Hydroponics did not reach India until 1946. In the summer of that year the first research studies were commenced at the Government of Bengal`s Experimental Farm at Kalimpong in the Darjeeling District. At the very beginning a number of problems peculiar to this sub-continent had to be faced. Even a cursory study of the various methods which were being practised in Britain and in America revealed how unsuited they were for general adoption by the public of India. Various physiological and practical reasons, in particular the elaborate expensive apparatus required, were sufficient to prohibit them.
A novel system, of which practicability and simplicity must be the keynotes would have to be introduced if hydroponics was to succeed in Bengal, or in fact ever to prove of widespread value to the people of this part of Asia. Careful appraisal of salient problems during 1946-1947 resulted in the development of the Bengal System of hydroponics, which represented an effort to meet Indian requirements.
One object guided all the experiments carried out; to strip hydroponics of it`s complicated devices and to present it to the people of India and the world as a cheap, easy way of growing vegetables without soil. Now in India, thousands of householders raise essential vegetables in simple hydroponic units on rooftops or in backyards, the Bengal System has far more than proved itself, as being useful in the most adverse conditions.
Numerous letters of appreciation from as far afield as the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Holland, Israel, Japan, Germany, Algeria, the Pacific, South and East Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, South America, Burma, the Seychelles, Formosa, and those of the West Indies, have testified to what a large extent this object has been appreciated by the public, throughout the world.
Why use hydroponics when we have plenty of land if we would only develop, and by means of better cultural practices, including manuring, improve it? And then the cry: But hydroponic yields are after all no better than those which could be obtained under ideal soil conditions!
Both of these comments call to mind a remark attributed to Charles II (King Charles II, British monarch (1660-1685)). Emphasizing the difference between himself and his brother, the Duke of York (afterwards James II), Charles is reported to have said: "Jamie would if he could, but I could if I would". Critics of soilless culture fall into these categories. They generally overlook the fact that to improve the soil of India, or of any other country, so as to make it perfect, will take 50 to 100 years. Where, after all, can ideal soil conditions be obtained?
Greenhouse culture, using earth beds, is at the best a warisome and expensive affair, involving periodic sterilization and it is only under such conditions, employing glass, that anything approaching an ideal soil can be produced, even after a long period of time. And after the first crop begins to mature, alas the balance is again upset.
An article in Forbes magazine, entitled, "Food Supply - Will Help from Science Come in Time?" calls hydroponics the "most spectacular current breakthrough" yet, for solving the world`s food problems. An article in the Los Angeles Times, entitled, "Hydroponics: A New Chapter in Food Technology," states "...for the past several years, hydroponics has been refined to the point where it is now a commercially viable way to grow food."
Reading the unresearched accounts in the media, leads on to believe that hydroponics is a recent development in scientific technology which will save the world from starvation. Yes, it may very well help save the world from a food shortage, but it is hardly a new scientific development. In fact, the first plants on the earth were grown hydroponically. More than half of all plant life today is growing with hydroponics. And the healthiest, most nutritious plants in existance are hydroponic plants. I speak of the plants growing in the body of water, which covers over 70% of the earth`s surface - our oceans. There is no soil in the ocean. Plants draw all their required nutrients directly from the most complete hydroponic nutrient solution available - sea water.
Among the well-known institutions which have contributed so much to the establishment of the soilless cultivation of plants as a practical proposition are, the Universities of Illinois, Ohio, Purdue and California in the United States; The University of Reading, in Great Britain, famous for it`s pioneering work in new cropping techniques. Canada`s Central Experimental Farm at Ottawa, as well as the internationally famous and important firm of Imperial Chemical Industries, Ltd., which undertook the adaption of hydroponics to British conditions.
Other pioneers of hydroponics were the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, New York; the New Jersey Agriculture Experiment Station; the Alabama Polytechnic Institute; and the Horticultural Experiment Station, Naaldwijk, Netherlands.