Skip Ribbon Commands Skip to main content


Purdue Extension > Small Farms > Hydroponics

“For centuries, civilizations throughout the world have experimented with soil-less gardening, from the ancient Babylonians to the Aztec Indians,” (UNL Extension, Online). In addition to a brief explanation of the history of hydroponics, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln offers information on fertilization in hydroponic systems as well as the benefits of using hydroponics.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Home Hydroponic

Hydroponics is the practice of growing plants with nutrients and water but without soil. The plant’s roots can either be in water or in an artificial medium (i.e. sand, gravel, perlite, peatmoss, sawdust, coir, rockwool, etc.). Hydroponic systems are often used when the supply of water and farmland are scarce or among home gardeners with limited space or an interest in year-round gardening. These systems are either open, meaning once the plant roots receive the nutrient solution the water is not recycled, or closed, meaning the solution is captured, replenished and recycled within that system. For a more detailed introduction to hydroponics and information on the different hydroponic systems, follow the links below:

Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Home Hydroponics

The University of Alabama’s What is Hydroponics?

Oklahoma State University’s Hydroponics

Hydroponic Gardening

Home gardeners can create small-scale hydroponic systems and successfully grow a variety of vegetables. The systems allow gardeners to grow food year-round and are versatile in size and location meaning the systems can be inside or outside. The article below highlights the pros and cons of gardening with hydroponics explaining that while many benefits of this technology exist, many negatives exists, such as the demand of time and energy.

The University of Alabama’s Hydroponics for Home Gardeners

Cornell University provides a quick resource and example of how a Master Gardener created a horizontal hydroponoci system. The link includes diagrams and pictures of how the system works and how to build your own hydroponic system (including the materials, tools and assembly required).

Cornell University’s Horizontal Hydroponic Unit Plans

Lettuce is a commonly grown vegetable in hydroponic systems. The University of Kentucky offers a four-page publication on growing hydroponic lettuce. In addition, the publication offers insight on using hydroponics in general, “Hydroponics is a highly exacting and demanding system that requires a greater amount of production knowledge, experience, technical skill, and financial investment than many other greenhouse systems,” (University of Kentucky, Online). The publication below offers marketing information, a market outlook, and production and economic considerations specifically for hydroponic lettuce.

The University of Kentucky’s Hydroponic Lettuce

Texas A&M University Extension’s Hydroponic Vegetable Production

Cornell University offers two grower handbooks:​

A Handbook for the Production of CEA-grown Hydroponic Lettuce

A Handbook for the Production of CEA-grown Hydroponic Spinach

Using fertilizers is often considered when growing hydroponic lettuce. Kansas State University experimented with two different nutrient management strategies, growing hydroponic lettuce with soluble organic fertilizer and growing potted herbs in recirculating culture using organomineral fertilizer. The publication offers information on producing lettuce with organic and conventional inorganic nutrient sources. In addition, the publication experiments with growing potted herbs in a recirculating culture with different fertilizers.

Kansas State University’s Using Organic Fertilizers in Hydroponics and Recirculating Culture

The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service has a publication that is free to download and $3 to print on organic greenhouse vegetable production. This publication offers information on organic methods of greenhouse vegetable production, including soil versus soiless culture, developments in the greenhouse industry in the last decade and, different resources and suppliers.

Organic Greenhouse Vegetable Production​