Over the years, we have conducted hundreds and hundreds of experiments here in the Click & Grow lab, testing everything from different plants to different fertilisers. Heck, we've even played music to the plants. And all that only to find the most efficient, most effortless and most "natural" urban gardening solutions. So quite naturally, the question about gardening techniques came up in the conversation amongst our team members. Which is a more superior - hydroponics or Smart Soil?
Hydroponics - uses mineral nutrient solutions in water, without soil. Click & Grow products do NOT use the hydroponics principle.
Smart Soil - a fluffy, soil-like nano-tech growth medium that balances oxygen, water and nutrient levels. Smart Soil is the core of the unique Click & Grow technology.
In regular soil, the plant's roots don't get enough air. Hydroponics has solved this problem beautifully. Also, in regular soil, one cannot precisely control the nutrient levels, and adding too much fertiliser (just to be safe) burns the roots. In hydroponic systems, the nutrient solution is constantly being monitored and kept on an optimal level. Hydroponics also does not create much of a mess - you can grow plants only by providing them with mineral salts, water and energy. No muss, no fuss. BUT.
This is not the way nature intended for plants to grow. Playing with pure mineral salts was fun back in the 1900's. Today, very little fertiliser research is being done. And for a reason - we already experimented the heck out of it in the sixties!
So, if judging what the plant actually needs to grow healthy and strong, who is the winner - hydroponics or Smart Soil?
1. Nutrients. Hydroponics 1 : Smart Soil 1
Why? The plant cannot grow strong without having such nutrients as N, P, K, Mg, S etc. Obviously, both of these have taken care of this problem.
2. Air. Hydroponics 1 : Smart Soil 1
Why? Hydroponics have done a great job in constantly providing the plant with oxygen all year round. As weird as it might seem, regular soil actually does not contain that much air, at least when watered (which is essential for plant growth) - it "sits down" and squeezes all the air pockets. But since Smart Soil is an improved version of regular soil, the problem of squeezed oxygen pockets has been solved as well.
3. Stable position. Hydroponics 0 : Smart Soil 1
Why? A plant that has secured itself in place can withstand pulling and bending over. In hydroponic systems, the roots are vigorous, but they don't secure the plants in place - they can fall over, and the gardener needs to secure them with additional sticks or wires.
4. Symbiotic bacteria. Hydroponics 0 : Smart Soil 1
Why? This is the Rhizobium bacteria that helps legumes (peas, beans) to catch nitrogen from the atmosphere. It enables to grow beans with basically no fertiliser! However, as most of this bacteria is present in soil, hydroponics simply doesn't work, as these systems wash the bacteria away. Although several bacterial "boosters" are available for hydroponic use, from a gardener's perspective their efficiency is very limited.
5. Beneficial fungi. Hydroponics 0 : Smart Soil 1
Why? One spoonful of rich garden soil can hold up to one billion bacteria, several yards of fungal filaments and several thousand protozoa. Smart Soil as such is alive. These organisms decompose organic materials and release mineral nutrients which are then used by the plants. This is the way nature intended! Nothing is lost, chemical elements are recycled and used again and again. This works pretty well in rainforests, meadows and natural grasslands. However not in hydroponics.
6. Border cells. Hydroponics 0 : Smart Soil 1
Why? A novel research has shown that some plants actually alter the chemical composition around their roots by releasing cells into its near environment. They alter the pH, release signalling molecules and generally "make themselves comfortable" in the place where they happen to grow. A powerful mechanism that we humans just recently have witnessed. But again. If there is nothing except sterile water and minerals around, the process is ineffective.
Of course everything is not black and white. Some plants don't develop border cells, many don't grow in symbiosis with bacteria. Prime samples of plants which are easily cultivated using hydroponic systems are basils, tomatoes, cucumbers. They grow perfectly fine in hydroponic conditions. But then again, a cucumber is 96% water. There is nothing in it. And as we know, hydroponic tomatoes do also not tend to taste the very best.
So again. The human race found a cool method, we experimented, we got the results. We experimented again and once more we have to acknowledge that nature has even smarter ways to do things than we do. So we have to agree that hydroponics is cool. But is it the superior product for growing plants? Not really.
So what's so special about the Click & Grow Smart Soil? It is basically soil with a fluffy carcass that enables free oxygen flow. It does not deliver as much air to the plant as aeroponics do, but it is still a very, very well aerated soil. Nutrients are delivered using nano-coated pellets. They release minerals according to the temperature and soil moisture, keeping the nutrient levels optimal. The level of nutrients is not so high as in top-notch hydroponic systems, but then again it doesn't need weekly calibration. Do beneficial bacteria and fungi live in Smart Soil? Yes they do. Border cells also feel fine.