Course CodeAHT107
Fee CodeS1
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

This course develops a solid grounding in the principles of soilless cultivation of plants.

There are twelve lessons. Each lesson involves the student in set reading and an assignment (written) which is to be submitted to their tutor for comment. Some lessons will also involve other tasks (eg. research, collection of information or practical work).


Lesson Structure

There are 12 lessons in this course:

  1. Basic Chemistry and Plant Nutrition - atoms, elements, nutrient deficiency symptoms.
  2. Nutrient Solutions - calculating formulae, hydroponic nutrition, preparing nutrient solutions.
  3. Types of Systems A - classification of hydroponic systems, ingredients of hydroponic systems, rockwool.
  4. Types of Systems B - what makes up a system, 16 hydroponic ideas, NFT, solution dispensation.
  5. Plant Problems in Hydroponics - pests and diseases, nutritional and environmental problems, water and plant relationships, pH.
  6. How a Plant Grows - growth, nutrient solutions, preparing a solution, mechanisms of nutrient uptake, photosynthesis.
  7. Plant Culture - controlling environmental features, post harvest storage.
  8. Hydroponic Vegetable Production - how to grow vegetables hydroponically.
  9. Hydroponic Cut Flower Production - growing flowers in hydroponics, carnations.
  10. Soil Media vs Nutrient Film - berries, indoor plants, types of media, NFT.
  11. Greenhouse Operation and Management - solar energy applications in horticulture, greenhouse management.
  12. Special Assignment - a report on how to improve your present hydroponic venture, or a report on planning a new hydroponic venture.

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.

What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics, the word, is derived from two Greek words:
  • Hydro... means water
  • Ponos ... means to work or labour.
Today the word has been broadened to mean 'All ways of growing plants without the use of soil'.
The 4th International Congress of Soilless Culture defined the different systems of hydroponics as follows:
  • Water Culture: Roots of plants submerged in nutrient solution (eg. Nutrient Film Technique or NFT).
  • Sand Culture: Roots of plants in solid aggregate composed of particles with a diameter less than 3mm (eg. sand, perlite, plastics and other in‑organic materials).
  • Gravel Culture: Roots of plants growing in solid aggregate composed of particles greater than 3 mm diameter (eg. gravel, basalt, scoria, pumice, plastic & other inorganic materials).
  • Vermiculaponics: Roots growing in vermiculite or a mixture containing vermiculite.
  • Rockwool Culture: Roots of plants growing in rockwool, glasswool or some similar material.
  • Hydroculture: Can refer to all forms of hydroponics but more commonly used to refer to growing ornamental or decorative plants inside.
What is involved?
Soil does four main things for the plants which grow in it:
  1. Provides support (stops the plant falling over or blowing away by providing anchorage for the plant's roots).
  2. Provides water through the roots.
  3. Provides air through the roots (Yes; the plant absorbs gas out of the air through it's roots! A plant's roots can starve for air just as much as they can starve for water!).
  4. Provides nutrients (ie. Food in the form of very simple types of chemicals).
To be successful; hydroponics needs to successfully cater for these FOUR FUNCTIONS, which are usually handled by the soil.
If the roots aren't grown in a hydroponic situation which will enable adequate support for the plant, then a trellis or some other artificial means must be provided to support the plant.
It is essential to maintain a balance between moisture and air content of the root environment. With some plants the air which is dissolved in water might be adequate; but for the majority of plants, total immersion in water will result in air starvation and death. In anything other than water culture (aggregate culture) the ability of the medium to hold moisture and the relationship of this characteristic to their air holding ability is critical.
A medium which drains very easily usually holds water well but might dry out very easily. This type of medium might need watering very frequently. A medium which holds water very well could become waterlogged and plants could suffer a lack of air if watered too often.
As you can see there is a relationship between how often you apply water AND the drainage and water holding characteristics of the medium. Nutrients are fed to the plants in the form of a nutrient solution (ie: chemical fertilizers are dissolved in water). There are many different nutrients which must be included in the solution, all essential to the plant's growth. The relative amounts of each of the nutrients is important. Though there are rough similarities between the amounts of different nutrients which different plants require, to get the best out of plants, different balances of nutrients are needed for different plants at different stages of their growth.
Sounds Complex ... Not Necessarily!
If you want the best out of hydroponics maybe you need to be a chemist....but most people can grow better in hydroponics than in soil without needing to go that far. It is possible to buy standard nutrient mixtures from hydroponic suppliers. These may not be ideal, but they are adequate for most situations.
Depending on the type of system you are operating (and perhaps other factors) you might apply water only in the form of a nutrient solution, or perhaps both as nutrient solution and straight water (eg. Apply nutrient solution once a week then simply water once or twice a week).
Do You Need a Greenhouse?
A greenhouse is only as good as the person who uses it!
Greenhouses can enable you to grow more plants for longer, and harvest better quality produce and more produce; whether flowers, fruit, vegetables or anything else. To do this though you need to have at least a basic understanding of how plants grow in a protected environment.
They are useful for hydroponics, because they prevent rain from diluting nutrients in the system; but beyond that, the reasons for growing hydroponically in a greenhouse are no different than using a greenhouse for any other way of growing.
Greenhouses are Tools
The greenhouse is a tool that enables you to keep your plants a little warmer than they would be outside. Greenhouses do more than just heat the air though!
  • They create a more humid environment
  • They help you to manage and vary light levels (the roof can be painted or covered at certain time or artificial lights can be used)
  • They provide a cleaner environment (plants inside the greenhouse can be isolated from diseases and pests that are outside)
  • They can provide a cooler environment (because it is enclosed, it is possible to cool the plants using fans and vents, even on a very hot day)
Greenhouses are complex environments, and there are many interactions between the different aspects of the environment that influence plant growth. For example, a greenhouse which lets in lots of light may become too hot for some plants. If you open the vents or doors, you may cool the temperature inside the greenhouse, but at the same time, you may be changing the balance of gases in the air.
Environmental Factors that affect Plant Growth: 
  1. Atmospheric Temperature – the air
  2. Root Zone Temperature – in the soil, soilless, or hydroponic media in which the plant roots are growing
  3. Water Temperature – the water that you irrigate the plants with
  4. Light Conditions – shaded, full light, dark
  5. Atmospheric gas – plants give off oxygen but take in carbon dioxide. Animals do the reverse. Normally they balance each other, but when plants are locked in a closed room or housed by themselves, they become starved for carbon dioxide as the oxygen level in the 'room' rises.
  6. Air movement – mixes gases, evens out temperature.
  7. Atmospheric Moisture – humidity
  8. Root Zone Moisture – water levels in the soil or media
What Plants will you Grow?
Before establishing a greenhouse, small or large, you should decide on its main purpose, then set up the type of house that best suits the purpose. Here are some common reasons why greenhouses are set up.
  • To propagate new plants. Greenhouses provide the ideal conditions for seeds to germinate or cuttings to initiate the growth of roots.
  • To grow tropical plants or indoor plants in cooler climates.
  • To protect plants which are cold or frost sensitive over winter.
  • To grow crops of vegetables, cut flowers or berry fruits out of season or faster than what might be achieved outside.
  • To grow young pot plants over winter when there may not be much growth in the outside environment.
You will also need to think about the types of plants you will grow in the greenhouse. Do you intend to grow a collection of one type of plant, or a variety of different plants? You will then need to find out the plants’ optimum growing conditions. Different plants have different requirements, and it may not be possible to grow a wide variety of plants in the greenhouse and get the very best out of each one.
Greenhouse Equipment
There is a huge variety of equipment available to help cool, heat, light, shade, ventilate or humidify a greenhouse, helping you to manage and achieve optimum growth from your plants. Check out a couple of greenhouse companies, and ask them about equipment. They all have their pros and cons; and as with most things, you will get largely what you pay for.
You should first consider the materials that make up your greenhouse. This will decide the shape of the structure, how it can be ventilated and how it will be shaded. For example, a greenhouse with glass windows can be ventilated by opening the windows or can be painted to shade the greenhouse in warmer weather.
The next thing is to decide on how plants will be stored within the greenhouse. Wire benches are desirable as they allow the pots to drain freely, and reduce the risk of disease spreading between the plants. Shelves should be arranged to maximise the available growing space.
Other materials that can be included in a greenhouse are irrigation systems, exhaust fans, lamps for extending the growing period, heaters and even benches to support hydroponic growing systems. The selection of equipment will be decided by the climatic conditions where you live and the growing requirements of the plants you want to grow.

