Hydroponic systems are used to grow plants without soil. Contrary to popular perception, it has a long history dating back to 1600s. Since then, the process and techniques have been refined to the point that now hydroponic culture has become a mainstream research tool. Disciplines as varied as biology and space travel employ the techniques of hydroponic culture in research and development.
In late 1600s, experiments proved that it is indeed possible to grow plants without soil. This discovery sparked an interest in the technique and by l865 a system of growing plants in aqueous solution was developed. This technique is known as Solution Culture. It is still used to grow plants using a variety of solutions.
One of the most ardent promoters of hydroponic systems was Professor William Gericke. He started researching the techniques of solution culture at University of Columbia and by 1929, made his research public. He is also credited for coining the name “Hydroponic “for his system of soil less agriculture in 1937. His ideas became very popular after the publication of his book “Complete Guide to Soilless Gardening” in 1940.
During the same years, two other experts were called upon to verify the claims of Professor Gericke. Dennis Hoagland and Daniel Arnon, while refuting some of the exaggerated claims, did contribute significantly to the theory and practice of hydroponic culture. Their greatest contribution was the introduction of several formulae for nutrient solutions. These solutions are known as Hoagland Solution. Various modified formulations are now used for various plants.
The next stage of progress in hydroponic systems was achieved in 1960, when Allen Cooper developed Nutrient Film technique. This was a major development over previous techniques used in hydroponic culture. Nutrient Film Technique allows the roots to breathe while absorbing nutrition from the film. Increased oxygen and absorbed nutrients greatly boost the productivity and has been used sucessfully in growing a number of plants.
NASA is conducting research in the feasibility of hydroponic systems in zero and near zero gravity conditions, it is hoped that hydroponic culture would be the major source of fresh fruits and vegetables during space flights and on space stations of the future.