If you are wondering about the setup cost of a hydroponics system, I’ll share with you a rundown of factors that can make it an expensive or a cheaper investment.
Hydroponics is financially worth it as studies on medium-size scale systems show a paid back time of 2 to 4 years. Hydroponic, despite the higher initial investment, is more efficient than traditional cultivation because it 1) requires way less water 2) provides better fertilizer usage.
If you are worried about the financial costs, I suggest that you also check out the benefits you can gain from having a reliable hydroponics system.
Hydroponics requires more time and effort to start and maintain since nutrients and oxygen are all artificially provided into the water. The price to start a small hydroponic system at home ranges from $25 to upwards of $100.
In growing plants hydroponically, a gardener cannot simply plant the seed into the growing medium and hope it grows. Nurseries must be maintained, the nutrient reservoir has to be observed, the air pumps have to be powered, and the LED lights have to be scheduled.
In soil cultivation, the process more or less ends with planting the seed into the ground and watering it occasionally. Hydroponics is definitely more difficult to start.
The starting cost of hydroponics can be quite intimidating especially when compared to soil cultivation. Hydroponics sets can cost from $25 to upwards of $100 and the price only goes up the more complex the hydroponic system is.
Fortunately, due to hydroponics becoming more and more commonplace, prices have gone down. It has never been easier to get into hydroponics. Hydroponics sets come with pumps, pipes, food-grade plastics, nutrients, and even seeds to make the process more accessible to newcomers.
The cost of materials in hydroponics are scalable and modular, meaning they can be as cheap or expensive as desired. At most, the absolute necessity for any system is the air pump that will cost from $10 to $100, depending on how big the nutrient reservoir is.
The nutrient reservoirs, grow trays, PVC pipes, growing mediums, and other materials can be sourced from recycled materials found in your own home. Newer ones can be bought commercially for an affordable price since these parts are so ubiquitous.
We have an article for a more detailed discussion on PVC pipes, their uses, and which ones to get. There are also alternative materials available for the nutrient reservoir, the growing mediums, and the net cups.
The utility costs of a hydroponics system are relatively low and will be dependent on the utility costs of your locality. The majority of costs will be on heating if the growing space is in cold climates with seasonal winters. This amounts to around $144.7 per month if you live in New York.
There are around five (5) major utility costs associated with hydroponics. Ordering them from most costly to least costly:
- Heating Costs
- Real Estate Costs
- Electricity Costs
- Nutrient Costs
- Water Costs
We have an extensive article devoted solely to the utility costs of hydroponics with sample computations and scenarios. Take note that most of the expenses associated with hydroponics are not related to electricity, nutrients, or water!
Hydroponics is extremely efficient with water and nutrients as these are always reused and recirculated within the system. As for electricity, the accessibility of more efficient air pumps and grow lamps have reduced costs significantly.
The rate of growth in hydroponics is 30-50% faster compared to soil cultivation, increasing yield by 30%. Hydroponic systems are automated to provide oxygen, nutrients, and sunlight while still minimizing water and nutrient usage.
Another reason for this enhanced growth is that there is less competition for nutrients in hydroponics than with soil cultivation, allowing plants to receive the optimal amount they need for growth and development.
Different plants grow at different rates with some plants ready for harvest faster than others. Hydroponics maintains this consistent growth rate by providing a sterile environment with nutrients in direct contact with the roots.
Improving the financial return of hydroponics systems can be done by reducing the electricity bill by 1) using natural lights 2) using scheduled lights, 3) and saving in the heating bills by using a greenhouse.
Overall, improving economy or efficiency is highly dependent on the setup, the plant being grown, and the desired yield. This is all a matter of creativity that cannot be simply reduced to a number or percentage due to the number of variables involved.
For example, a gardener that wants to expand commercially may want to invest in nutrient film technique (NFT) hydroponics systems that grow lettuce. The NFT systems are stacked on top of each other under a greenhouse – such is an industry-standard to improve yield and reduce heating costs.