Meet some of our academics

Dr. Lynette Morgan Lyn has a broad expertise in horticulture and crop production. Her first job was on a mushroom farm, and at university she undertook a major project studying tomatoes. She has studied nursery production and written books on hydroponic production of herbs. Lyn has worked on horticultural projects in countries from the middle east to the Americas and New Zealand to the Phillippines. Lyn has been a tutor with ACS since 2003 and has contributed to the development of a range of hydroponic courses.
John Mason Parks Manager, Nurseryman, Landscape Designer, Garden Writer and Consultant. Over 40 years experience; working in Victoria, Queensland and the UK. He is one of the most widely published garden writers in the world; author of more than 70 books and editor for 4 different gardening magazines. John has been recognised by his peers being made a fellow of the Institute of Horticulture in the UK, as well as by the Australian Institute of Horticulture.
Marie BeermanMarie has over 10 years in horticulture and education in both Australia and Germany. Marie has been a co author of several ebooks in recent years, including "Roses" and "Climbing Plants". Marie's qualifications include B. Sc., M.Hort. Dip. Bus. Cert. Ldscp. PDC
Rosemary Davies Rosemary trained in Horticulture at Melbourne Universities Burnley campus; studying all aspects of horticulture -vegetable and fruit production, landscaping, amenity, turf, aboriculture and the horticultural sciences. Initially she worked with the Department of Agriculture in Victoria providing advice to the public. Over the years she has taught horticulture students, worked on radio with ABC radio (clocking up over 24 years as a presenter of garden talkback programs, initially the only woman presenter on gardening in Victoria) and she simultaneously developed a career as a writer. She then studied Education and Training, teaching TAFE apprentices and developing curriculum for TAFE, before taking up an offer as a full time columnist with the Herald and Weekly Times and its magazine department after a number of years as columnist with the Age. She has worked for a number of companies in writing and publications, PR community education and management and has led several tours to Europe. In 1999 Rosemary was BPW Bendigo Business Woman of the Year and is one of the founders and the Patron, of the Friends of the Bendigo Botanic gardens. She has completed her 6th book this year and is working on concepts for several others. Rosemary has a B Ed, BSc Hort, Dip Advertising & Marketing

Check out our eBooks

Commercial HydroponicsLearn how to grow vegetables, fruit, cut flowers, herbs and other plants hydroponically. This classic is now re-published with new images, a new layout and revised text. A must have resource for anyone who wants to grow hydroponically.
Fruit, Vegetables and HerbsHome grown produce somehow has a special quality. Some say it tastes better, others believe it is just healthier. And there is no doubt it is cheaper! Watching plants grow from seed to harvest and knowing that the armful of vegies and herbs you have just gathered for the evening meal will be on the table within an hour or two of harvest, can be an exciting and satisfying experience.
Growing and Using Vegetablesby John Mason (Printed book) published by Kangaroo Press (imprint of Simon and Schuster)



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