Sourced via modernfarmer.com
Historically, the idea of plants has remained pretty much the same. You take a seed, dig a hole, plant the seed and give it water. Voilà, you have a plant. However, due to modern farming and the ever growing population, viable farmland is getting harder to maintain. This is where aeroponics can come into play. Aeroponics is a style of farming where plants are grown without soil. This sounds crazy, soil is one of the most important parts of plants as it provides nutrients for the pants. However, aeroponic systems are quite effective at providing everything a plant needs to survive. We featured aeroponics in our blog “Soil Science: Top 7 Soil Innovations”, but for a more in depth look, read down below.
What are aeroponics?
Aeroponics is a plant cultivation method where the roots are hung in the air free of soil while nutrient rich water is sprayed on it in the form of mist. This form of growing plants is relatively new and can seem strange at first glance.
However, the mist contains all of the nutrients the plants need to survive and thrive. The roots are exposed to more oxygen and they are less likely to develop root rot or crowded roots.
NASA did a study in space and found that Asian bean seedlings grew better aeroponically in space than on Earth. For anyone who has seen the hit film The Martian, you’ll understand how important viable growing methods are if colonies are ever to be set up in space. Rather than worrying about the soil on the planets visited, why not use some water to take the place of the soil that is most likely unviable for farming.
What are the advantages to aeroponics?
Aeroponics can result in faster growth as the roots are exposed to more oxygen. Since soil is not needed, soil health is not something you need to worry about. On top of this, it can be very environmentally friendly. According to NASA; water usage is reduced by up to 98%, pesticide usage is reduced 100% and fertilizer usage is reduced by around 60%. On a large scale, this can help out the environment by removing a need for such a massive amount of water, fertilizer and pesticide. The less pesticide there is, the less runoff there will be into the rivers and oceans, meaning healthier ecosystems overall.
It is a very efficient process as well for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, you are able to grow your plants horizontally or vertically. This is important as in bigger cities with less space, or even warehouses, you will be able to use all the vertical space that is on offer. There is a finite amount of terrain you can grow plants in, but there is an infinite amount of air you can grow plants in. Of course, you won’t be able to grow all the way to the moon, there are limitations to the height of your growth, but in theory there is more room to grow vertically than horizontally.
Plants that are grown in an aeroponic system are also easier to harvest. They also can be harvested at any time due to how fast the plants are able to grow in this system, which allows farmers to avoid growing seasons if a certain fruit or vegetable is in high demand.
Are there disadvantages to aeroponics?
With a new style or technique of anything, there will always be skepticism. If the old way is working fine, why do we need to change anything? This is a good point, but it never hurts to innovate. With that being said, aeroponics certainly has its drawbacks, just as any method would.
Firstly, aeroponics requires a precise concentration of minerals in the water solution. If you make even the miscalculation, or your machinery malfunctions whatsoever, you may be putting your plants in danger of drying out.
Another downside to aeroponics is the amount of electricity required to run it. Yes it is environmentally friendly from the aspect that you require a lot less water to water your plants, but that trade off comes at the cost of way more electricity usage while your pumps work to mist the plants.
On top of this, if you aren’t using natural light, the electricity required for the grow lights you will need will also go up. If you want a cost efficient grow light to provide light for your plants, check out Soltech for all your growlight needs.
What plants can you grow aeroponically?
Strawberries and other leafy greens are able to be grown aeroponically very successfully. Sourced via howtoaquaponic.com
Theoretically speaking, any plant can be grown aeroponically. However, some plants succeed more than others in aeroponic systems. Leafy greens, strawberries, tomatoes and vine plants are the most commonly used.
Plants with vines require a lot of cultivation to grow and can be only harvested 1-2 times per year. If you grow them through aeroponics, you will be able to boost the amount of harvests to 5-6 times a year.
The plants that you can't grow aeroponically with a great amount of success are root plants. Beets, carrots and potatoes all grow in soil, so if you take soil away then it’s quite difficult for them to grow.
All in all, aeroponics is a great innovation to the farming and plant industries going forward and it will be interesting to see how they continue to develop as the years go by.