What Is Aeroponics?
Root Systems, Misters & More
In this article, we’ll run through some basics of aeroponics and how it could be beneficial to anyone wanting to utilize an aeroponic system into their grow set-up. So, what is aeroponics?
Although similar to hydroponics, aeroponics is the process of growing plants in a soil and medium free environment. Plants that are grown within an aeroponics system usually have their roots fully exposed to the air, the exposed roots are then sprayed (misted) by a nutrient-rich water solution.
As most aeroponic systems are not fully closed off from the outside, pests and disease can still be considered a real threat.
Aeroponics can sometimes be combined with conventional hydroponics, this is due to the sensitivity and vulnerability of the exposed roots and stem, hydroponics can be used in an emergency situation to try and save the crop if it has been compromised by the aeroponic system failing.
Aeroponics: A Brief History
In the year of 1911, V.M.Artsikhovski published an article “On Air Plant Cultures” He was able to show aeroponics as a suitable alternative for cultivation.
In the year of 1942, W. Carter described a new method of growing plants aeroponically which involved water vapor, this brought with it a means of examining the plants’ roots structure much easier.
The above was followed by L.J. Klotz discovery in 1944, of vapor misted citrus plants and also G.F. Trowel in 1952 who managed to grow apple trees with the use of spray culture. But it was F. W. Went in 1957 that is first thought to of coined the phrase “aeroponics”, he was able to grow coffee and tomato plants, while applying a nutrient solution mist to the suspended root section.
Pros & Cons of Aeroponics
The benefits of aeroponic systems over other methods such as hydroponics, are the increased aeration and nutrient delivery to the plants’ roots, because of this aeroponics generally produce higher healthier yields, but as it’s a more complex growing culture, it also comes with higher risks of crops failing and therefore is more commonly used in the commercial sector.
Benefits of Aeroponics
As well as the above, another benefit of using aeroponics is the reduced risk of disease transmission from plant-to-plant, as contact is minimal between plants and each spray pulse can be sterile.
In culture systems that grow with soil or other media, the risk of disease spreading is much higher. The solid media will sometimes require sterilization after each crop, in some cases the media is simply discarded and replaced.
In the case of a plant becoming diseased in an aeroponic system, it’s usually easily rectified by the removal of the diseased plant itself. The plant support structure is built in such a way, that the process can be completed without disrupting or infecting any other plants.
Another benefit of aeroponics is that they employ the use of equipment such as sprayers, misters, and other devices to deliver a fine mist of nutrient solution to the plants’ roots. Aeroponic systems are normally of closed-looped system designs, providing environments that provide constant rich air culture, a variation in delivering the nutrient solution is the use of ultrasonic misters (foggers).
Downside of Aeroponics
Water droplet size in an aeroponic system is of crucial importance for sustaining optimal plant growth. If the water droplets are too big, this will mean less oxygen is available to the plants’ root system which will disrupt or damage growth. If the water droplet is overly fine, such as droplets sometimes produced by an ultrasonic mister (foggers). This will produce excessive root hair, the lateral root system is unlikely to develop which hinders sustained growth in an aeroponic set-up.
For the system to really be considered a true air culture the plants’ roots should have no contact with its supports and be fully suspended in the air.
Research & Aeroponic Systems
Through funded research, NASA determined that high-pressure hydro-atomized mist of micro-droplets were necessary for long term growth and the pressure produced would need to be quite significant for it to penetrate the dense root systems.
With earlier spray systems there was a risk of mineral build up on the mist heads, if this happens it would inhibit the delivery of the nutrient solution, this could then lead to an imbalance in the environment needed for optimal plant growth and ultimately lead to crop failure.
The intricate complexities of aeroponic systems are one of the reasons it’s more commonly used in large scale set-ups in the commercial sector, rather than by hobbyists wanting an indoor grow set-up.
The development of special low-mass polymer materials meant that mineral build up in the next generation hydro-atomizing misting systems or spray jets could potentially be eliminated.
After the introduction of aeroponics to the wider world, researches realized the importance of aeroponics as a valuable research tool, it offered a noninvasive way to examine the plants’ roots at every single stage of development.
Aeroponics allows it’s users a very high level of control, this can be useful, especially for researches who are studying the effects of nutrient application to various plant root systems.
Aeroponics by Type
- Low-pressure units (In most low-pressure units, the plants’ roots will either be suspended above a reservoir of the nutrient solution or inside a connected channel which will then be connected to a reservoir. A pump then delivers the nutrient solution to the roots, after which it will then drain back into the reservoir)
- High-pressure devices (In high-pressure devices, high-pressure pumps generate a mist of the nutrient solution to the plants’ environment, this technique is typically used in the cultivation of high-value crops)
- Commercial systems (aeroponics in large scale commercial set-ups generally comprise of high-pressure device hardware and biological systems, biological subsystems and it’s hardware components consist of varying equipment and controls systems)
Aeroponics use of a hydro-atomized spray system to deliver nutrient solutions minimizes all round water use, helps with increasing oxygenation to the plants’ roots, and offers a viable alternative to large scale commercial food cultivation.
Aeroponics eliminates the need for substrates and the stockpiling of nutrients while reducing the number of waste materials to be processed.
With the elimination of substrates, this simplifies the planting and harvesting process, increasing opportunities for possible automation and decreases the volume and weight of expendable materials while also eliminating the pathway for pathogen transmission.
The many advantages of aeroponics combined with the results of extensive in-depth research, prove the viability of aeroponics as an alternative choice for large scale food production in the commercial sector.
In summary, we hope we’ve answered the question of what is aeroponics? and also shown the many benefits compared to other growing cultures, especially for large scale commercial food production. But as aeroponics requires a high level of knowledge and precision in some areas, it’s probably not the best option for first-time growers or for a small to medium grow set-up at home