Vegetables are grown hydroponically by various commercial growers today. You can also use hydroponic methods to grow your own vegetables. This is most useful for those in an apartment situation who do not have access to a balcony or much in the way of natural light.
Hydroponic growing involves using an inert substance such as rockwool or vermiculite as a substrate for growing plants. The plant obtains its nutrition through the water, to which you add essential nutrients.
Of course, the source of your nutrients will determine whether your plants will qualify as organic. There are both home-based and commercial systems for organic hydroponics you can use. Most hydroponically-grown vegetables aren’t organic, and whatever the source of the nutrients, hydroponic vegetables aren’t low-energy to produce. Between the artificial lighting and the pump keeping the nutrient solution aerated, hydroponics is a highly energy-intensive technique.
There are several different methods of getting the nutrient solution to the plants. One of the most common is the “wick method”, which uses a wick to bring the nutrient solution to the plant from the reservoir underneath the plant. The “water method” has the vegetables growing in a styrofoam float with their roots reaching through into the nutrient solution that the styrofoam is floating in. A “drip system” deposits the nutrient solution directly on the plant’s roots.
One of the advantages of hydroponic gardening is that you can tailor the nutrients you provide to the exact plant species you’ll be growing.
Another advantage is that you tend to have a lot less in the way of pests than outdoor gardeners face. Deer aren’t going to come into your house and steal your hydroponic strawberries. This means you’re more likely to end up with a full crop at the end. Unfortunately, if you do get an insect pest or a plant disease, it will have no natural enemies and you may have major trouble getting rid of it. You don’t want to spray toxic pesticides inside your home.
A major advantage in northern climates is that hydroponic gardening is independent of the seasons, so you can grow whatever you want in the winter. That said, you can grow a surprising amount in late fall, early spring, and even winter in many climates by using cloches, hoophouses, or other forms of frost protection. If you want to get fancy, then there are greenhouses available.
A major disadvantage of hydroponic gardening is the cost of the equipment. For a large setup you will spend hundreds, or possibly even thousands of dollars. Even a setup for four plants will likely set you back over $50 without including lighting.
In addition to the start-up costs, you will have ongoing costs for electricity and nutrients. If you want homegrown vegetables and have access to outdoor space and light, you are probably better off using them than going for hydroponics.