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Growing Plants Without Dirt

Colonists arriving on Mars will find a nice surprise on their dinner plate: a fresh salad of lettuce, tomatoes and carrots. How is this possible? Mars has no fertile soil for growing veggies. For the answer, please step this way, into the dome of hydroponic life …

Living on Mars is still science fiction, but growing plants without soil is science fact. The technique is called hydroponics. It’s simply growing plants in water, something you can do today.

Researchers say hydroponics will someday be used not only for feeding space dwellers but also us earthlings.

Raising plants without soil allows farmers to grow more food in less space. That’s especially important in poorer countries, where many people go hungry.

The term hydroponics was coined in 1936 by a scientist in California who planted a tomato in a tub of water. The plant grew more than 25 feet tall!

Once word got around, people were growing plants in baskets, on patios and on rooftops using only water and a little plant food.

Disney Does Science

People who have eaten at EPCOT Center in Walt Disney World have experienced hydroponics. Researchers there produce fresh tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers from hydroponic gardens.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is using hydroponics to provide fresh food for astronauts. On the frozen continent of Antarctica, scientists are testing hydroponic techniques that may be used on missions to Mars.

Many commercial growers around the world are turning to hydroponics as an alternative to traditional farming. More food can be produced, and weed problems are eliminated.

Strawberries are a popular hydroponics crop in Australia. Tomatoes, lettuce and a variety of herbs lead the way in Ontario, Canada. In the United States, cucumbers and tomatoes are grown in water.

A Year-Round Garden

Hydroponics is not only useful. It can be fun. Clear a place on your window sill, and you too can grow vegetables, flowers and fruits–and dream about feeding fresh veggies to colonists on Mars.


Plants don’t need soil as long as they have five things: food, water, light, air and support. You can provide all five in a hydroponic garden.

What You Need:

  • A small, single-stemmed houseplant. Most common houseplants will work well. Or try a vegetable plant.
  • A clear glass jar or bottle.
  • A cork stopper with a large hole in the middle.
  • Cotton waddling.
  • Plant food.

What You Do:

This will get messy, so go outside or spread newspapers over your work area. Carefully remove the small houseplant from its pot. Place one hand over the soil surface, with the stem between two fingers, and turn the pot upside-down. Tap the bottom of the pot while gently easing the plant out.

Gently brush all the soil from the roots.

Carefully thread the plant stem through the cork stopper and place the roots into the glass container filled with lukewarm tap water.

Use the cotton wadding to fill any gaps between the plant stem and cork stopper. Be careful not to squeeze the stem.

Move your plant to a sunny location and watch it grow!

After about a week, pour out the water and refill.

Your plant will be hungry by now, so add a general-purpose plant food according to label directions. Look for a food labeled “water soluble.” You can find it at garden centers, hardware stores or grocery stores.

Change the water and the plant food solution about once a month.

82 Comments on Growing Plants Without Dirt

  1. Don’t work

  2. It’s helpful on my project.. Thanks!!!

  3. I’m going to do this for my SAE for my ag class!!! Comparing a plant growing in water and one in soil

  4. I have a huge hydroponics system at home

  5. There’s a higher rate of success with a glass bottle

  6. Hope it works i have read a few articles on Hydroponics and cant wait to try it in my office.

  7. Chantheman // May 5, 2014 at 8:29 pm // Reply

    sometimes it will work if you try.

  8. Thx it helped me allot for one of my science assignment!!!

  9. growing plants…….IS AWSOME!!!!!!!!!!

  10. im doing this project to this will be a good project for my science project

  11. Cool. Know we can structure farms with mid-air rows. Like factories.

  12. Lego Freak // June 24, 2013 at 1:46 pm // Reply

    its called hydroponics. i tried a water didnt work :(

  13. growingwatermelons // May 16, 2013 at 1:25 pm // Reply

    causeit still get all nutirents that it need from plant food and natural above

  14. looks cool

  15. Lego minidude // April 13, 2013 at 2:06 pm // Reply

    im trying it with a water bottle. i poked a hole in the top.Hope it works!:)

  16. how would the plant grow by just using water

    • If you just use water it will die. You have to have sunlight, water of course, some means of supporting the plant, and plant food. so when you change the water each month you would add more plant food. a water soluble type would be best. Make sure to follow label instructions. i’m sure there is something else I’m missing but that’s the basics. it’s pretty cool.

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