Hydroponic Systems: Greenhouse Vegetable Production

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Many people think of hydroponics as growing plants in water, but hydroponic production actually is defined as growing plants without soil. This production system may use a wide variety of organic and inorganic materials. The nutrient solution, rather than the media in which the plants are growing, always supplies most of the plant nutrient requirements. This method of growing has also been referred to as nutrient-solution culture, soilless culture, water culture, gravel culture and nutriculture.

Hydroponic culture is not new. One of the first experiments in water culture was made by Woodward in England in 1699. By the mid-19th century, Sachs and Knop, the real pioneers in the field, had developed a method of growing plants without soil.

The term “hydroponics” was first used by Dr. W. F. Gericks in the late 1930s to describe a method of growing plants with roots immersed in an aerated, dilute solution of nutrients. Today, hydroponics is used in commercial greenhouse vegetable production around the world.

There are several advantages to hydroponic culture. Some of the problems associated with conventional soil culture such as poor soil structure, poor drainage and non-uniform texture, as well as weeds and soil-borne pathogens, are eliminated. In automated hydroponic culture, some of the watering and fertilizer additions can be computerized, reducing labor input.

Charles W. Marr
Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station