Hydroponics is a method of growing plants in water by using solutions of nutrients and minerals, without any soil. Perlite or gravel can also be used to steady the plants as they are growing. The practice of growing plants in pre treated water only goes way back to 1627 when Sir Francis Bacon experimented with the practice, and a book about it that he wrote was published a year after his death.
In 1929 a man named William Frederick Gericke got everyone’s attention when he grew tomato plants to heights of over 25 feet by using mineral nutrient solutions instead of regular soil. Gericke was affiliated with the University of California at Berkeley and he came up with the name of hydroponics.
In comparing hydroponics with traditional methods of growing plants in soil there are some interesting factors that present themselves. Early researchers set out to prove that there was no difference in growing plants in soil or by the hydroponics method. It was assumed from the outset that crop yields were similar in both circumstances.
However, hydroponics does have advantages that tradition plant growing techniques that traditional methods does not possess. In hydroponics the roots of a plant has a constant exposure to oxygen as well as having access to as much or as little water as it needs.
One of the most common errors when growing plants in the traditional way is over watering. With hydroponics this does not happen even when large quantities of water are made available to the plants and the plant will use only what it needs, while any excess water can be drained away.
When growing plants in soil, a gardener or a grower has to be very knowledgeable as to when watering is appropriate for different kinds of plants. If a plant is watered too much, it will not be able to access oxygen properly, and too little water will make it difficult for the plant to transport the nutrients that it needs.
An earlier successful utilization of hydroponics happened on Wake Island in the 1930s, as Wake has no soil. The rocky island was a fueling port for Pan American Airlines, and it was used as a place to grow vegetables for passengers. Hydroponics was successfully utilized for this purpose as it was very expensive to bring fresh vegetables in by air.
Walt Disney World featured the EPCOT Center which opened in 1982 and introduced the Land Pavilion which showcased a variety of hydroponic features. NASA has done a great deal of experimentation in the hydroponics field, as they are shooting for a plausible hydroponic technique to grow on Mars when that expedition occurs later.
Hydroponics techniques are labeled as having two types of methods, termed as a solution culture and a medium culture. The solution culture technique uses no solid medium for its roots, as they are just immersed in the solution of nutrients.
There are three primary means of solution cultures which are the static solution technique, the continuous flow culture, and aeroponics.
With the static solution culture technique, the plants are grown in containers such as plastic buckets, jars, tubs and tanks. The solution is lightly aerated, or even un-aerated, but in those cases the solution is kept at a low enough level so that the plants receive adequate oxygen. The solution is changed on a periodic basis and the growth is monitored accordingly. The container size is also modified as the plants grow.
With a continuous flow system, the solution of nutrients is made to flow on a continual basis past the roots. This form of hydroponics is much easier to automate as adjustments can be made to a large amount of medium that affects large numbers of plants.
Aeroponics uses a method that keeps the roots in an environment that is saturated in a mist or an aerosol of the nutrient solution. The roots are literally suspended in a growth chamber where they are systematically sprayed with a fine mist of the nutrients. This technique has been very successful for tomato and potato production, micro-greens and leaf crops.
In the medium culture, the roots of the plants will rest in some sort of medium, such as perlite, rocks, and similar types of medium. Plants have a constant battle against gravity and when they are grown in other environments other than the soil, the actually mature more rapidly.
Which medium to actually use is one decision that hydroponic growers have to make. Clay pellets have been successfully uses as has growstones, which are made from glass waste as it holds a good bit of air and water.
Coco peat is another medium used, as it is the material that is left over after all of the fibers have been removed from the shell of the coconut.
Perlite is a volcanic rock which has been heated to extremely high temperatures, and is formed into very lightweight glass pebbles. Other medium are used with great success, as new medium are being tested on a regular basis.
The nutrient solutions that are used in hydroponics contain micro organisms and fertilizer. There are various lighting systems that are employed to provide the adequate light that the plants need to grow.
Hydroponics has enabled the growth of plants to occur just about anywhere the system can be set up, both indoors and outdoors. The flexibility and the fact that much more can be grown in smaller spaces is revolutionizing the way we think of growing and harvesting plants on a very large scale.