After occurring naturally in the world’s oceans and surfacing intermittently across human history, the technology that would make modern hydroponics possible was beginning to culminate. The work of Dr. William Frederick Gericke of University of California, Berkeley provided the first definitive evidence of successfully cultivating plants without soil.
The Advent of Plastics
Before Dr. Gericke’s era, however, other breakthroughs in science took place that would inadvertently affect the professor’s success. In 1869, Mr. John Wesley Hyatt, in a challenge to create a substitute for ivory, rendered the first synthetic polymer. This breakthrough would become instrumental in the creation of plastic sheets, rods and other pliable instruments.
By 1907, Mr. Leo Bakelite -- the inventor of “the material of a thousand uses” -- revolutionized plastics and created a pliable material that was used to make hoses for delivering water. This tubing, rendered in incrementally larger and smaller sizes, became the irrigation conduit that makes hydroponics possible today.
A Military Resource
As the United States was eventually drawn into WWII, the American military soon recognized the value of Dr. Gericke’s discovery. Troops stationed on Wake Island in the Pacific Theatre were suffering from malnutrition. The landscape was barren and transportation of food was proving to be expensive and problematic. They were able to apply hydroponic techniques to successfully grow food and nourish their ranks.
By 1944, the use of hydroponics as an alternative means for rations was a necessity -- as photos from Ascension Island in 1945 show that large swathes of vegetables were being cultivated in soilless greenhouses. In hindsight, it is ironic that a strategy to fuel warfare would someday become a medium to sustain humanity.
The Discovery of Essential Elements
Furthermore, understanding of how macro and micronutrients fueled the capillary properties of plants was expanding. The enhanced presence of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium within water, coupled with growing mediums such as Rockwool -- a stone wool innovation created in 1937 -- made it possible for plants to flourish without soil. Deeper yet, infusion of boron, copper, manganese, calcium, molybdenum, iron, magnesium and zinc allowed mediums commonly referred to as “grow rock”to become valuable elements in the history of hydroponics.
Alas, other alternative growing mediums such as coconut fiber, perlite and vermiculite solidified the principle that plant roots can grow without dirt.
Modern Day Dynamics
Today, the confluence of growing mediums, polymer plastics and research into nutrients culminates into the proven science of Hydroponics.
Thus arises irony, as the same plastics that choke the oceans can, if managed properly, be used to engineer home growing systems that conserve water and deliver nutrients to people without polluting the earth.
X Hydro Supply is the premier destination where home growers can leverage state-of-the-art hydroponic technology to achieve successful indoor farming. Contact us or browse our blog and product pages to learn more about how you can excel at cultivating your own plants.
By Luke Schmaltz