Studies demonstrated that a medium-scale hydroponic system investment is paid back in around 2 to 4 years with an investment return of 20 to 40%.
A comprehensive study on Nepalese hydroponic farmers in Kathmandu valley showed that hydroponics is a profitable venture with a cost-benefit ratio of 2.32 times. A summary of the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis indicates high yield and efficiency only offset by the high technical requirements of hydroponics.
This profitability is due to the recirculation of aerated, nutrient-rich water makes hydroponics 70-90% more efficient in using water compared to soil cultivation. Additionally, the effective use of space in hydroponics allows farmers to grow more produce per square feet and hire fewer workers to maintain a smaller yet more productive plot of land.
To further improve efficiency, hydroponics is sometimes augmented with aquaculture (aquatic agriculture), resulting in aquaponics. In aquaponics, fish or other aquatic organisms live in the nutrient reservoir. Their excrements serve as nutrients for the plants and the plants in return filter waste in the water.
Success Stories with Hydroponics
Farmers all around the world are beginning to see the profitability of hydroponics in the agricultural industry. These farmers have turned a healthy profit by investing in hydroponic systems to improve yield and efficiency.
Apart from the Kathmandu Valley farmers in Nepal, there are other developing nations that have seen the advantage of using hydroponics. There’s an amazing hydroponics farm near Baguio City, Philippines that grows thousands of produce a year.
In Oman, Muscat, there’s an aquaponics farm like an oasis in the middle of the desert. In a similarly dry and arid place, an aquaponics farm in Texas is thriving, providing local communities with fresh produce and fish.
8 Profitable Plants in Hydroponics
The most profitable plants in hydroponics are those that grow fast and require little maintenance, taking advantage of the accelerated growth provided by a hydroponics system to turn a profit.
Other plants good for hydroponics are those whose usable or sellable parts are their leaves or fruits that can be harvested regularly. Do take note that these prices can vary depending on where you are in the world so for consistency we’ll use the US market as the benchmark.
1 – Lettuce
Lettuce is a fast-growing crop that is widely consumed throughout the world. It is harvested 6-8 weeks after planting, spaced 5 inches (13 cm) apart in the system, and sold at $0.90 or more per head.
Lettuce consumption is due to how many dishes incorporate it as an ingredient. Lettuce can also be consumed raw, which makes it a fantastic option for vegans, vegetarians, or other health-conscious diets.
The US alone estimates a 12.7 per capita consumption of lettuce and many academic sources report that it might be the most economically important leafy vegetable in the world.
2 – Cilantro
Cilantro is an annual herb whose leaves, seeds, and roots all have culinary and medicinal uses. It is harvested 48-56 days after planting, spaced 5-9 inches (13-23 cm) apart in the system, and sold at $8.00 per pound.
It’s an easy-to-grow plant that doesn’t require much space or nutrients as well. It’s so easy to grow that cilantro can even be grown in a mason jar if you want to experiment first on how to optimize your growing process.
Since every part of the plant from seed to root has some commercial use, you’ll be looking at a plant that is almost zero-waste and highly profitable. Being an annual plant also makes the planting and harvesting process easier since you can harvest the entire plant the moment it produces seeds for your next batch.
3 – Microgreens
Microgreens are young vegetables that are small but nutritious. They are harvested 10-15 days after planting, require no spacing, and are sold at $50 per pound.
These plants are young vegetables that pack quite the nutritional punch. These microgreens can come from different plants such as broccoli, dill, carrot, or others. These are then grown and harvested a week or so after sprouting.
Microgreens are especially popular for health-conscious demographics or places that prioritize food security. They are becoming more trendy as time goes by since they have similar flavor profiles to their full-grown counterparts while taking less time to grow. Make sure to watch out for microgreens to take the world by storm.
4 – Spinach
Spinach is another fast-growing leafy green widely grown and consumed all over the world. It is harvested 40 days after planting, spaced 5 inches (13 cm) apart, and sold at $1.35 per pound.
