What Is Hydroponics? Where Did It Originate?
Hydroponics is part of hydroculture and is one of the methods used to grow plants without the use of soil, a form
of soil less agriculture whereby feed to the plants is administered through a mineral nutrient solution in water without soil.
Terrestrial plants which are plants grown from the land and not aquatic plants can also be grown hydroponically with only their roots in the nutrient solution, or using some form of inert medium such as gravel or perlite.
This technology isn’t just a new age science fiction for growing food on upcoming mars missions, the technology is in fact thought to date back as far as 600 B.C when the Great Gardens Of Babylon were built, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, these gardens were believed to function using hydroponic principles.
The gardens were situated along the Euphrates River and were said to be built in in Babylonia, or Mesopotamia, this area suffered greatly from a dry and arid climate which meant the area rarely saw rain, hence the use of hydroponic principles to water the plants, they achieved this through the use of a pull chain system, this carried water up from the river and it the continued to run down the each and or landing of the structure feeding the garden that would otherwise die due to drought.
The Aztecs Also Developed A Type Of Hydroponic System
It wasn’t used in principle again until around the 10th and 11th centuries, when the Aztecs engineered a system of floating gardens based on the hydroponics principle. They were forced to develop this technology as they were driven off of their land, finally settling at Lake Tenochtitlan. Due to the lake’s marshy shore it made growing crops impossible and so they built rafts out of the reeds and roots.
These rafts were topped with soil from from the lake bed, these were then floated out to the centre of the water. Incredibly resourceful and somewhat genius ingenuity, crops did in fact grow on top of the rafts and the roots would reach through the rafts and into the water.
It was Marco Polo who wrote indicating that he had witnessed similar floating gardens when on a visit to China in the 13th Century.
Formal Research and Publications Begin 17th Century
However , there was no formal research or publications on hydroponics recorded from the Babylonians or the Aztecs and so the first formal research and publication on hydroponics would not be recorded until the 17th century.
Sir Francis Bacon, a British scientist, philosopher and politician was the person who carried out the research on soil-less gardening in the 1620s. His work on the subject was published a year after he died in 1627, this sparked an incredible wave of research into hydroponics.
Distilled Water Vs Contaminated Water
In 1699, another English scientist, by the name of John Woodward, carried out tests involving spearmint growth in various water solutions. He attempted to grow spearmint plants in rain water, river water and water that had been mixed with soil and then drained.
What he found was that the mint grew faster and produced healthier plants in the water solution that had been mixed with soil.
His conclusion was that plants would grow better in less pure water than they would in distilled water. We know today that his results were due to minerals that remained in the water after it had been mixed with the soil
Nine Elements Believed To Essential For Plant Growth
By 1842, there was a list compiled which consisted of nine elements believed to be essential for plant growth, and the discoveries of German botanists Julius von Sachs and Wilhelm Knop, in the years 1859-1875, resulted in a development of the technique of soilless cultivation.
The growth of terrestrial plants without using soil, but instead a mineral nutrient solutions was named solution culture, this quickly became a standard research and teaching technique and is still widely used today.
Solution culture is now considered a type of hydroponics where there is no inert medium present.
Aquaculture Is Found
A Berkeley scientist, William Gericke, promoted the use of hydroponics in commercial agriculture. Using a process he called “aquaculture,” he touted the benefits of soil-less gardening by growing massive tomatoes in his home via water and nutrient solutions. After finding that the term “aquaculture” was already being used to describe the study of aquatic organisms, he coined the term “hydroponics,” which we still use today
The Water Culture Method for Growing Plant Is Published
Two other Berkeley scientists, Dennis Hoagland and Daniel Arnon, later expanded upon Gericke’s research.
In 1938, they published “The Water Culture Method for Growing Plants without Soil,” which is widely considered to be one of the most important texts ever published about hydroponics.
Several of the nutrient solutions they developed are still used today.
Reported in the 1938 Time magazine article, one of the first commercial uses of hydroponics occurred during this period based on the research taking place at Berkeley.
This involved using tanks of mineralized water to grow beans, tomatoes, and vegetables on tiny Wake Island, this was a small piece of land in the Pacific Ocean.
This island was used as a refueling stop for Pan-Am Airways, and the food grown there was used successfully to feed the airline’s staff and crew. Similar situations occurred during World War II, as hydroponics was used to grow crops for troops on barren Pacific Islands
[source: Time Magazine].
It was reported that Gericke’s Work and his claims that hydroponics were to revolutionize agriculture, were challenged with many requests for further information. He was denied the use of the University greenhouse’s for his experiments because of the administration having skepticism about the whole thing, so when the University tried to
force him to release his preliminary nutrient recipes which he had in fact developed at home, he responded by requesting greenhouse space and time to further develop and improve them using the appropriate facilities.
Although he was eventually granted permission for greenhouse space, the University had assigned Hoagland and Arnon to re-develop Gericke’s formula and disprove it held any benefit over soil grown plant yields, a view which would be held by Hoagland. The book Complete Guide to Soil less Gardening was published by Hoagland in 1940, after leaving his academic position in an unfavourably political climate.
Can Hydroponics Produce Higher Yields Than Soil?
Hoagland and Arnon claimed that hydroponic crop yields were no better than crop yields with good-quality soils.
Crop yields were ultimately limited by factors other than mineral nutrients, especially light.
This research, however, overlooked the fact that hydroponics has other advantages including the fact that the roots of the plant have constant access to oxygen and that the plants have access to as much or as little water as they need.
Hydroponics Removes Over and Underwatering Errors Encountered With Soil
This is important as one of the most common errors when growing is over- and under- watering; and hydroponics prevents this from occurring as large amounts of water can be made available to the plant and any water not used, drained away, recirculated, or actively aerated, eliminating anoxic conditions, which drown root systems in soil. In soil, a grower needs to be very experienced to know exactly how much water to feed the plant.
Too much and the plant will be unable to access oxygen; too little and the plant will lose the ability to transport nutrients, which are typically moved into the roots while in solution. These two researchers developed several formulas for mineral nutrient solutions, known as the Hoagland solution.
Modified Hoagland solutions are still in use today.
The Development of NFT (Nutrient Film Technique)
It wasn’t until the 1960s a new hydroculture technique was developed, it was Allen Cooper of England who developed the next system called the Nutrient film technique.
The Land Pavilion situated within Walt Disney World’s, EPCOT Center was opened in 1982 and prominently features a range of hydroponic techniques.
Most recently, NASA has done some extensive research into hydroponics, to be used for its Controlled Ecological Life Support System (CELSS).
These are hydroponics intended to be used on Mars and will be using LED lighting in order to gain a full spectrum of grow lighting to cover all growth stages and also with the added benefit of producing much less heat.
To Be Continued >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Part 2 History of Hydroponics <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<To Be Continued
Hydroponic Technology Developing Rapidly
So it is clear to see that hydroponics were a useful technology in history and sometimes the only way for crops to be produced, but whether or not this is the future of agriculture that is still to be answered and I will keep you updated as the technology advances and new equipment and services are introduced.
I hope you enjoyed this little bit of history about hydroponics and would welcome your questions and comments below.
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