Hydroponic Gardening Guide


Hydroponic gardening presents an interesting paradox: it has existed for millennia, yet it may also be the untested future of global agriculture.



Pop quiz: Which of the following statements is true?


A. Fish don't need water to live.
B. Plants don't need soil to live.
C. Humans don't need oxygen to live.
D. None of the above.


If you answered B, you're obviously familiar with the concept of hydroponic gardening. The word hydroponics means "water labor" in Greek, and refers to the practice of gardening without soil. The idea may sound strange, yet the history of hydroponic gardening is nearly as old as human civilization.


How does hydroponic gardening work?


Plants and vegetables don't really need soil. What they need are nutrients, water, and adequate support. Since the earth has plenty of, well, earth, and because soil is a supportive source of nutrients and moisture, it has become inextricably linked with plants.


The reason that plants develop such extensive root systems is because they must search the soil for food and water. Hydroponic gardening skips the middleman, i.e. soil, and feeds essential nutrients directly to the root system. This permits plants to spend more energy growing, resulting in quicker and stronger blooms and yields.


Hydroponic gardening can make use of many alternative growing mediums, including water, air, Rockwool, sand, and gravel. Hydroponic gardening also utilizes many types of food delivery systems in which essential nutrients are mixed with water and distributed to plants via reservoirs or pumps.


Liberated from their search for food, hydroponic plants grow up to 50% faster than soil plants. And because hydroponic gardening requires no spreading of roots, the same yield can be achieved in about 1/5 the space of a traditional soil garden.


Is hydroponic gardening a new idea?


Far from it. Hydroponics has been around for millennia in many different forms. The ancient civilizations of Egypt, Babylon, and China all practiced hydroponic gardening. One of the most interesting historical examples of the perceived exoticism of hydroponic gardening comes from the Spanish encounters with the Aztecs in the 16th century.


Lacking arable land, the Aztecs created rafts called chinampas and covered them with mud and lake sediment. The Aztecs grew food crops such as maize, beans, and squash on these hydroponic gardening rafts, and the plant roots would extend down through the chinampas and into the lake water.


William Prescott, a 19th century U.S. historian who was nearly blind and never visited Mexico, nevertheless wrote one of the most eloquent accounts of the period, History of the Conquest of Mexico. He called the chinampas "Wondering Islands of Verdure, teeming with flowers and vegetables and moving like rafts over the water."


Hydroponic gardening: the future of agriculture?


Hydroponic gardening may very well be the future of agriculture. Its increased yields and the threat of global warming make it a perfect farming technique for a heavily populated, water-rich world.


Unusual experiments in hydroponic gardening have already begun. In Tokyo at the beginning of 2006, farmers used hydroponic gardening techniques to grow rice in a bank vault, a process that would yield four harvests a year rather than the usual one.


The success of such experiments suggests that in years to come, hydroponic gardening may transform agriculture from a rural activity into an urban one.


Hydroponic gardening at home


Those looking to practice hydroponic gardening at home should begin by researching growing mediums and hydroponic systems. Though hydroponic gardening obviates the usual growing challenges such as weeding, spacing, and fertilizer, it presents its own unique set of problems. Certain growing mediums tend to work better with particular hydroponic systems, and understanding the advantages and disadvantages of clay pellets, sand, or fiberglass will enable you to plan wisely.


--Joshua Avram

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