What is hydroponics? Definition and examples

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Hydroponics is forecast to grow significantly due to our planet’s increasing population.

Hydroponics, a subset of hydroculture, is the art of growing plants without soil. Plants grow with just mineral solutions in a water solvent.

Put simply; hydroponics is the science of growing plants in water that contains all the essential nutrients they need. Specifically, the nutrients they need to grow, flower, and fruit.

When we hear the term ‘hydroponics,’ we image plants with their roots suspended directly into water with no growing medium. This, however, is just one type of hydroponic technique. We call it the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT).

Simplyhydro.com says the following about NFT:

“There are several variations of N.F.T. used around the world and it is a very popular method of growing hydroponically.”

“What most people don’t realize is that there are countless methods and variations of hydroponic gardening.”

The nutrients people use today in hydroponic systems come from a variety of sources. A by-product of duck manure, for example, is one source. So are fish waste by-products. Some growers use chemical fertilizers.

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We started using the term ‘hydroponics’ in the English language in 1937.

Etymology of hydroponics

Etymology is the study of the history of words and how their structures and meanings have evolved.

The term ‘hydroponics’ with the meaning ‘process of growing plants without soil’ emerged in the English language in 1937.

It is formed from ‘hydro-,’ which means ‘water’ in Greek, and ‘-ponics.’ from the Greek word ‘ponein’ which means to ‘toil, labor.’

Benefits of hydroponics

There are many benefits associated with growing plants in a solution of nutrients mixed with water: (Data Source: The Spruce)

  • Plants grow significantly faster – up to 20% faster than they do in soil.
  • In areas where existing soil is poor, hydroponics is the ideal option.
  • Yields are from 20% to 25% greater compared to soil. Yield, in this context, refers to crop production per unit area.
  • It requires considerably less space. The plant does not have to grow an extensive root system to get its nutrients. Therefore, they can be packed very close to each other.
  • This technique uses much less water.

Hydroponics is not new

Although the word is less than a century old, we have been growing plants in a water solution for a very long time.

In his book ‘Hydroponic Food Production,’ Howard M Resh writes:

“The hanging gardens of Babylon, the floating gardens of the Aztecs of Mexico, and those of the Chinese are examples of Hydroponic culture. Egyptian hieroglyphic records dating back several hundred years B.C. describe the growing of plants in water.”

In 1627, Francis Bacon’s book ‘Sylva Slvarum’ (or ‘A Natural History’) was printed. In his book, Bacon wrote about growing terrestrial plants without soil. ‘Water Culture‘ became increasingly popular after his book came out.

Hydroponics market set to grow

A Research and Market report predicts that the global hydroponics market will be worth $724.87 million by 2023.

In a press release, Research and Markets wrote:

“Decrease in arable land, growing population coupled with rising demand for food, and technological advancements in hydroponics are some of the factors boosting the market growth.”

“In addition, increasing research & developments investments, raising adoption of vertical farming are propelling the market growth. On the other hand, high initial investments and complexity in technologies are some of the restraints hindering market growth.”

Forecasters say that the market in Europe will probably grow faster than anywhere else in revenue terms. The Asia Pacific region will also experience significant growth.