A History of Hydroponic Gardening

The concept of soil-less gardening or hydroponics has been around for thousands of years. Consider the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, probably the earliest example of hydroponic gardening.

In the 10th and 11th centuries, the Aztecs were living in a marshy lake shore and built rafts of seeds and roots and floated them out to the center of the lake. Crops grew on the top of these rafts, their roots reaching through the rafts and into the water. Marco Polo’s writings indicate he witnessed similar floating gardens while visiting China in the late 13th century.

Sir Francis Bacon did research on soil-less gardening in the 1620s. His work was published posthumously in 1627 and started a wave of research into hydroponic gardening.

Jean Baptista van Helmont, in the 1640s performed his flawed Willow Tree Experiment that proved plants obtain substances from water.

In 1699, English scientist, John Woodward, experimented on spearmint growth in various water solutions. He concluded that the plants received nutrients from both soil and water as faster grown and healthier plants were grown in water that had been mixed with soil and then drained. The farmers of that time believed the nutrients were in the water as their crops failed in drought conditions regardless of the quality of soil.

Julius von Sachs and W. Knop experimented from 1859 – 1865. They discovered that nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) comprise the three main building blocks of plant growth. They developed the first nutrient solution and demonstrated that plants could grow to maturity in that solution alone.

In the 1920s, William Gericke first used the term Hydroponics. He grew hydroponic tomatoes that reached heights of over 25 feet and was known for promoting the use of hydroponics in commercial agriculture. Shortly after this, Dennis Hoagland developed his standard solution,still used in many modern nutrient mixes. Hoagland’s Solution was the first to consider micronutrients such as magnesium, sulfur and iron, essential for healthy growth in minute amounts. Hydroponics was not accepted by skeptical farmers but enjoyed a popularity with amateur gardeners in the 1920s and 1930s.

According to a 1938 Time magazine article, one of the first commercial uses of hydroponics occurred during this period based on the research taking place at Berkeley. Tanks of mineralized water were used to grow beans, tomatoes, and vegetables on tiny Wake Island, a small piece of land in the Pacific Ocean. This island was used as a refueling stop for Pan-Am and the food grown there was used successfully to feed the airline’s staff and crew. hydroponics wholesaler

During World War II, the military set up hydroponics units at remote bases in the barren Pacific Islands that could not support vegetables. The military also grew hydroponically during the war in Korea.

In the 1950s, scientists started seriously experimenting with hydroponic gardening. The 1960s brought the invention of drip irrigation systems and nutrient film technique (NFT).

In the 1970s, General Hydroponics (GH), the largest supplier of specialized chemical nutrients was born. NASA teamed up with GH and sent plants and nutrients to the international space station to study plant growth outside the earth’s atmosphere and how to best supply food and oxygen for future colonization missions in space. Dr. Franco Massantini pioneered the aeroponic method of hydroponic gardening.

In the 1980’s Dr. Hillel Soffer developed the aero-hydroponic method which helped transform the desert into an oasis of bounty. The Epcot Center at Disneyworld introduced “Living With the Land” a futuristic ride through hydroponic “gardens of tomorrow.”

Hydroponic gardening came of age in the 1990s when many more advances in soil-free growing were accomplished, including aeroponics and aquaponics. In aeroponics, a fine mist of nutrient solution is constantly sprayed onto roots for extremely vigorous growth. Aquaponics combines fish farming (aquaculture) and hydroponics by growing fish in a reservoir, which in turn feed the plants with their excretions.

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