A Short Summary of the Long History of Hydroponics
The first plants to inhabit the Earth grew in bodies of water, large and small. They were structurally simple,photosynthetic organisms and were the forerunners of land plants. Therefore, it’s quite accurate to say that hydroponic plants have been around since the beginning of time as we know it. The use of hydroponics as a sustainable method of farming in rural areas and in cities dates back thousands of years.
The first recorded hydroponic farms were the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (although there is some debate as to whether or not the gardens were actually in this ancient city). The Aztecs created vast hydroponic farms on rafts, feeding their crops with nutrients dug from the bottom of Lake Tenochtitlan. There is also evidence of hydroponic farming in ancient China. In more modern times, hydroponic farming has become dominate in areas with limited amounts of land including Japan and Holland. The appeal of farming in small spaces has also taken root in larger countries including Australia and the United States.
The word hydroponics is derived from the Greek words, “hydro” meaning water and “ponos” meaning labor. In short hydroponics is the art of soil-less growing. Rather than dirt, plants grow in containers using alternate mediums such as clay, gravel, sand, vermiculite and coconut fiber. There is a constant water flow mixed with a nutrient solution to keep plants healthy and happy. There are a number of different types of hydroponic systems such as the drip systems, and water culture systems we use at Boswyck Farm. Hydroponic systems come in all shapes and sizes. They can be vertical or horizontal, used indoor or in greenhouses. They can also be used outside quite successfully. All of the systems have one common feature: they are completely soil-less.
Growing hydroponically is highly efficient and environmentally sustainable. It’s estimated that hydroponic systems use 70%-90% less water than conventional growing because the water is continually circulated through the systems. In addition the problems of run-off and soil erosion are non-existent. Growing hydroponically means that crops can be grown in smaller spaces–a great advantage and practicality in urban settings–while producing significant yields of fruits and vegetables.
People often question the value of food grown hydroponically, making the assumption that fruits and vegetables grown by this method have less nutritional value. Another common misconception is that hydroponic fruits and vegetables are genetically engineered. Neither of these ideas could be further from the truth. Our plants are cultivated from seeds planted directly into our hydroponic systems. We often use heirloom varieties which means the seeds are openly pollinated (by insects, birds or wind), untreated and non-GMO. Unlike the seeds used in large-scale agricultural production, heirloom varieties have been cultivated by farmers for centuries, keeping the seed strains alive through propagation by grafting and cuttings. All this means that crops grown hydroponically are just as delicious and nutritious as their soil-bound counterparts.
Given the long history of hydroponics and the environmental benefits of growing food this way, we fully believe it to be an essential component of urban farming, as well as architectural design, now and in the future.