- Author: Kathy Low
You've heard of hydroponics and aquaponics, but have you heard of aeroponics? Unlike hydroponic systems where the plant roots are held in a soil-free medium such as sand or gravel in nutrient-rich water, in aeroponics the plant roots are left to dangle in the air in an enclosed environment. Plants receive their nutrition from nutrient-infused puffs of air to the plants' roots. To start the plants from seed, the seeds are frequently inserted into small pieces of foam which are given light on the top side, and puffs of infused nutrients on the bottom. The plant stem is held in place in the pot by the foam as the roots develop in the air. The roots, although allowed to dangle in the air, are still enclosed in a structure to prevent sun damage to the roots and to hold in humidity.
Aeroponics was developed in the eighties as a research method to allow scientists to study root growth. But it has slowly moved into the commercial sector due to the increasing emphasis these days on minimal water usage in farming.
The advantages of aeroponics are many. For one, it uses significantly less water (up to 95% less water) than in-ground or hydroponic growing methods. Because the plant roots are grown in a soil-free enclosed air environment, there's no potential for soil-borne pathogens. The extra oxygen the roots are exposed to also accelerates plant growth.
But aeroponics also has its downsides. For example, the nutrient solution needs to be precise for the plants being grown. And the nutrient misters require reliable electric or other ongoing power since the roots require regular puffs of nutrients every few minutes. Even brief power outages could easily result in the loss of the crop. Plus, the mister nozzles need to be cleaned regularly to prevent them from getting clogged.
You can learn more about aeroponics from an article on NASA's website at www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/technologies/aeroponic_plants.html and from an article in Modern Farmer at https://modernfarmer.com/2018/07/how-does-aeroponics-work/.