The History of Hydroponics

Growing without soil literature (1600’s)

Hydroponics was first documented in Sylva Sylvarum, a book written by Francis Bacon and published a year after his death in 1627.

At that time, hydroponics had yet to earn its name and these were the earliest teachings of growing terrestrial plants without soil. Shortly after, water culture became a common research technique.

John Woodward later published water culture experiments in his own book, Spearmint. His research concluded that plants using less-pure water grew faster than plants using distilled water.

The emergence of solution culture (1800’s)

By the year 1842, there were nine elements that scientists believe to be critical to plant growth. This discovery led to the development of actually growing without soil, occurring sometime between 1859 and 1865. From this point on terrestrial plants were grown without soil in nutrient solution water and it was known as solution culture.

Today, solution culture is a subdivision of hydroponics where there is no grow medium used for the plants and the roots hang freely in the nutrient water.

Hydroponics comes to light (1900’s)

William Frederick Gericke, a graduate from the University of California believed very strongly that solution culture should have a role in agricultural crops and he promoted the idea heavily in 1929. Gericke was able to demonstrate the power of what he called “aquaculture,” by growing twenty-five foot high tomato vines in his backyard, without soil, using nutrient rich water. Gericke later revealed the term hydroponics in 1937, which has coined the industry since.

Gericke believed that hydroponics would change modern day agriculture and his claims resulted in significant interest.

The administration of the University originally denied Gericke access to their greenhouses and when they requested Gericke’s nutrient recipe after seeing the interest it sparked, he requested a greenhouse to continue his research and further develop his hydroponics knowledge. The University assigned Hoagland and Arnon to do investigational research on Gericke’s nutrient recipe and later found that it didn’t benefit plant growth.

Hoagland and Arnon believed that hydroponics had no effect over crop yields and that quality soil grown plants could perform just as well. However, they were quick to draw a conclusion and completely overlooked the advantages to hydroponics. Hydroponics allows plants to have 24/7 access to as little or as much water as needed and the roots of the plants have continuous oxygen access as well.

Hydroponics eliminates user error and makes over or under watering impossible. When growing in soil, you have to maintain a perfect balance of water to allow the plant to access oxygen and transport nutrients. Arnon and Hoagland together developed several types of nutrient solutions for hydroponic systems. It was later concluded that hydroponics do have an effect on growth rates and crop yields.

Hydroponics is a developing industry (2000’s)

Hydroponic systems have since been used to grow organic foods, vegetables and more. NASA has used hydroponics for their CELSS or Controlled Ecological Life Support System. Hydroponics will be used to create oxygen generating greenhouses to sustain life on Mars and other plants. A NASA mission to inhabit Mars has already been planned and includes the use of hydroponics and LED lighting to grow efficiently with less heat and wasted energy.