BOOK REVIEW

Hydroponics: soilles gardening by Les Bridgewood Hydroponics: soilless gardening explained
by Les Bridgewood
pub. Crowood Press, 2003
Paperback, 141 pages, 14.99
ISBN 1 86126 560 3
www.crowood.com

Perhaps you have heard of hydroponics. Maybe you even innocently dabbled in this black art as a youngster - when experimenting with growing left-over carrot tops in water. Hydroponics is the 'ology', or science, of doing the same thing in the real world - growing plants without soil but supplying the required nutrients dissolved in water - and Les Bridgewood brings decades of personal experience in this field to his words.

The book isn't exactly 'on the edge of your seat' reading; but then did electrical circuit diagrams and pictures of tomatoes growing on their vines ever get you jumping in the aisle ? What WILL stimulate your mind is the thought that thousands of tons of tomatoes and other crops are now commercially grown this way, particulary in Holland, and that the military have even used the method to grow food for troops in the field - no pun intended. And, if Mankind ever colonizes other planetry worlds, then hydroponics will undoubtedly be part of the food producing equation. But, the things is, you can try your hand at hydroponics too!

Conceptually, two of Bridgewood's thoughts really struck home with this reviewer. First, that hydroponics is an excellent way of growing food or flowers where there is not much physical space. The second idea, and only fleetingly mentioned by the author but one which seems to offer such immense potential, is that growing hydroponically offers disabled people a chance to grow their own food or flowers. No need to bend down and weed or dig ditches.

After a brief inroduction the author launches into really nitty-gritty explanations of what comprises the science of hyrdoponics; from nutrient solution concentrations, to oxygenation and heating, to hydroponic production in a greenhouse, along with circuit diagrams that may bring on yawns among less technically minded readers. At this point your own reviewer was beginning to feel a little inadequate, but then Bridgehouse devotes a section to the 'DIY Hydroponic Grower', and suddenly it dawns that hydroponics isn't just for boffins. You, too, can have a go at growing melons, tomatoes, pinepples, watercress, potatoes or flowers with simple 'flood and drain' and other hydroponic techniques such as naturally automated self-feeding systems ('how-to' diagrams included). This is potentially exciting stuff if you are 'into'growing your own food - and there is also a list of hydroponic and other useful related suppliers provided at the book's end.

One slightly mind-boggling notion that one is left with is that plants can be grown to maturity simply on the surface of a flat piece of glass, or other smooth surface - known to those in the trade, and now your reviewer, as the 'nutrient film technique'. What's more, plant nutrients can even be delivered through water vapour misting rather than continuous water contact, a hydroponic technique known as 'aeroponics'. There are also potential green 'aquaponic' concepts of using water from fish ponds to irriagate hydroponic plant crops then recirculating the purified water to the fish tanks.

Bottom line...
Bridgewood's work is a bit dry in its style of delivery but will appeal to horticulturalists with a basic knowledge, understanding or curiosity about hydroponics. Students of plant physiology, agriculture and related disciplines should find this a useful way into the science. However, at 15 the book isn't likely to be a worthwhile investment by the average gardener on a curious whim about the subject ..... but then maybe Bridgewood's words might just inspire you to grow things differently. For that very reason the book is worth looking out for when you do your next bookshop circuit.

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