The History of Hydroponic Plant Cultivation

Hydroponic growing is a system of cultivating plants that uses mineral rich water rather than soil. Put simply the plant roots are placed in a water solution; this helps to reduce the costs of water, allows for control over the nutrients that are fed to the plants and also produces high, stable yields and makes it easier to control pests and diseases. It has been used in bio medicine, within food production and even by NASA. But what are the origins of hydroponic science?

The history of hydroponic science can be traced back nearly four hundred years. In the archives of the British library is the earliest known publication on the subject of growing plants without using soil. Published in 1627, Sylva Sylvarum was authored by Sir Francis Bacon and sparked interest in the technique. The next scientist to take the baton was John Woodward who experimented with growing spearmint in distilled and impure water; he found that plants in impure water greater better than those in distilled.

Two hundred years later German botanists developed a technique called solution culture. This was a type of cultivation that used no soil and instead used a mineral solution. Solution culture is still used as a hydroponic technique today. Hydroponics first received its name after the work of Professor William Frederick Gericke, who in 1929 began experimenting with the technique for agricultural production. After first choosing aquaculture, a term already being used for the cultivation of water borne plants he determined upon hydroponics, an analogous term referring to geoponics, the science of cultivating earth.

Gericke however attempted to keep the discovery to himself, leading to him leaving the University of California. Two of his associates, Dennis Hoagland and Daniel Arnon then began their own research. The result was a book on the hydroponic subject although both Hoagland and Arnon did not believe that the technique was a more productive way to produce plants, overlooking the fact that botanists have greater control over oxygen, water and nutrients in a hydroponic environment. The pair did however develop a number of nutrient formulas that are still used today.

The first practical usage and success of hydroponics was in the 1930s where the science was used to grow vegetables on Wake Island, a rocky South Pacific atoll that had no soil. From this point onwards the science has been regularly advanced, even being used by NASA to a study how plants could be grown using LED light in any possible missions to Mars.