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.