Hydroponics may be defined as the science of growing plants in soilless, inert media, to which is added a water-soluble nutrient containing all the essential elements needed by the plant for optimum growth and development. The term “hydroponics” was derived from two Greek words, “hydro”, meaning water, and “ponos”, meaning labor. There have been many types of hydroponic systems in the past, some of which have failed while others have met with varying degrees of success. Growing media used have included sand, gravel, peat moss, rice hulls, cottonseed hulls, and vermiculite. Most, if not all, of these systems no longer find acceptance in the industry due to the inherent problems associated with them.
Only since the mid 1980’s, has hydroponics taken a major step forward with the introduction of two particular growing media, including rockwool and perlite. The advantages of these two media have allowed hydroponics to move forward and become accepted as a practical and profitable way of growing vine crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers. Recently the NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) systems have become recognized as the single best way to grow fancy gourmet lettuces and other leaf crops, including several varieties of herbs and micro-greens.
Research on plant nutrition and physiology dates back to the early 1600’s. However, plants were grown by soilless methods far earlier than that. The Aztecs of Mexico devised a system of floating gardens to utilize a non-arable swamp land. The famous hanging gardens of Babylon are another example of hydroponic culture. Egyptian hieroglyphic records dating back to several hundred years B.C. describe the growing of plants in water.
It wasn’t until the early 1930’s that researchers began to realize the agricultural potential of hydroponics. W.F. Gericke, of the University of California, coined the term “hydroponics”, and grew vegetables, grain crops, ornamentals, and flowers using water culture.
Gericke’s application of hydroponics soon proved itself by providing food for troops stationed on non-arable islands in the Pacific in the early 1940’s. In 1945 the U.S. Air Force solved its problem of providing its personnel with fresh vegetables by practicing hydroponics on the rocky islands normally incapable of producing such crops.
With the development of plastics, hydroponics took another large step forward. Plastics freed growers from the costly construction of concrete tanks and beds previously used.
Today, computerized environmental control systems, automated injector feed systems, plastic plumbing and grow bags, extruded PVC channels, and other technological innovations, have allowed growers to become increasingly efficient in their production of crops using hydroponics, thereby reducing both capital, and operational costs.
Hydroponics has become a reality for growers in all climate regions. Large hydroponic greenhouse complexes exist throughout the world including Holland, England, Germany, the Middle East, Spain, and even Africa.