Have you ever thought of growing plants without soil? A science known as
hydroponics will allow you to do just this. Hydroponics systems have been used
since the time of the ancient Babylonians who used them to used them to grow
their famous hanging gardens. Today, all around the world, fruits, vegetables,
flowers, and ornamental plants are grown using hydroponics. The word hydroponics
was derived from the Greek words hydros, meaning water, and ponos, meaning
labor, or literally, water working. Hydro-ponics is simply growing plants in a
water and balanced fertilizer solution. It is rapidly becoming the most common
way of growing speciality crops and crops that require special conditions to
grow. Hydroponics is also known as Soilless/Controlled Environment Agriculture.

This means that plants are grown without soil in greenhouse environments in
which everything from the amount of nutrients applied to the temperature and
humidity can be monitored closely. Greenhouses are ideal for hydroponics systems
because they have their own climate. New types of greenhouses are designed to
distribute light from the sun during the day to promote better plant growth and
retain heat at night which saves on fuel. These greenhouses are quickly becoming
choice places for growers to set up their hydroponics systems. These set-ups are
increasing yields and decreasing plant loss which is more profitable for the
grower. Speciality crops such as tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and hot peppers,
which cannot be grown conventionally all year long, are being grown in
hydroponically. These vegetables which were previously scarce in some seasons
will be plentiful all year. Hydroponically grown vegetables can be harvested
year ‘round so even regions that have harsh winters, or short growing seasons
can enjoy these special crops anytime. One fruit that is especially hard to find
at certain times of the year is the strawberry. The strawberry industry is
beginning to convert from the traditional soil grown berries to the
hydroponically grown variety. This drastic change was brought about by an
upcoming ban on methyl bromide, which is used to fumigate strawberry plants. If
the plants are not fumigated, yields drop, pests destroy the leaves and roots of
the plant, as well as, the fruit. Scientists at the Appalachian Fruit Research

Station in Kearneysville, West Virgina have transplanted many varieties of
strawberries, previously grown in the soil, into a hydroponics system. They
added the nutrients the plants normally received from the soil directly into the
water. The results of the experiments have been good. Each of the plants were
healthy and each yielded between one and two pounds of fruit. The strawberry
experiments were not totally problem free. The researchers had problems with
mites, thrips, and powdery mildew on the foliage of the plant. To solve pest
problem the researchers used beneficiary predatory mites to rid the plants of
the tiny parasites. To get rid of the mildew the researchers regulated the
humidity level in the green house so prevent the mildew from growing on the
leaves. Another industry that utilizes hydroponics is the flower industry.

Holland is a main supplier of roses to the United States, and almost all of
their flowers are grown hydroponically. Herbs such as cilantro, oregano, and
dill are also being grown hydroponically. Ornamental plants are also being grown
hydroponically. Flower shops and nurseries can have plants that are usually out
of season at some time, all year long. The advantages of hydroponically grown
crops are significant. The fruits and vegetables have superior taste,
appearance, and quality. There are no weeds, cultivation, and no soil borne
diseases or insects. All the plants receive the same amount of water and
nutrients. Due to the "closed circuit" nature of the systems less
water and less fertilizer is needed. All of these things make hydroponics a
practical way to grow some crops. Commercial growers often use a product known
as Perlite as a growth medium in their hydroponics system. Perlite is a volcanic
glass formed when lava cools rapidly trapping water. The glass is crushed and
heated to very high temperatures. From this comes a soft mineral foam. This foam
can hold large amounts of water, and has a neutral pH. These two factors make it
ideal for a growth medium. There are certain nutrients that are needed to make a
quality nutrient solution for a hydroponics system. These elements are Nitrogen,

Potassium, Phosphorous, Calcium, Magnesium, Sulfur, Manganese, Iron, Copper,

Zinc, and Chlorine. They are essential to a plants growth and development. Most
of them are absorbed from the soil. Many growers argue that hydroponics are not
as good as organic gardening, but the majority of the results show that their is
not much difference as far as yields are concerned. The main difference in the
two methods of growing is the way the plant receives the nutrients. Hydroponics
has many advantages that make it an excellent alternative to conventional
growing methods. With the amount of research being done to perfect the various
methods of hydroponic growing, the future of many speciality crops looks bright.

Many researchers propose using hydroponics in areas where the soil quality is
poor farming space is limited. Some researchers even propose using hydroponics
in space, if human colonies are ever settled. Hydroponics may not be the best
way to grow for everyone but it seems to be a very feasible alternative to
traditional growing. Many positive results show that hydroponics have a definite
place in the future of growing.