Hydroponic spinach is not yet produced commercially in the United States. This makes it the perfect crop to focus on given that there’s always a high demand for fresh, high-quality spinach.
Spinach is a common ingredient for beauty products, dips, puree, and junk food, among other things. You can also take the opportunity to partner with local customers like markets and restaurants since they’ll need spinach for selling and for cooking, respectively.
5 – Strawberry
Strawberries are lucrative because they are seasonal, making demand much more difficult to supply. Strawberries are harvested 32-48 days after blossoming, the plants are spaced 6 inches (15 cm) apart, and the fruits are sold from $0.85 to $2.5, depending on the season.
Strawberries grown in hydroponic systems can be given the proper temperature and lighting conditions to ensure fruiting all year round. Some types of strawberries bear fruits at different points in the year so we recommend getting ever-bearing strawberries like Everest, Ozark Beauty, or Albinion to maximize profits.
The seasonal nature of berries means that a grower or gardener can provide local markets with fresh, local-grown berries instead of ones that are trucked and delivered from elsewhere. “Local-grown” produce of consistent quality is a powerful selling point in any market.
6 – Basil
Basil is a popular herb constantly used in many dishes around the world. It is harvested 64-80 weeks after planting, spaced 6 inches (15 cm) apart, and sold at $50 per pound.
Hydroponic basil can yield around 6.8-10.4 ounces per plant over a 15-week harvest period. This herb in our list exemplifies a recurring theme of plants whose leaves are the sellable parts of the plant and will regrow in time.
However, even though basil is an annual plant, under hydroponic conditions it can live for 2 or more growing seasons. This massively increases the amount of leaves that can be harvested from a plant’s single lifespan.
Basil has many therapeutic and herbal uses. As such, you can see basil as an ingredient or extract found in many things such as oils, lotions, perfumes, scents, and of course, food.
7 – Bell Peppers
Bell peppers of all varieties grown hydroponically can grow and survive multiple years. They are harvested 50-80 days after sprouting, require 18 inches (46 cm)of spacing, and are sold at $1.5 per pound.
Hydroponic bell peppers can produce around 40 or more pounds of pepper per plant. Since the plant is in a controlled condition, it can continuously produce fruits. Since they are kept warm from frost and winter, the plant itself will live through the end of the year and onto the next.
8 – Mint
Mint is a fragrant and hardy perennial herb that can be harvested often. It is harvested every 16-24 days after fully growing, spaced 9 inches (23 cm) apart, and sold at $2 per ounce.
Another herb on this list. It’s profitable because it’s a perennial which means that it will keep on growing new leaves as long as the plant is alive. This means that you’re likely to have a near-endless supply of mint leaves for use or sale.
Mints, like other herbs, are wanted for their culinary uses and essential oils. As long as people want their food to taste good, there’s always gonna be a demand for mint.
Best Hydroponic Systems For Large-Scale
The best hydroponic systems often used by large-scale growers are nutrient film technique (NFT) or floating raft systems. NFT systems allow for better space management whereas floating raft systems allow for easier harvesting.
A nutrient film technique system has the benefit of being stacked vertically on multiple rows for space efficiency. The constantly flowing nutrient-rich water prevents any nutrient or algae build-up. The rows also allow LED grow lights to be placed above to provide optimal growth.
Floating raft systems are similar to deep water culture (DWC) but on a much larger scale. The rafts (often made of buoyant styrofoam) serve as the floating grow tray. This facilitates easier harvesting as the rafts can be lifted up to harvest an entire batch of plants.
These are the tried-and-true systems used by hydroponics farms selling more mainstream produce.
Best Hydroponic System For Experimental Growing
Drip technique is useful for less conventional plants such as melons, dwarf orange trees, calamansi trees, or flowers. Drip systems allow these plants to grow out their roots freely in a growing medium such as soil.
We recommend this system for experimentation to commercial growing because it is the one technique that is most similar to soil growing. A drip system is akin to a growing medium periodically dripped with hydroponic nutrients. It provides that hydroponic boost but is delivered in a conventional growing medium.
