soil: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Vertical hydroponic farming is a “soilless” cultivation technique that relies on water, nutrients and a growing medium. Critics of vertical farming question the lack of soil, as many believe it to be necessary for healthy plant development. Yes, soil can be fantastic. But the industrialization of agriculture has significantly degraded soils and challenged local ecosystems across the world. Hydroponic vertical farming is an important tool in helping us rethink the future of farming which we believe is both vertical and hydroponic!


Vertical hydroponic farming is a cultivation technique that relies onwater, nutrients and a growing medium. In other words, no soil required. Seeingas pretty much all the living greens we see in nature have their roots dug deepin some kind of soil, “soilless” cultivation (the foundation for hydroponicvertical farming) is counterintuitive to a lot of people. As a result, ONNA isoften confronted with questions about soil: “What about the soil – isn’t thesoil good for plants? Don’t vegetables need bacteria and resistance to grow? Isn’tthe soil ecosystem beneficial for healthy plant development?”  

Ouranswer: Yes, this is all true – soil is awesome and plays an important role forhealthy plant development! However, soil isn’t just dirt under our feet. Soilis a complex mixture of inorganic and organic matter, water and air – and tosustain plant life the proper combination of these materials is required.Unfortunately, the industrialization of agriculture has significantly degradedsoils across the world, impeding the functionality of soil in the process.There’s a big difference between healthy soil and unhealthy soil, and thisdisparity impacts plant health, and subsequently your health.

The Good

We'renot quite done with the biology lesson! In addition to being a combination ofdifferent compounds, soil is structured by four distinct layer types: the O, A,B and C layer. Let's focus on the O layer for a minute. The O layer is known asthe topsoil layer and it is responsible for plant production. Topsoil is themost fertile layer and is rich in organic matter such as microorganisms (deadand alive), decaying organisms and plant life. This organic matter (also knownas humus) improves the soil structure and provides plants with water andminerals. In addition, it is the medium where microbial processes occurs–microbes that live in this layer act as their ecoystem's primary producers andare responsible for recycling nutrient and organic matter, providing soilfertility, and enabling soil restoration and plant health.

The Bad

In otherwords, topsoil is really important. Unfortunately, soil is not a renewableresource that we can utilize endlessly. In fact, it takes more than 500 yearsto form good topsoil. And this is why the industrialization of agriculturalmakes things a bit sticky. Heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides, continuousploughing of fields, turning and overturning soils and restricted croprotations have degraded soils across the world, with soil erosion occurring upto 100 times faster than the rate of soil formation.

The Ugly

In thepast 40 years, the world has lost a third of its higher quality food producingland due to erosion and local pollution. In search of higher yields and shortercrop cycles, the industry has neglected the important functions of the topsoillayer and replaced it with soils that are not fit for much else than being agrowing medium that holds a plant up as it grows. In addition to impactingplant production on the local level, soil depletion also reduces the soil'scarbon storage capacities - and by inhibiting the natural carbon cycle, soildepletion subsequently contributes to increased atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Yikes,that’s a lot of bad news. We don’t mean to scare you. Rather, we want toemphasize two important conclusions that we hope you take away.

vertical hydroponics as a solution

We'llstart with the big picture: global environmental health. Even though soil isnot a renewable resource, it can renew itself if the global communitypursues increasingly responsible agricultural standards and develops moresustainable agricultural techniques and technologies. An important key herewill be to offload pressure on soil. Vertical farms are a great tool for suchoffloading, due to their combined resource and areal efficiency.

Nowlet's get more granular: soil health. Even though plants grown in soil shouldbenefit from the biological and chemical processes that occur in the soil,the continuously reducing quality of soil means that a decreasing number offarmed plants actually benefit much from such processes. As such, plantsproduced without soil, in a hydroponic mineral solution that contains all themacro- and micronutrients that a plant needs - protected from pesticides andlocal soil pollution - can grow up to be far healthier, stronger and morestress resistant than their soilgrowing counterparts.

Join us on our hydroponic adventure, why dontcha?
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