Soilless cultivation represents a valuable possibility for growing fresh vegetables and fruits in countries characterized by both shrinking land and water resources and large, fast growing population. In fact, this kind of cultivation has the potential application in providing food in areas having vast regions of non-arable land, such as deserts and dry coastal belts [1], as well as any other country. Soilless culture has, in fact, many advantages over standard agricultural practices, such as:

  1. Controlled environment growth leading to high quality yield;
  2. Precise control of the nutrient feed rations: less fertilizers are used compared to field;
  3. No weeds and soil diseases, thus no herbicides and less pesticides are needed;
  4. Extended growing season;
  5. No loss of soil fertility and no crop rotation;
  6. Use of biological controls are possible and practical in a controlled environment system.

Soilness culture needs only up to 1/10th-1/30th of the water which otherwise would have been used to grow equivalent amounts of field crops. The increasing water use efficiency leads to a consistent reduction of the crops water footprint.


Soilless cultures are divided into two major categories:

  • Substrate culture: consists in the cultivation of crops in a solid (inert or non-inert) medium instead of soil. Many cultivation methods are part of this category, according to the type of drainage system (i.e. open versus closed systems); to the type of substrates (i.e. organic or inorganic); to the cultivation methods (plants in pots or boxes or bags; horizontal or vertical farming). 


  • Water culture: involves a system where plants are cultivated directly in contact with the (static or circulating) nutrient solution without any substrate. In particular, hydroponic – which is the most used water culture type – can be defined as the cultivation of plants by placing the roots in liquid nutrient solutions rather than in soil. Other examples of water culture are aeroponics and aquaponics systems.


[1] Sheikh, B.A. (2006) Hydroponics: key to sustain agriculture in water stressed and urban environment, Pakistan Journal of Agriculture, Agricultural Engineering and Veterinary Sciences 22(2)