Hydroponics and Water

Hydroponics and Deep Water Culture

Written by Don Huie

Traditional growing requires soil, sun, and water for plants to thrive. Hydroponic growing is a soilless system that takes less space and usually offers higher yields. This sustainable farming and growing method has a number of benefits, and it can be done in a few different ways.

What Is Hydroponics?

The word "hydroponics" literally means "working water." Growing plants hydroponically involves growing plants without soil. To grow effectively, plants need water, light, vitamins, and minerals. They also need an exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen at the roots. Plants grown with the hydroponic method are grown in a special medium and fed a nutrient solution. Virtually any plant can be grown hydroponically.

Hydroponics requires fresh, filtered water with a balanced pH. An air stone or air pump is used to oxygenate the roots. Support for the roots is provided with a medium such as coconut fiber, perlite, or vermiculite. Special plant food is needed to provide the nutrients that would otherwise come from soil. Plants growing indoors will likely need extra light as well.

Hydroponics History

Hydroponics dates back to ancient civilizations. Babylon may have been the first civilization to use a soilless growing system. The Babylonians set up hanging gardens that used a hydroponic system that pumped in fresh water to irrigate the plants. In Central America, Aztecs also built floating gardens. Farmable land was scarce in Mexico, so the Aztecs improvised by building rafts out of roots and reeds. They harvested nutrient-dense soil from a shallow lake and spread the soil on the rafts. They then planted trees, vegetables, and flowers on the rafts. The rafts floated, the roots reached the water underneath, and the Aztecs had flourishing hydroponic gardens.

Scientists in the 1600s conducted experiments to learn about how plants grow and the elements needed for growth. They learned that plant roots absorb water, that water moves through plants, and that it escapes through pores in the leaves. They also discovered that plant roots are able to absorb oxygen and minerals from both soil and water, and leaves can pull in carbon dioxide from the air. By the mid-1800s, scientists were experimenting with growing plants in other mediums besides soil. During the 1920s and 1930s, Dr. William F. Gericke worked to find ways to grow plants hydroponically on a commercial scale. Gericke was the researcher who coined the term "hydroponics," and scientists consider his work to be the foundation of modern hydroponic growing.

Benefits of Hydroponics

Growing plants hydroponically has a number of benefits. Not only does this method of growing use less space due to less root spread, but hydroponics actually uses less water than traditional growing. Hydroponic growing also requires fewer chemicals because weeds and pests are minimal. Plants tend to grow faster in hydroponic systems, too.

Deep Water Culture

Deep water culture hydroponics is a particular hydroponic growing method that involves suspending the roots over a liquid solution that's fortified with oxygen and nutrients. The majority of the root mass is submerged in this solution, and an air pump works to keep the water oxygenated. A deep water culture system can be small or large, and homeowners can even buy kits to assemble and set up a deep water culture system at home to grow herbs or other plants. The advantage of a deep water culture system is the abundance of nutrients and oxygen provided to plants, which helps them to thrive. Gardeners must monitor the nutrient levels in the water solution carefully, though, to make sure that the nutrient concentration doesn't become too strong and burn the plant roots.