What, How, and Why | Full Resource and Information
If you are a grower, either as an occupation or as a hobby, odds are that you have heard of hydroponics, and consequently, aeroponics as well. Where hydroponics were invented to grow the plants in a superior medium than dirt, aeroponics was created to remove the plant entirely from its medium and promote its growth by other means.
The term aeroponics comes from the greek word aero, which means air, and ponos, which translates to labor. As we mentioned above, the idea is to grow the plant free of soil, or any other medium. The plants are kept in what is called a growing unit, which basically consists of a support which attaches to the lower stem of each plant, and keeps the roots suspended in the air. The nutrients are provided by a pressurized mist of water-enriched solution, which is periodically sprayed directly onto the roots. The ability to feed the plant directly, coupled with the plant’s increased access to oxygen, due to having its entirety exposed to the air, makes an aeroponic system the fastest, most efficient way to grow any type of plant.
In essence, aeroponics sound simple. But in reality, setting up your own aeroponic system is usually more expensive than for their soil-based cousins, especially if you are new to the trade and don’t know what you’re doing just yet.
Elements Of An Aeroponic System
A growing unit usually consists of several elements, all of which are vital to the plant’s growth.
First off, the reservoir. This is one of the most important parts of the system, as it is used to house the nutrient solution that feeds the plants, as well as receive the excess solution runoff from each sprinkling cycle. The container used as a reservoir will have have to be split into several parts. The nutrient solution, as well as the submersible water pump that will mist the roots, will be stored at the very bottom. The second level will contain the plant’s roots, which are suspended in the air and enclosed in a watertight container so that none of the solution can spill out, while also allowing oxygen to enter so the roots can grow. The topmost level will support the plants; each plant will be suspended on baskets, or on foam plugs drilled onto the top of the container, so that the leaves remain on top, while the roots remain exposed in the watertight container below.
A good idea for an aeroponic container can be one of those 5-gallon plastic barrels with their respective lid. Holes can be drilled into the lid, which can then be used to suspend the plants. Each one of these barrels has enough space to hold all the equipment necessary to get your system running, as well as 5 or 6 small plants.
As we mentioned above, the watertight container is also an important part of the system. Its function is to house the plant’s roots while allowing air to enter, as well as preventing the solution from leaking out of the reservoir. This container will also shield the plants’ roots from unwanted sunlight and pests while keeping them oxygenated.
Last but not least, the pump is yet another vital part of the system. Its duty is, with the help of a timer mechanism, to periodically pump the solution through misting nozzles, so that each plant can be fed. Each misting should be timed with just the right amount of time so the roots always stay moist. Since the plants are not in soil, they will die much faster when not constantly fed. Even a 20-minute interruption of the food cycle can mean death to an aeroponic plant. So keep that in mind when setting up your aeroponic system. If power failure is a common issue in your area, then it may be wise to invest in a small generator for your growing units.
It goes without saying that, alongside your pump, you should also acquire all the necessary tubing to get your system running. In that sense, it may be better to plan out your system beforehand to avoid wasting money on unnecessary materials.
Advantages Of An Aeroponic System
Now that we know how aeroponics work, all that’s left is to ask ourselves: why should I go through all the trouble to set up this system, if I could just sow my plants on regular soil and be done with it?
Well, aeroponics actually has a slew of advantages over soil-grown plants. The following are only a few of these benefits:
Increased Oxygen Intake
Since aeroponic plants are entirely exposed to the air, they are able to absorb much more oxygen than soil-based plants ever could. The support structures that keep each plant in place are designed to keep contact with the stems to a minimum, allowing for even more plant surface to be exposed. With this system, nearly 100% of the plant’s body is in contact with oxygen. This increase in O2 exposure will significantly speed up the plant’s growth.
Reduced Probability Of Disease
One common issue with soil-based growing is how easy it is for diseases to spread among the plants. Since these plants are sown in the same soil, it is easier for diseases to spread, causing big losses if left unchecked. The soil-less and sterile nature of aeroponics keeps disease onset to a minimum. And even if a plant becomes diseased, the infection will not spread to others, since they don’t share any soil. Treating a disease in an aeroponic environment is as easy as removing the affected plant and calling it a day.
When growing a vegetable plant in an aeroponic environment, the excessive amount of oxygen will promote massive root growth. This extensive root growth will open the field for increased vegetable and fruit yields, allowing the plant to produce as much as ten times the amount that a regular potted plant could.
If bigger, healthier plants that produce better and juicier fruit isn’t reason enough to give aeroponics a shot, then I don’t know what is.
Drawbacks Of An Aeroponic System
Truth be told, not everything is rainbows and sunshine when it comes to this method, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Aeroponic growing has the potential to greatly benefit your plants. However, there are certain risks involved with this process, which we’ll explain below.
Each System Must Be Constantly Monitored
One common issue with most aeroponic systems is that the misting nozzles can regularly get clogged, cutting off the plant’s food and water supply. This can be a really serious issue, as plants grown with this method can die after only a few minutes of going without water. It is recommended to keep spare nozzles handy so you can easily swap them out while you clean the others, and ensure that your plants stay fed and hydrated 24/7.
Another common complaint with aeroponics is that power failures usually mean the plant’s death, due to the pump not being able to provide it with water. As we mentioned a while ago, a way to avoid this is to purchase a generator that will automatically provide power to the pump in case of a blackout.
Reduced Margin Of Error
In most cases, a plant is able to absorb all the necessary nutrients from the soil it’s planted on. This way, there’s less probability of a plant dying or having its growth stunted due to nutrient deficiency. When it comes to aeroponic growing, the nutrient solution is the lifeblood of your plants. This solution is all they’re ever going to get, and if there is even a slight miscalculation in the nutrient levels, your plants will suffer for it. Suffice to say; aeroponic growing is not for beginners.
Starting your own aeroponic growing system can be an intimidating challenge, especially if you’re new to the trade. The fact that you need to rely on a pump to keep your plants fed, and that your plants are grown suspended in the air, rather than on soil, is a far cry from traditional growing methods.
However, despite all the differences, aeroponic growing has a lot going for it. The fact that the plants can grow so big, in such short amounts of time -compared to other methods- is but one of the many advantages that this system has over the others. When properly set up, this method will ensure that your plants receive all the nutrients necessary for their growth, all the minimizing the risk of disease.
All things considered, I personally believe that aeroponic growing is definitely worth looking into.