In-depth books to learn about hydroponics at an advanced level

Growing plants without soil requires a lot of knowledge. As a hydroponic grower, it is now your duty to provide the plant with the needed chemical and environmental conditions that nature used to provide. Acquiring this knowledge can be difficult, as there are few well structured programs that attempt to teach in-depth hydroponics to students and many of these programs are graduate level programs that are inaccessible to the commercial or novice hydroponic grower. Although there are many hydroponic books catering to the novice – as this is the most accessible market – a lot of growers want to get to the next level by digesting books that can help them become true experts in the subject of hydroponic culture. While novice books help people get around the basics of hydroponics, true higher level books are required to understand the causes and solutions to many problems found in this field.

In this post I am going to summarize some of my favorite books in the more advanced hydroponic domain. Going from nutrition to actual commercial and practical growing setups. I will go through some of the reasons why I believe these books are fundamental, as well as what the necessary prior knowledge to understand the books would be.

The mineral nutrition of higher plants. This classic book is used in almost all university level classes that teach mineral nutrition in plants. It covers how the different minerals are absorbed into plants, how this absorption works from a metabolic perspective and how the toxicity and deficiency of each one of these substances works from a chemical and biological perspective plus a ton of information about nutrient interactions. This is however not a book you want to read “from start to finish”, it is meant to be a reference book, that you can go through when you have specific doubts or want to have a better understanding about a certain element and how the plant interacts with it. It also requires a strong chemistry and biochemistry background, so it is not a book that you want to get if you don’t find these domains interesting. Ideally you would go to this book to answer a question like “Why does ammonium compete with potassium absorption but potassium rarely competes with ammonium absorption?”.

Soilless Culture: Theory and Practice. This book covers a lot of important topics in practical hydroponics. It talks about root systems, physical and chemical characteristics of growing media, irrigation, technical equipment, nutrient solutions, etc. It is one of my favorite “well rounded” hydroponic books as it covers almost all topics you could be interested in at significant technical and scientific depth, giving the user a ton of additional references for study at the end of each one of its chapters. It also focuses on giving the user a grasp of fundamental concepts that affect a given topic before going deeper into it. It will for example attempt to give you a very good explanation of why and how certain properties of media are measured before it even starts to explain the different types of media available in hydroponic culture. This book requires a good understanding of basic chemistry and physics but is way lighter in biochemistry and botany. This is a perfect book to answer questions like: “what different types of irrigation systems exist? What are their advantages and disadvantages?”.

Hydroponic Food Production: A Definitive Guidebook for the Advanced Home Gardener and the Commercial Hydroponic Grower. Howard Resh was one of the first people who produced a book for hydroponics that put together the combined experience of a lot of actual, commercial, hydroponic growers. The book is written in an easier way to read and gathers a lot of experience from the commercial growing space, with useful references placed at the end of every chapter. It can be especially useful to those who are within actual commercial production operations, as the book goes into commercial crop production in a way that none of the other books here does. This makes this book more pragmatic, specifically addressing some concerns of larger scale applications of hydroponic technology. High school level chemistry and physics should be enough to understand what this book has to offer. A question this book might help answer is: “How do I adjust the conductivity of a hydroponic solution in a commercial setting?”.

Controlled Environment Horticulture: Improving Quality of Vegetables and Medicinal Plants: This book goes more onto the botany side and explores how a grower can manipulate a plant’s growing environment in order to guide its production of secondary metabolites. The book goes into some of the basics of horticulture but goes deeper into drought stress, thermal stress, wounding, biostimulants, biofortification, carbon dioxide and other such manipulation techniques available to modern growers. As all the ones before, this book also gives you a lot of useful literature references at the end of every chapter, allowing you to continue to explore all these topics on your own, by going to the academic literature. A question this book might help you answer is: “Which plant hormones can I use to increment the production of oil in spearmint plants?”.

The above are some of the books I will go to when I want to answer a question in hydroponics. These books will often provide me with a solid starting point for the topic I’m interested in – like some clear scientific references I can go to – or can even show me some interesting paths to explore. Usually I’ll go into the scientific literature to get an updated view of the subject, but going into the literature with a base view has proved to be invaluable almost every time.

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5 Comments

  • Michael Thaler
    July 7, 2020 @ 7:40 am

    Hi Dr. Fernandez,
    Big fan here for years. Thanks for compiling the advanced list. I was wondering which one would cover best air/root zone temperatures and general best practice. I guess that would be Soilless Culture: Theory and Practice?
    Keep up the good work!
    Best,
    Michael T.

    • admin
      July 7, 2020 @ 10:04 am

      Hi Michael,

      Thanks a lot for writing! The book that covers root zones the most is probably “Soilless Culture: Theory and Practice” you will find the topic of air/root zone temperature addressed throughout the chapters on media and irrigation but the topic is never addressed by itself, so you’ll need to read all these chapters and extract that information from there. Do let me know if you have other questions,

      Best,

      Daniel Fernandez Ph.D.

  • Romain
    July 7, 2020 @ 12:33 pm

    Hi Daniel,

    Nice to read you blog, and to visit your website.
    I am a plant biologist/microbiologist scientist coming from living soil, Now working as a master grower doing R&D in Cannabis and indoor crops. We are using adjustable LED full spectrum and a classic hydroponic solutions A+B ( Flo and Gro).
    It’s really hard for me to transition to chemical hydroponic since the plants evolved in a soup of microbes for millions of years. Microbes are the best chemists on earth, and they help the plants in so many processes.
    The taste of the fruits and the Cannabis in a good soil is completely different than in Hydro, because of the diversity of bacteria, fungi, nematodes etc…. Since the chemical fertilizer are not sustainable and in fine end up polluting our rivers and lakes, I would like to switch to organic fertilizer.
    In living soil I am preparing my fertilizer myself at home, using low cost KNF technics, with excellent results.
    Are you aware of peoples doing their own organic fertilizer in hydroponic ? If yes you should write something about it because it’s a hot topic.

    Best wishes,

    Romain Grangeon, Ph.D.

    • Steve Hovland
      July 13, 2020 @ 8:22 am

      You can get mycorrhizae for hydroponics. Orca is one brand.

      I put a little sugar in my reservoir to help them multiply.

      For best flavor you need to go beyond a+b. Add the micronutrients and also use things like liquid seaweed (kelp) to get trace elements.

      I also put a little greensand (you can also use azomite) in the reservoir in the hope that the mycorrhizae will digest them and provide some ionic trace elements.

      • Keesje
        July 30, 2020 @ 3:02 am

        You state that there is a difference in the taste between cannabis grown on soil and cannabis grown on hydroponics.
        But it is my impression that this is a biased opinion.
        There have been blind tests done and consumers didn’t seem to tell which one was grown on soil. They also did not rate the samples grown on soil better.

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