This gives a grower more leeway to perfect growing a certain type of plant before moving on to mass growing using other systems.
Augmenting Your Earnings with Fish
Aquaculture or the breeding, raising, and harvesting of marine life has been used in conjunction with hydroponics to create aquaponics. The marine life produces organic nutrients in the reservoir that is then filtered by the plants in a symbiotic system.
Tilapia, goldfish, and trout rank amongst the best fish to raise in an aquaponic system. As for shellfish, mussels, oysters, and snails are popular choices. Many of these animals are bottom-feeders, filter-feeders, and omnivorous, allowing growers to maintain a clean and controlled environment in the nutrient reservoir.
Aquaponics also helps alleviate the common misperception that hydroponically grown plants are not organic. A system that raises both plants and animals in a symbiotic system is a fantastic way to market both products.
Whether one is a commercial grower or a hobbyist, hydroponics provides a great number of tangible benefits which include 1) contentment, 2) on-hand produce, 3) knowledge, 4) a hobby or craft, and 5) an outlet.
Contentment can be derived from successfully raising or harvesting hydroponic plants due to the difficulty of managing a system.
Operating a hydroponics system is a monumental hurdle at the start. After the steep learning curve and initial failures, you slowly learn plant physiology at the fundamental level by removing soil altogether. There is less to come between the plant and the gardener.
Hydroponics caters to people who want to produce the best plant with the most optimal methods. Hydroponics is the perfect avenue for those desires. The feeling of contentment is derived from achieving those desires.
Hydroponics allows gardeners to have safe, on-hand produce at their convenience. Fresh, clean, and nutritious produce is available to a gardener who invests in a reliable hydroponics system indoors.
It is a gardener’s dream to have on-hand produce right outside their doorstep. By augmenting accessible technology with the tradition of agriculture, hydroponics makes it possible even if you live in a small house or apartment.
My greatest joy is being able to pick out fresh herbs from my hydroponics set while cooking! The convenience is incomparable.
A gardener can increase his or her knowledge of plant physiology. Because hydroponics reduces the plant growth to the essential elements (water, nutrients, sunlight, oxygen) without soil, a gardener can understand plant growth under controlled conditions and adjusted variables.
A gardener can adjust the dissolved oxygen (DO) count, the ratio of certain nutrients, the hours of sunlight allotted, or the growing medium used, among other things. As there is no soil to introduce external variables such as pests, dirt, or harmful pathogens.
By reducing the number of variables, it is easier to isolate the variables that directly contribute to plant growth and development.
Hydroponics is already a hobby and craft in its own right. Hydroponics expands on gardening by placing additional requirements that branch out into other fields of interest.
Hydroponics is a specialized field of agriculture that has key nuances that make it unique. The absence of soil on its own is enough to spur research and investigation that will satiate the curiosity of those who want to know its process.
There are other fields of interest that hydroponics touches on that further add depth to the hobby or craft. The material composition of the structural components has different effects depending on the model. The electrical components vary on efficiencies and outputs. The nutritional content of the solution will regulate which plant parts grow faster than the others.
Raising plants through hydroponics can be an outlet for stress and anxiety. It can be a practice of patience that allows a gardener to observe the plant day-to-day and hope for the best.
Despite the higher requirement imposed by hydroponics, sometimes this serves as a greater incentive as a stress reliever t for some people. Some people find constant observation rewarded by a good yield fulfilling.
What can be said about soil cultivation can also be said about hydroponics. In either case, it’s always a delight to see something grow from a tiny seed to a strong and healthy plant!
Hydroponics is financially worth it. The financial costs of hydroponics are offset by the tangible and intangible benefits. These include but are not limited to 1) contentment, 2) on-hand produce, 3) knowledge, 4) a hobby or craft, and 5) an outlet.
The growth rate of hydroponics is 30-50% faster whereas the yield is increased by 30%. The costs are further offset by the lower costs of starting a hydroponics system, means to enhance efficiency, and methods to reduce utility costs.
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