The Water-Culture Method for Growing Plants without Soil

July 26, 2009 | General | By: Mark VandeWettering

I’ve been doing a bit more reading about growing plants hydroponically. In doing so, I found reference to something called “Hoagland solutions”, which are nutrient solutions used for growing plants hydroponically. Since hydroponically grown plants don’t get nutrients from trace elements in the organic matter in soil, you need to be especially careful to ensure that plants get adequate nutrition, and Hoagland and Arnon well apparently one of the first to document solutions that work. In digging up references, I found this PDF of their 1950 work on the subject. It’s very interesting, if somewhat harsh in debugging myths about hydroponics. They also document a bunch of nutrient solutions that one can use to study mineral difficiencies of various types, each one lacking some essential nutrient. Anyway, it’s very interesting, so I stashed it on Google Docs, and if you chase the link below, you can see (or share) a copy of the document.

The Water-Culture Method for Growing Plants without Soil, by Hoagland and Arnon


Comment from Dick
Time 7/26/2009 at 10:13 am

I’ve eaten tomatoes and pepers raised in water. Not only lack vital minerals, but also tasteless.


Comment from Mark VandeWettering
Time 7/26/2009 at 12:49 pm

I can’t speak directly to your experience, but in general, I have tasted hydroponic vegetables and found them to be as good as ordinary soil-cultivated products. There is considerably more to hydroponics than just “growing them in water”. In particular, it requires the maintenance of nutrient solutions which contain proper proportions of trace elements that the plants would normally get from the soil. Conventional fertilizer mixes aren’t guaranteed do provide this balance of trace elements and can leave plants with various mineral deficiencies. It was precisely this notion that sent me looking for this precise paper, since Hoagland and Arnon were the first among the first to formulate such fertilizer mixes, and document them in this circular. Indeed, for the purposes of experimentation, they list several inadequate nutritive solutions that yield various deficiencies in plants so that their effect can be precisely studied.

From the paper:

Tomatoes harvested from the soil and from water cultures could not be consistently distinguished in a test of flavor and general quality. [18]
No significant difference could be found in content of vitamins — carotene, or provitamin A, and vitamin C in the fruit.

Ironically, Hoagland was trying to dispel the idea that somehow tomatoes grown hydroponically were better than soil-grown. Hoagland also works hard to dispel the idea that growing hydroponic crops is easier: maintenence of proper plant nutrition requires some expertise.

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