In 1989, the US Drug Enforcement Agency tried to destroy the indoor gardening industry, asserting it was nothing more than a “sleazy front” for marijuana growers.
If DEA agents had done their homework before they staged the massive raids known as Operation Green Merchant, they would find that people gardened hydroponically a long time before police and mainstream media began cleverly linking the word hydroponics with phrases like “grow op,” “marijuana manufacturing,” “organized crime,” and “drug laboratory.”

Hydroponics has history: two millennia ago, Roman-Greek researchers manipulated crop growth using plant nutrition experiments. In Central America before Europeans arrived, the Aztecs grew vegetables, trees, and flowers on artificial hydroponic islands in Lake Tenochitatlan. In the 1650’s, European hydroponicists learned how to grow plants in enhanced nutrient solutions.

In 1792, Europeans discovered how plants make oxygen from carbon dioxide, and created the world’s first C02 augmentation chambers.

Before 1924, hydroponics was called nutriculture, chemiculture and aquaculture.

In 1924, Dr. William F. Gericke of the University of California, often referred to as “the father of modern hydroponics,” created the word ‘hydroponics’ to describe growing crops in non-soil media and nutrient-enriched water indoors and outdoors.

The green-thumbed professor grew hydroponic fruits, veggies, root crops, ornamentals and flowers. His tomato plants attained heights of 25 feet, producing tomatoes the size of grapefruits!

During World War II, the US and British militaries used hydroponics to grow hundreds of thousands of tons of food for soldiers in remote locations where conventional farming was impossible.

After World War II, the military continued to use this method. For example, the American army grew eight million pounds of fresh hydroponic produce in 1952, most of it in Japan.

By the 1960’s, hydroponic agriculture had become a major industry worldwide, especially in parts of the US such as Florida, California, Hawaii, and Arizona, and in Russia, France, South Africa, the Middle East, Holland, Japan, Australia and Germany.

A recent Australian government report estimates that 65,000 acres of high-intensity legal hydroponic production exists worldwide, with a value of six to eight billion US dollars per year.

Analysts cited in the Aussie report say global warming, desertification, water shortages, oil shortages, and globalization are making hydroponics increasingly important. The report notes that the industry has achieved phenomenal financial and technological success in a relatively short time, and that its value has a faster doubling time than almost any other agricultural economy.

Unintended Consequences

The War on Drugs helped make the hydroponics industry, and cannabis, what they are today. The industry, already a diversified agricultural sector earning billion of dollars a year legally, gained a new set of customers beginning about 25 years ago when the drug war forced pot growers to turn to indoor hydroponics.

Before President Richard Nixon created the DEA in the early 1970’s, virtually all marijuana consumed in the US was grown outdoors in Mexico, Jamaica, Indonesia, and South America.

Imported marijuana was seedy, bricked, and stemmy. Some of it was kick-ass weed. Most was mediocre, but only cost $20 an ounce.

When the DEA moved aggressively to interdict foreign weed smuggling routes in the late 1970’s, marijuana consumers started growing domestic herb, especially in California’s Emerald Triangle, in Oregon, Hawaii, and in East Coast states such as Kentucky.

During Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the US government encouraged Mexico to spray poison on marijuana destined for the US market. When Americans got sick smoking toxified Mexican weed, the US growing industry took up the slack, producing healthy weed that didn’t need to be smuggled across borders.

Stricter law enforcement and increased eradication of outdoor gardens caused growers to move indoors and develop better growing techniques.

Outdoor cannabotanists had already created the sinsemilla method, which increases dry weight yield and overall potency by preventing female flowers from being pollinated and bearing seed. In the Reagan era of the 1980’s, the DEA snagged more and more indoor gardens, forcing growers to cultivate stronger pot in smaller spaces.

Their desire to create resinous, quickmaturing marijuana led to innovations in legal hydroponics techniques. In turn, modernization of legal hydroponics led to new methods for marijuana growers.

Cloning, trellising, use of plant hormones, the “sea of green” grow method ? all were perfected by adapting techniques found in the legal hydroponic industry.

As eradication efforts and penalties increased, the supply of cannabis decreased while demand went sky high ? making growing fabulously profitable. What was once $20 an ounce was now $200!

Today, with more people growing all kinds of plants hydroponically, cultivation information is available via books, magazines and websites. Upscale gardening magazines such as Growing Edge and Maximum Yield are well-presented hydro-zines, but deliberately and totally avoid any inclusion of marijuana, preferring technical articles about growing cucumbers, tomatoes, and other legal crops.

Their tips can be useful to cannabotanists, but most pot growers find the marijuana-specific magazines like Cannabis Culture more practical; they also like the fact that marijuana-based magazines also have pro-pot cultural context.