year regardless of what the sun is doing outside.  Good lighting can increase hydroponics yield by 1x – 2x.

See our Best LED Grow Lights, LED Grow Light Reviews, COB LED Grow Lights, and Small Grow Lights pages to find the best grow lights for your garden.

5.  Water Plays an Important Role in Crop Yield

Water is clearly one of the most important factors influencing crop yield. After all, the water-weight of fruits and vegetables is 86% and 90%, respectively.  Field-grown crops are susceptible to droughts and inconsistent rain patterns – too much or too little water can wreak havoc on crops. Water can be managed much more efficiently with hydroponic and greenhouse crops. The proper water management can translate to a 1x – 2x increase in yield.

6.  The Efficiency of Hydroponic Fertilizer

In hydroponics, a fertilizer is mixed with water to create the nutrient solution. This nutrient solution is typically pumped into the grow bed to feed the plant’s roots. Hydroponics allows plants to get the correct nutrients they need when they need it. Soil grown crops don’t have it as easy. If they don’t get the proper nutrients at the right time, crops will suffer. Hydroponics provides a much more efficient way of delivering nutrients to plants. Yield can be multiplied by a factor of 1x – 2x if greenhouse or hydroponic crops are feed properly.

See our Marijuana Growing Supplies page for our hydroponics growing supplies suggestions.

7.  Managing Temperature and CO2 can Increase Yield

Temperature and CO2  are important factors in plant growth. Each crop variety has its own preferred temperature, and this varies depending on its phase of growth. However, most plants respond best when temperatures are kept in the 75F to 85F range. With hydroponics, the yield can be multiplied by 1x – 2x if temperatures are kept within ideal levels.

As for carbon dioxide, the more CO2 in the air, the faster a plant grows. Dr. Howard Resh proposes that two to five time the normal amount of carbon dioxide may be the optimal amount. He states that tomato and cucumber growth rates can be increased by up to 20% – 40%, while the faster growth rates in lettuce can allow for an extra crop grown each year. Carbon dioxide enrichment can increase yield in hydroponically-grown crops by 1x-2x.

8. Other Factors that Influence Hydroponics Yield

There are several other factors which affect plant growth. These include relative humidity in the growing environment, the amount of oxygen the plant’s roots are exposed to, and the proper pollination. Hydroponics allows you to control all of these things to the ideal levels, but it requires close attention to get it right. Another clear advantage to growing crops indoors and without soil is the protection from storms and bad weather, as well as the near elimination of pests.  While insects, mammals, birds, pathogens, and weeds can destroy around 33% of field crops, indoor hydroponic and greenhouse crops experience very few of these problems.

One issue hydroponics gardeners must prevent is waterborne disease, as this can devastate an entire crop. Grow media should be sterilized after each grow so as to prevent diseases from one grow to the next. Certain organic soil fertilizers – like manure and waste –  can also introduce disease, whereas a hydroponic nutrient solution mix of water and fertilizer eliminates this risk. In total, all of these “other factors” can increase hydroponics yield by 1x -2x.

Hydroponics Yield – The Clear Winner

hydroponics yield
hydroponics tomatoes

When you multiply all of these factors together, the crop yields of hydroponically-grown plants can be up to an astounding 100 times higher than crops grown in the field. The benefit of controlled-environment agriculture and vertical systems have wide implications for not only at-home gardeners and commercial growers, but also for global hunger advocates, policy makers, and urban planners. Since hydroponic farms can be built on low-cost and/or non-arable land, greenhouses and hydroponic farms can be built in areas where conventional soil farming is not possible. Urban hydroponic farms can provide jobs for city residents, a source of healthy, locally-grown produce,  and minimize the environmental costs associated with shipping produce around the world.

Hydroponic grown-crops nearly eliminates the problems associated with soil-based agriculture – it is not weather dependent, it’s more space-saving and water/energy efficient,  and there are fewer pests to deal with. And most compelling, hydroponics provides higher yields and a more reliable food source due to its year-round growing and frequent harvesting. Make the switch to hydroponics!

hydroponics marijuana yield

Thanks for reading and best of luck with your hydroponics garden! For more helpful articles on hydroponics and aquaponics, feel free to browse through other pages on uPONICS.com.