The Surprising History of Hydroponics...
Hydroponics is generally put forward as an ultra modern, almost futuristic endeavour. But it may surprise you to know that the practice of hydroponic gardening is actually a very ancient method of gardening. In fact, one of the earliest records of hydroponic gardening can be traced to the year 600 B.C. along the Euphrates River in Babylonia.
Who invented hydroponics?
The Babylonians called this the Hanging gardens and in fact, was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. True the actual site has never been discovered, the practice was and still is sound. In fact, in the late 13th century, the explorer, Marco Polo stated in some of his writings that he saw similar floating gardens during his traveling to China which interestingly enough, still employs a similar practice today in the production of rice crops.
Who is the father of hydroponics?
In 1600, a Belgian born chemist named Jan Van Helmont designed an experiment which indicated that plants obtained substances from water. Sadly, he failed to know that carbon dioxide and oxygen from the air are essential for all plant growth.
Then in 1699, John Woodward followed to study. He came up with the idea that it was substances in the water derived from soil led to the plant growth, rather than from the water itself.
There were many experiments done up until 1804. In 1804 Nicolas-Théodore de Saussure proposed the idea that plants were built and composed of chemical elements absorbed from water, soil, and air. But more proof was needed. That proof would come forty-seven years later in 1851 from the french chemist Jean-Baptiste Boussingault by confirming De Saussure's findings forty-seven years earlier.
Boussignault did an experiment to grow plants in artificial media including sand, quartz, and charcoal without using any soil at all. He used only water, media, and chemical nutrients. He found that plants need water and get hydrogen from it; the dry matter of plants contains hydrogen plus carbon and oxygen which comes from the air; plants consist of nitrogen and other nutrients.
Between 1860 and 1861 two German botanists, Julius von Sachs, and Wilhelm Knop formulated the first standard in nutrient solutions dissolved in water, in which plants could be grown. Originally called "nutriculture", Water Culture has taken over the term.
With this method, the plants'roots were totally immersed in a water solution that contained minerals of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, and calcium. They are now seen as the macroelements or macronutrients used today.
Unfirtionatly, this form of growing plants was all seen as just a simpler practice of growing for the purpose of experimentation on plants.
It wasn't up until 1925 that the agricultural community really took notice. Researchers were caring about the issues of soil cultural methods with soil structure, fertility, and pests. They worked tirelessly to implement the benefit of nutriculture/Water Culter to large-scale plant production.
In the early 1930s, the University of California at Berkeley experimented with nutriculture for the production of agricultural crops. This experiment was headed by W.F. Gericke.
Gericke originally called this process aquaculture but dropped it after learning that this term has been used to describe aquatic organism culturing. The term "Hydroponics" wasn't officially coined until 1937 when William Albert Setchell, who headed the Botany Department at Berkeley, suggested the name to Gericke. The word was derived from two Greek words. Hydro "water" and Ponos "labor" which literally translate to "water working."
Gericke began publicizing the practice of growing plants in a water solution but he met up with the skepticism from the public and the university. His colleagues even refused the use of the on-site greenhouses on the Berkeley campus for his study.
But with Gericke being as tenacious as he was decided to show and prove them wrong by successfully growing an impressive set of 25-foot tall tomato plants in nutrient solutions of his design.
Still doubted by his peers of his account of successful cultivation, the University requested two other students to investigate his claim. The two students did, in fact, investigate his claim and reported their findings in an agriculture publication in 1938, titled "The Water Culture Method for Growing Plants Without Soil"
This publication did in fact confirm Gericke's findings were correct but in a dirty twist, the researchers did not highlight the noticeable improvement on the speed of growth that any seasoned hydroponic gardener inherently knows and loves. The article officially stated that soilless gardening had no noticable improvments over traditional soil gardening."
In the early 1940s, the idea of Hydroponics would get its big break and proved to be a valuable resource when used on Wake Island, which is a soilless island in the Pacific Ocean. This island was used as a refueling stop for Pan American Airlines. The lack of soil meant that it was impossible to grow with the more traditional soil method and it was incredibly expensive to airlift fresh produce. Hydroponics solved the issues excitingly well and provided fresh produce for the whole of troops on this distant, desolate island.
In the 1950s, the soilless method of Hydroponics prooved an exciting concept to a variety of countries including England, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, the USSR, and Israel.
The basic mechanics of hydroponic gardening have never changed. True, the technology has changed, fertilizers have changed and delivery methods have changed but the basics of how hydroponics works have been the same.
Without hydroponics, you wouldn't be able to go to your local store and have an enormous selection of produce. Whether fresh or canned, the world would not be able to feed itself without the use of hydroponics.
So, the next time you take a bite of a strawberry, slice a tomato for the perfect sandwich or indulge in the crunch of a fresh salad, make sure to remember the that how your food got to your table actually started in our humanities earliest of early days and without it, we just wouldn't be the same.
Food production is predicted to increase by 70% or more according to the FAO by 2050. With dwindling land, global warming, and a never-ending supply of mouths to feed, it only makes sense that Hydroponic gardening is not going anywhere and is poised to become a basic need and skill for everyone wanting or needing to grow their own plants. Either today or in the future.