The History Of Hydroponics

By Jeff Walters
Published: November 1, 2015 | Last updated: December 7, 2021 10:15:48
Key Takeaways

We always hear that history repeats itself. This is so true when discussing hydroponic and aquaponic gardens.

Source: Multipedia2014/

The history of hydroponics dates as far back as 3000 B.C. to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Farmers planted plants in clay bowls filled with pebbles and water and hung them from baskets. Water from the Euphrates River was channelized and moved uphill through a series of water wheels and then found its way back into the fields surrounding the palace.


The Egyptians used the same type of water-delivery systems to water their vast gardens. Working with fertile flood plains, they were able to channel water to various fields at various times. They also relied on the yearly flood waters to bring not only water but nutrient-rich top soil to their crops.

In about 1100 A.D., aquaponics made its way to the Aztec population the same way hydroponics made its way to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. In Babylon they moved water to the crops, whereas the Aztecs moved the crops to the water. The Aztecs were forced out of their home territory by other nomadic warrior tribes and forced to retreat into the swamps and lake-filled areas of now modern-day Mexico City.


You can’t grow crops in a swamp, so the Aztecs had to figure out how to use the jungle to their benefit. They lashed large logs and other material together to form large floating rafts. The rafts were then covered in soil dredged from the bottom of the swamp and crops were planted on top of these floating rafts.

The fish and other aquatic life thrived in and under these huge floating rafts, providing not only nutrient-rich water for the plants but food for the growing population. Just like that, the earliest known use of aquaponics was born.

The Chinese have been practicing a different type of hydroponic gardening for thousands of years with their terraced rice fields. Back in the day, they flooded their fields daily and used soil mixed with gravel as the root base for the rice shoots to grab onto, a system still in effect today throughout most of Asia. The Portuguese explorer Marco Polo wrote extensively of the engineering concepts of the Chinese and was completely astounded that these “water gardens” could produce enough rice for some of the largest armies throughout China.


Some of the first written information on hydroponics was written by Englishman Francis Bacon in 1627 where he discussed the benefits of growing plants in nothing but water and a soilless medium such as pebbles and other materials. He suggested that plants only need a base for the roots to hang onto; the primary role of roots is to absorb water and nutrients—not anchor the plant in the ground.

Flash forward centuries later, and hydroponics found even more practical uses. During World War II, some of the Pacific Islands that were used as bases during the war used smaller hydroponics systems to help feed the troops. The systems were set up in a way that used salt water and coco coir as a soilless medium. This idea sprang forth from studies conducted in New Jersey in the late 1920s.


Shortly after World War II, the newly formed US Air Force, formerly the Army Air Corps, operated on a barren island called Ascension Island located in the equatorial waters in the South Atlantic as a stopping point to refuel aircraft. Getting supplies to such a huge work force was not an easy task, and you could forget about fresh vegetables. To remedy this, the island residents began to grow hydroponic vegetables using volcanic rocks and coco coir. The idea was a huge success and provided people with vast amounts of freshly grown food for years.

Hydroponics Today

Advancements in chemicals, botany and other related sciences have led to some major breakthroughs in the fields of hydro and aquaponics. Today’s cultivators can obtain volumes of information compiled by highly acclaimed sources such as Arizona State University where there are numerous courses taught on the subject.

These age-old concepts from all over the world have given today’s farmers a stepping stone to work off of. From the small-time farmers who just want to provide fresh food for their family, to the industry giants of today, both hydro and aquaponics growers have taken on a whole new role, with industry standards for safety and consumption now in place.

So what does it take to get started? First you have to know what you want out of your system. Then you need to do some research on the type of produce or vegetation you wish to cultivate—knowing your garden is half the battle.

With both hydro and aquaponics there are many manufacturers and suppliers that have everything you will need all ready to go complete with instructions, nutrients, pumps, hoses and grow media. The manufacturers and retailers who make up the hydro industry are pleased to help everybody go green, save money, live healthier and help save some of our precious resources.


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Written by Jeff Walters

Profile Picture of Jeff Walters
Jeff Walters is a former marine who spends most of his time outdoors fishing, hiking, hunting and gardening. He is a self-educated former martial arts instructor, published author, hot rod enthusiast and co-founder of many outdoor-related websites. His current focus in on green energy and learning how to live a sustainable lifestyle.

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