The earliest published work on growing terrestrial plants without soil was the 1627 book Sylva Sylvarum by Francis Bacon, printed a year after his death. Water culture became a popular research technique after that. In 1699, John Woodward published his water culture experiments with spearmint. He found that plants in less-pure water sources grew better than plants in distilled water. By 1842, a list of nine elements believed to be essential for plant growth had been compiled, and the discoveries of the German botanists Julius von Sachs and Wilhelm Knop, in the years 1859-65, resulted in a development of the technique of soilless cultivation. Growth of terrestrial plants without soil in mineral nutrient solutions was called solution culture. It quickly became a standard research and teaching technique and is still widely used today. Solution culture is now considered a type of hydroponics where there is no inert medium.
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In 1929, William Frederick Gericke of the University of California at Berkeley began publicly promoting that solution culture be used for agricultural crop production. He first termed it aquaculture but later found that aquaculture was already applied to culture of aquatic organisms. Gericke created a sensation by growing tomato vines twenty-five feet high in his back yard in mineral nutrient solutions rather than soil. He introduced the term hydroponics, water culture, in 1937, proposed to him by W. A. Setchell, a phycologist with an extensive education in the classics. Hydroponics is derived from neologism ὑδρωρπονικά, constructed in analogy to γεωπονικά, geoponica, that which concerns agriculture, replacing, γεω-, earth, with ὑδρω-, water.
Reports of Gericke’s work and his claims that hydroponics would revolutionize plant agriculture prompted a huge number of requests for further information. Gericke had been denied use of the University’s greenhouses for his experiments due to the administration’s skepticism, and when the University tried to compel him to release his preliminary nutrient recipes developed at home he requested greenhouse space and time to improve them using appropriate research facilities. While he was eventually provided greenhouse space, the University assigned Hoagland and Arnon to re-develop Gericke’s formula and show it held no benefit over soil grown plant yields, a view held by Hoagland. In 1940, he published the book, Complete Guide to Soil less Gardening, after leaving his academic position in a climate that was politically unfavorable.
Two other plant nutritionists at the University of California were asked to research Gericke’s claims. Dennis R. Hoagland and Daniel I. Arnon wrote a classic 1938 agricultural bulletin, The Water Culture Method for Growing Plants Without Soil,. Hoagland and Arnon claimed that hydroponic crop yields were no better than crop yields with good-quality soils. Crop yields were ultimately limited by factors other than mineral nutrients, especially light. This research, however, overlooked the fact that hydroponics has other advantages including the fact that the roots of the plant have constant access to oxygen and that the plants have access to as much or as little water as they need. This is important as one of the most common errors when growing is over- and under- watering; and hydroponics prevents this from occurring as large amounts of water can be made available to the plant and any water not used, drained away, recirculated, or actively aerated, eliminating anoxic conditions, which drown root systems in soil. In soil, a grower needs to be very experienced to know exactly how much water to feed the plant. Too much and the plant will not be able to access oxygen; too little and the plant will lose the ability to transport nutrients, which are typically moved into the roots while in solution. These two researchers developed several formulas for mineral nutrient solutions, known as Hoagland solution. Modified Hoagland solutions are still used today.Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Center opened in 1982 and prominently features a variety of
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