History of Hydroponics

When people who are unfamiliar or have heard of hydroponics first listen to what it is about, they would either say that it is impossible or something so futuristic that it could have been set in science fiction. Some would even say that it is possible but not that feasible.

What if I tell you that all of these reactions are incorrect? It is because hydroponics is definitely possible. Many people have already tried and successfully cultivated vegetables using this method. Hydroponics is also feasible. Many operations around the world have been using hydroponics successfully.

Also, hydroponics has been around for hundreds of years. This is not something that was discovered recently.

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

The first known record of hydroponics purportedly being used was around 500 BC. It was located in the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. King Nebuchadnezzar II built this wondrous building as a gift for his wife, Queen Amyitis.

hanging gardens of Babylon
hanging gardens of Babylon

For years, scholars have been wondering how the plants of this vast structure was irrigated. After studying the different ancient renditions of the Gardens, scholars and archaeologists found out that there is a continuous flow of water that came from the central reservoirs via a complicated system of tiered stone culverts.

The plants are kept fed and provided with plenty of aeration by the consistent flow of water from the irrigation system. Greek historians described the Hanging Gardens of Babylon’s irrigation system as streams of water coming from an elevated source flowing down inclined stone channels.

The water irrigated the entire Hanging Gardens, saturating the roots of all the plants and keeping the whole area constantly wet, even though Babylon does not get that much rain every year. This is why the grasses in the Gardens are always green.

However, there is one thing that you need to keep in mind, and that is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, just like most of the other Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is nor proven to have existed. This means that there has not been any archaeological evidence to prove that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon actually existed. However, the method used is one of the many hydroponic methods.

Hydroponics in the Ancient Far East  

Rice is one of the most common crops that rely on a form of hydroponics. For hundreds of years, the method for growing and harvesting rice has somehow remained the same, with only a couple of modern tweaks to make it more sustainable. Other details, like the scale, spacing, method of harvesting, and other minor stuff, haven’t changed by much.

rice cultivation
rice cultivation

Before the Ancient Chinese used hydroponic methods to grow rice, there was archaeological evidence that at the onset of rice farming, it was first grown in soil. Although planting in soil was quite tricky, rice proved to be a sound crop. The current way of cultivating rice seemed to be by accident.

After numerous seasonal flooding, most of the other sustenance crops were destroyed. However, the rice did not only survive the flooded fields, it thrived. This was the spark that lit the way for the hydroponic rice farming method that is still being used today. Not only did the rice grow better in flooded paddies, but it also became more resistant to pests – this is all thanks to its hydroponic element of the flood and drain cycle.

Floating Gardens

Further documentation on the use of hydroponics in China went beyond the rice paddies, thanks to legendary explorer Marco Polo. The explorer stated in his recorded travels in the 13th century that he found “floating gardens” wherein plants are placed on a platform that floated on the water.

floating garden
floating garden

It is also worth mentioning that although rice fields were mainly used for hydroponic harvests, they developed into providing diverse food sources, too. In Indochina and China, the farmers also raised and harvested freshwater fish in the flooded rice paddies that were already used for harvesting rice.

This type of hydroponics is called aquaponics, which is almost like a closed system where the members have a symbiotic relationship. The fish waste provides additional nutrients for the rice, and the fish also eats the waterborne pests to keep the rice safe.

Modern Hydroponics

Wilhelm Knop’s experiments have laid down the foundation for what is now known as modern hydroponics. Knop was successful at growing plants without using any soil, which ended up weighing many times more than the seeds and containing even more nutrients.

Wilhelm Knop first publication on hydroponics
Wilhelm Knop first publication on hydroponics

In 1868, other scientists were able to grow buckwheat using Knop’s method and they yielded to plants weighing almost 4,800 times more than the original seeds. They also managed to grow oats to weigh more than 2,300 times its original seed weight.

These experiments firmly served as proof that plants can grow without using soil as a planting medium via the method known back then as “water culture.”

First Hydroponics publication

In 1929, Dr. William Gericke achieved huge success in his experiments that vowed to grow difference. Gericke coined the term “hydroponics” to describe his method of commercial crop production without the use of soil.

NASA Experiments

Quite recently, NASA has done extensive experiments with hydroponics for their Controlled Ecological Life Support System (CELSS), which is their project so that the astronauts will always have something to eat during their long tenures in space.

nasa hydroponics research
NASA hydroponics research


If you think about it, hydroponics is not something that just recently appeared. If tales were to be believed, hydroponics has been around for thousands of years ago, in the form of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Even the Ancient Chinese and Far Eastern communities have used hydroponics to plant and cultivate their food.

Hydroponics nowadays are now being looked into as a possible way for NASA to help their astronauts to produce their food while they are on their missions. From trying to impress a beautiful queen to now providing food in zero gravity, hydroponics has undoubtedly come a long way.

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