Hydroponics is a method of growing plants minus soil. The science behind hydroponics dates back to the 1800's but most advances have been made in the last 60 years by three unlikely allies: the U.S. Army, the British Royal Air Force, and Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center. By removing the dirt from the equation, hydroponics allows for more cultivation in a smaller space.
How it Works
Dirt is the conductor that holds the nutrients, water, and aeration that plants need to grow. With hydroponics, those nutrients, water, and carbon dioxide are available through soil-less mediums. Scientists are able to tailor-make each growing environment to the specific needs of each plant thus ensuring top-quality results. Instead of dirt, plants are grown in nutrient-rich water solutions or other grow media such as such as gravel, peat, vermiculite, Perlite, coco, old rubber tires, rockwool or expanded clay aggregates. One advantage to hydroponics is that plants have no competition with weeds for their nutrients.
Plants need sunlight to create chlorophyll, the green pigment plants use to produce their food supply through photosynthesis, the process that converts food into energy. Hydroponic centers use both natural light and sun lamps to create the optimal situation for each plant. This guarantees a constant process that can grow far beyond the typical growing season of most plants. Not all plants will grow well in hydroponics though. Some are considered too delicate and others, such as the sunflower, need soil to help support its weight. Your average garden variety veggies like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and other common garden staples grow well with this method.
Scientists believe that through hydroponics, plants can grow faster, up to 50% in some instances and can be produced year-round. More plants can grow in smaller spaces for bigger results because roots are free in the solution or grow medium instead of becoming root bound.
Hydroponic supporters cite the ability to grow food under perfect conditions without pesticides or the chance of insect infestations as one of the answers to international food crises. Detractors question whether the nutrient solutions are "natural" and cite the often uniform size of growth as "proof" that it's altered food. Regardless, most people have eaten vegetables and fruit grown through hydroponics without even being aware. An average of 30 tons of vegetables is grown through hydroponics at Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center "Living With the Land" exhibit, all of which are used throughout the Disney World parks' many eateries. Visitors can tour the exhibit by boat ride or take a more in-depth tour for around $6/person to get a firsthand look at how the method is constantly being improved.