Hydroponics (also known as Soil-less Environmentally Controlled Agriculture or SECA) is the cultivation of plants using nutrient solutions rather than dirt. The word comes from the Greek hydro meaning “water” and ponos meaning “labor.” Although the term has been in use only since the 1930’s, hydroponics have been used since several hundred years B.C. The famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the floating gardens of the Mexican Aztecs and the Chinese are examples of early hydroponics. Western Europe and Canada are current leaders in this science. Hydroponics are definitely the future of farming, since this medium can be used to grow high-quality produce in areas of poor soil (the desert), and higher volumes of produce can be grown in limited space (cities and underdeveloped nations). NASA is even experimenting with using hydroponics to grow produce in space for long-term missions and space settlements.
There are several porous, well-aerated substrate available to hydroponic farmers. Our lettuce and herbs are grown in Rock Wool while our tomatoes and cucumbers grow in Perlite. Rock Wool is rock that has been melted and spun like cotton candy and then shaped into the growing slabs you see in our greenhouse. Perlite is a very lightweight volcanic rock very similar to Vermiculite, a substance often found in potting soil.
Hydroponics are healthier and friendlier to the environment than traditionally grown produce. Hydroponic produce is grown without the use of dangerous pesticides and has been shown to have higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals. We can grow most hydroponic produce year-round, and all hydroponic produce has a significantly longer growing season than field-grown produce. This enables us to have fresh, healthy produce year-round. We also get more vegetables in a shorter period of time than growing in a field. Hydroponics conserves water (less water is needed for hydroponics than field-grown crops, and what is used is recycled) and soil (no depletion of soil nutrients or need to leave fields fallow to recover).
Hydroponics is different from organic, and there are plenty of people who can explain it better than we can. Both encompass means of sustainable farming, a do-no-harm philosophy, but that pretty much ends their similarities.