There are many different versions of how the history of hydroponics began. We are not exactly sure when the first plants were grown using this method, but there is evidence that hydroponics was used in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and this is one of the oldest examples of its use. Hydroponics differs from traditional growing in that no soil is used, though the principles of growing plants in this way are similar to that of traditional horticulture, using similar tools and techniques. The history of hydroponics has two parts: the history of hydroponics itself, and the history of agriculture through the ages.
It was only with the development of ancient aquaculture, specifically fish farming, that anyone started considering growing plants in hydroponic systems. The practice first began in ancient China and was used as a farming technique to produce plants and fish as food. The Chinese learned how to grow much larger crops than could be grown in the land, by using aquaculture. These early systems were crude, and they relied on simple technology and ecological principles, and the addition of certain substances, such as domestic food waste, for providing nutrients.
As time went on, and with the availability of new breeds of plants, hydroponics grew into an industry which produces a huge proportion of all the commercially grown plants in the world. The roots of this industry were based on the idea that hydroponics gardening provided solutions to problems that were unique to traditional gardening. For example, problems such as soil erosion, or lack of adequate light for successful plant growth, and unreliable weather conditions. Also, as demand increased, new varieties of hydroponics growing mediums, nutrient film techniques, and more advanced drip systems became available. All these things combined to make hydroponics one of the fastest growing industries worldwide as LED grow lights, nutrient solutions, and other hydroponics equipment becomes more readily available.
Hydroponics, in its most basic form, is composed of three different pieces of equipment: a water delivery system, supplemental lighting, and a growing medium. The most common medium is actually perlite which is a porous rock that contains pockets of air and water. When plants are growing in this medium, light can reach the roots of the plants, and nutrients can be delivered to the plants via the medium. Having said this, some hydroponics systems will use different inorganic growing mediums such as clay pebbles, volcanic pumice, and even horticultural grit and gravel.
The use of hydroponics systems in growing plants has given indoor gardeners the ability to provide optimal nutrition, light, humidity and temperatures to plants, in a much more reliable way than traditional growing methods. Plants can be grown in hydroponics much faster than they would in soil, because nutrients are delivered to the roots much more efficiently and gardeners have ultimate control over their growing environment. It is because of this advantage that hydroponics is often considered the more practical method of growing food for human consumption.
The time it takes to go from seed to harvest is also much shorter in hydroponics than in conventional growing. Harvesting can take from eight to ten weeks in the case of hydroponics because the plants’ growing conditions are optimal. Conventionally grown plants can take much longer to reach maturity, meaning gardeners will have to wait longer before reaping the fruits of their labour. In effect, hydroponics allows the farmers to get better yields and produce a larger harvest every time.
Some people say that growing hydroponically is cheaper than growing soil-based gardening. However, it must also be remembered that hydroponics is only one type of gardening, and that there are other ways of increasing the yield from plants other than hydroponics. Soil cultivation, for example, can allow a much larger area to be planted than in hydroponic growing. The main benefit of hydroponics, though, is that it is simple and affordable, and therefore is easily accessible for amateur indoor gardeners. It makes it possible for people to grow plants when they don’t have access to large amounts of outdoor space, or do not want the hassle of tending to outdoor crops which can be much more labour intensive than hydroponics is.