The term hydroponics was coined in the USA in the early 1930's to describe the growing of plants with their roots suspended in water containing mineral nutrients. Derived from the Greek words for 'water' - hydro and 'to work' - ponos, hydroponics literally means 'working with water'. The definition has gradually become broadened to describe all forms of gardening without soil.
Hydroponic gardens in history date back to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The Aztec Indians had a system of growing crops on rafts in shallow lakes, you can still see some of these floating gardens near Mexico City. Developments did not start taking place in Europe until 1699 when Woodward found that he could grow plants in a solution of water to which soil had been added. Liebig, a German scientist, started using nutrient solutions to study the nutritional requirements of plants in the 1850's and was followed by Sachs in 1860 and Knop in 1861 who made studies of nutrient elements in water solutions. They were able to grow plants in nutrient solutions made up from mineral salts eliminating the need for soil.
Research on the nutritional requirements of plants continued through into the 1870's. By 1925 practical applications of hydroponics were being made in the greenhouse industry. The next decade was to see extensive development as researchers became aware of the potential of growing hydroponically. In 1930 Gericke produced the first commercial hydroponic unit in the USA. Later during World War II the American forces in the Pacific grew vegetable crops hydroponically. Developments continued and the commercial use of hydroponics spread throughout the world but it was the development of a system known as N.F.T. by Dr Alan Cooper in the 1970's, along with improved nutritional formulations that made the hydroponic growing of a wide range of plants commercially viable. Since then automatic control systems have become available as well as digital testing equipment which has opened up the field of hydroponics to the home gardener.
Hydroponics has come a long way since the Aztecs. It has become an essential method of growing crops in areas of the World where water is precious and land useless for field growing. Water care and land care is now legislative in many countries in the World, so with sensible, well managed hydroponic crops we can keep producing high quality produce which is environmentally friendly and sustainable for the future.