Simply put, it’s a type of hydroponics, but uses about 65% less water than other systems. And as the word seems to indicate, the nutrient solution is airborne, rather than flowing.
Another distinct difference from the expected system requirements of growing medium, aeroponics does away with this too. In fact, the only reason it is grouped with hydroponic growing is because it uses water to deliver the nutrients to the roots. All very interesting, isn’t it? Other exciting points about this unique method include the fact that plants grow far faster than in hydroponic systems. There there is the advantage of no crop type limitations as is found in all other forms of hydroponics.
More rapid crop turnover might sound highly desirable, but does have disadvantages. With their roots exposed like this, the threat from insects, disease and dry conditions is greatly increased too. Soil and growing mediums act as a protective element to the very sensitive root systems of plants. This makes super vigilance and professional engineering of the growing space ultimately important.
So how does aeroponics work?
The nutrient solution is delivered via misting inside the air chamber where the crop’s roots are freely suspended. Much like is seen when growing two identical flowering plants out on the deck, one in plastic and the other in clay, the plant in the clay pot grows faster than the one in the plastic pot. Why? Air flow, and root systems love it, so long as they have sufficient moisture. In such an experiment you will also have a really hard time keeping the potting soil in the clay pot moist. Most often, aeroponics is done as a companion to hydroponics because it offers a ready and waiting emergency solution should the aeroponic system fail. If that happens, the drying roots will cause the crop to go into rapid decline.
Even with it’s inherent risks the increased growing pace and the accompanying heavier biomass has definitely impressed top notch scientists at NASA who discovered that there was 80% more biomass during their aeroponic research. Here’s what they have to say about it:
Aeroponics systems can reduce water usage by 98 percent, fertilizer usage by 60 percent, and pesticide usage by 100 percent, all while maximizing crop yields. Plants grown in the aeroponic systems have also been shown to uptake more minerals and vitamins, making the plants healthier and potentially more nutritious. ~ NASA
There is also no transplanting. You propagate your seed in the same place you will grow the plants to harvest. This translates to savings on labor, materials and equipment even further.
What kind of equipment do you need?
The small image above is of the first patented aeroponics system, created in 1983. There are different arrangements of planting spaces to accommodate different sizes of plants. Without species limitations, you can grow everything from sweet potatoes to orange trees. With no need of flowing water to containers, there are even space saving A frame growing chambers that allow you to grow 126 plants using less than 2 square feet of floor space.
All aeroponic systems have a nutrient tub, mist atomizers, a root chamber and a canopy tray. Some can be repositioned to allow for farther spacing apart, which is great for switching crop types economically. There are a number of manufacturers that offer these systems on the market.
One thing you should be aware of, is that some indoor gardeners have come up with more of a hybrid growing situation and call it aeroponics. The image at the left is sweet corn being grown with true aeroponics, and involved no container or medium as you can see.
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