What Is Aeroponics?
Aeroponics is an advanced variation of hydroponics where plants are suspended in the air; their roots dangle down and are periodically misted with water from a timed sprinkler system connected to a main nutrient reservoir. This soilless growing method is best for plants that need more oxygenation, since aeroponic roots aren’t hampered by dense soil or thick growing mediums. Depending on the plant and specific type of aeroponics system, the grower typically uses little to no growing media at all.
The Current State of Farming
Around the world, usable farm space is shrinking. Environmental pressures, including climate change and natural disasters, are exacerbating the issue of a growing global population. As the population grows, areas that once were farmlands, now drained of nutrients and no longer usable, are transformed into urban centers and residential communities.
As if these issues were not enough, traditional farming is losing its place as a viable occupation. Younger generations, especially those raised in farming communities, see the amount of work and time that goes into a successful operation and opt for alternative means of work. With 60 being the average age of a traditional farmer, these older generations are aging out. Technology has opened the doors to new methods of growing, and with it, a revitalized interest in cultivation.
The Aeroponic System
While the physical growing process of the plant is the same as in other forms of farming or hydroponics, aeroponics differs in how nutrients and environmental conditions are delivered and controlled. With the goal of helping plants grow healthier, aeroponics is carried out in a closed environment in which the grower controls all aspects of the system.
Plants are held in large vertical grow racks. Essential organic liquid nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, are added to a large water reservoir. These organic nutrients in pure form are more easily digested by the plants, making uptake faster and simpler. Plants do not have to go looking for sustenance as this nutrient-rich mist is delivered directly to the root zone. Indoor grow lights are optimized to fall within certain wavelengths to further promote plant growth. The overall enclosure is kept within certain limits for both temperature and humidity.
This system maximizes nutrient absorption while putting less stress on the plant itself, leading to produce that is healthier overall. Plants grown through aeroponics contain higher nutritional value all while having better color, texture, and taste.
How Does Aeroponics Work?
The seeds are planted somewhere they’ll stay in place, such as pieces of foam, pipes, or foam rings, which are then wedged into small pots or a perforated panel with a tank full of nutrient solution below. The panel elevates the plants so they’ll be exposed to the natural (or artificial) light and circulating air, providing light on the top and nutrient mist on the bottom, and an enclosure around the roots helps keep the moisture in. A timed pump rests inside the tank or reservoir, pumping solution up and through spray nozzles that mist the roots, with excess liquid draining straight down through an outflow chamber back into the reservoir.
Aeroponics addresses modern farming issues by offering an alternative way to produce greens and vegetables. Some important advantages of the system include:
98% less land. Simply by the nature of the system, aeroponics uses 98% less land than traditional farming methods by making use of vertical space as well as horizontal.
Year-round production. Aeroponics falls into a family of practices known as “Soilless Controlled Environment Agriculture” This umbrella term applies to all types of indoor plant cultivation in which the environmental conditions, including temperature and sunlight, are controlled by the grower. Growing in a controlled environment improves a farm's ability to predict crop timing, grow quality plants, and maintain high food safety standards.
95% less water. There is considerably less variability in a controlled environment, lending to less waste and lower cost. Although aeroponic systems use water-based solutions to perform properly, they use about 95% less water than standard farming.
More efficient. Growers design their systems and nutrient solutions to maximize the growth and production of their plants. Plants grown in these indoor gardens are known to grow as much as 3x faster than those in outdoor farms.
Safer for the consumer. A closed environment eliminates possible contamination from soil or crossover with Mother Nature, so there is no need for herbicides or pesticides, resulting in a more organic product.
What Can You Grow with Aeroponics?
Anything, in theory. In practice, aeroponics systems are primarily used for the same applications as hydroponics systems, including leafy greens, culinary herbs, marijuana, strawberries, tomatoes, and cucumbers. One exception is root crops, which are impractical in a hydroponic system, but well-suited to aeroponics, as the roots have plenty of room to grow and are easily accessible for harvesting.
Other vegetable crops are possible but have more complex nutrient requirements. Fruiting shrubs and trees are impractical in aeroponics systems due to their size.