What is Hydroponics?

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The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Version 1.
Click the image to enlarge.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Version 2.
Click the image to enlarge.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Version 3.
Click the image to enlarge.
Hydroponics is the practice of growing plants in a medium, other than soil, using a nutrient solution of materials essential to plants dissolved in water. There are many methods of growing plants in water on display at "Tomorrow's Harvest" next to the "Big Pineapple" on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, just over one hour North of Brisbane.

Hydroponics is a fascinating hobby suitable for the home handyman or for a school project. Even though it is an exercise in applied chemistry, very little chemical knowledge is needed as this site explains many of the concepts needed, and if they are not covered in sufficient detail, you can always E-mail me to seek clarification.

The author has been growing vegetables for the kitchen table since the early 1970's, using sand as a growing medium. The sand supports the plant's roots and the nutrient solution is pumped up four times per day, controlled by an automatic timer.

Hydroponics is efficient as the plants do not have to go searching for food ... it is supplied virtually as a "smorgasbord" (the plants take up what they need).

The "Hanging Gardens of Babylon" (one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World) were thought to be basically hydroponic in nature. The images on the left show three different artist's impressions of what the Hanging Gardens might have looked like. The Hanging Gardens were said to have been built by King Nebuchadnezzar II who reigned Babylonia (which incorporates modern day Iraq) from about 604 BC to 562 BC. The Hanging Gardens were said to be situated near the Euphrates River, and built about 600 BC. Archaeological diggings have found something, but nothing near as grand as the impressions on the left. The main building material in those days was mainly mud bricks reinforced with straw, and it is thought that the structure must have been protected from the water by sheets of lead. Stone was apparently quite scarce in Babylonia although archaeological excavations have found some stone construction, but not associated with the Hanging Gardens.

The upper-most Vegetation growing on Hawaiian volcanoes, such as Kilauea, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea is apparently being naturally fed by hydroponic means. The vegetation is growing well above the soil line in what was molten lava when it came out of the volcano and is unlikely to have organic material in it because of the fierce temperatures. Periodic rains and the water run-off from the volcano apparently has leached out sufficient nutrients to sustain that particular vegetation.

Advantages of hydroponics include: no digging, no crop rotation, very few weeds (some come from bird droppings), larger yields, less labour, better control over results and it is clean.

This site shows one method of making a system using new materials, but second hand materials may be used to great effect. The initial set-up cost may be high, depending on how elaborate you wish to make your system. For example, a second hand swimming pool pump could be used to save cost. The pumping system is not described in detail, as it is assumed that you are proficient at rigging up plastic plumbing lines to and from the growing modules. Be sure to read the Hints for Success page; it contains assorted tips that you may find handy in designing your system. If you follow the principles laid down, you should have no difficulty getting your system to work.

If you need assistance, please look at the Frequently Asked Questions page first, and if your query is not answered there, please feel free to E-mail me. Please say where you are located ... country, state and nearest city (to give some idea of your climate), and describe your problem as best you can. If you are able to explain your problem in sufficient detail, it will be easier to help you solve it.

The next page shows how to set up a Do-It-Yourself system.

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