Hydroponics is a division of hydro-culture and is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. Terrestrial plants may be grown with their roots in the mineral nutrient solution only or in an inert medium, such as perlite, gravel, mineral wool, expanded clay or coconut husk.
Researchers discovered in the 18th century that plants absorb essential mineral nutrients as inorganic ions in water. In normal conditions, soil acts as a mineral nutrient reservoir but the soil itself is not necessary to plant growth. When the mineral nutrients in the soil dissolve in water, plant roots are able to absorb them. When the required mineral nutrients are introduced into a plant’s water supply artificially, soil is no longer required for the plant to thrive. Almost any terrestrial plant will grow with hydroponics..
The term hydroponics originates from the ancient Greek hydro, meaning water, and ponos, meaning work.
As the habitats of our planet escalates and available land for crop production declines, hydroponics will offer us a lifeline of variety and allow us to produce crops in greenhouses or in multilevel buildings dedicated to agriculture. Already, where the cost of land is at a top, crops are being produced underground, on rooftops and in greenhouses using hydroponic methods.
In the United States, hydroponically grown vegetables currently exist in a state of incomplete limbo with respect to organic food regulations, and from a business standpoint, state-of-the-art commercial production techniques continue to present a business confront. For a variety of reasons, many of them technical and not related to low-quality production techniques on the part of hydroponic growers, most hydroponic vegetables in the U.S. are not certified organic, even with a commitment on the part of many hydroponic growers to the production of safe, nutrient-rich fresh vegetables that have been grown in a fully sustainable way.
We cheer you to consider hydroponic vegetables in your diet if they come from one of the few growers who provide certified organic products, or if they come from a trustworthy grower who has knowledge in hydroponics. We recommend that you speak in person with a produce manager at a local natural foods grocery to help you identify high-quality hydroponic produce that does not bear the USDA organics logo.
Hydroponic is a very general term used to explain the growing of plants without soil. It simply means non-soil growing. Since the prefix hydro means water, many people think that hydroponic growing refers to growing that takes place in nothing but water. For the vast majority of hydroponically grown foods, however, water-only growing is not the case. Instead, hydroponically grown plants are raised in a variety of different media instead of soil alone. These media include sand, gravel, wood shavings, vermiculite or coconut husk. Once the roots of the plants have been anchored in the soil substitute, they can be submerged in water that contains a carefully-blended set of nutrients matched to the needs of the plants. Plants grown hydroponically are typically raised in greenhouses.
The containers and gear used to house and cultivate the plants have been made especially for that purpose. Although hydroponic growing is relatively limited in the U.S., there are tens of thousands of acres of hydroponic production facilities in Israel, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, and England.
In the United States, lettuce and tomatoes are the most common hydroponically grown vegetables. Other hydroponic vegetables include broccoli, zucchini, summer squash, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, mushrooms, and sprouts. An increasing number of culinary herbs are also becoming available. Outside of the food world, flowers are the most common plants to be grown hydroponically.
Hydroponic systems grow food with smaller amounts of water, land and pesticides, and they generate much higher yields. A controlled rooftop atmosphere makes the entire system isolated from many of the causes of contamination such as a field’s water and workers coming in contact with livestock run-off.
It is very simple. If you give a plant precisely what it needs, when it needs it, in the quantity that it needs, the plant will be as healthy as is genetically possible. With hydroponics this is an easy task; in soil it is far more complicated.
With hydroponics the plants are grown in an inert growing medium and a perfectly balanced, pH adjusted nutrient solution is delivered to the roots in a highly soluble form. This permits the plant to uptake its food with very little effort as opposed to soil where the roots must seek out the nutrients and extract them. This is true even when using rich, organic soil and top of the line nutrients. The energy expended by the roots in this process is energy better spent on vegetative growth and fruit and flower production.
If you cultivate two genetically identical plants using soil for one and hydroponics for the other, you will almost immediately see the difference this factor makes. Faster, better growth and much greater yields are just some of the many reasons that hydroponics is being adapted around the world for commercial food production as well as a growing number of home hobby gardeners.