In 1860, Julius von Sachs, a prominent German botanist, demonstrated, for the first time, that plants could be grown to maturity in a defined nutrient solution in complete absence of soil. This technique of growing plants in a nutrient solution is known as hydroponics.
Since then, a number of improvised methods have been employed to try and determine the mineral nutrients essential for plants. The essence of all these methods involves the culture of plants in a soil-free, defined mineral solution.
These methods require purified water and mineral nutrient salts. Can you explain why this is so essential? After a series of experiments in which the roots of the plants were immersed in nutrient solutions and wherein an element was added / removed or given in varied concentration, a mineral solution suitable for the plant growth was obtained.
By this method, essential elements were identified and their deficiency symptoms discovered. Hydroponics has been successfully employed as a technique for the commercial production of vegetables such as tomato, seedless cucumber and lettuce. It must be emphasised that the nutrient solutions must be adequately aerated to obtain the optimum growth.