Prepared by Damon Lippert May 2019
Aeroponics is a promising method of growing many types of plants. The central feature of the aeroponics system is the lack of a growing medium like soil, or sterile media used in hydroponics; instead the roots are regularly misted with a low-to-high concentration of nutrients in water.
Aeroponics requires a closed or semi closed system to separate the roots of the plant from the stems and canopy by a support structure. Compressed foam cylinders with a slit the slide the stem through are a popular method of separating the root action spraying from the canopy and tend to allow the stem to grow compressing the foam plugs even more, and keeping a seal between the root zone and canopy zone. As the roots are sensitive to changing conditions, keeping your water supply, misters and seals in top working order are paramount inkeeping the root zone area free of pathogens. These protective systems are not only a must, it will make or break an aeroponics system.The support structure for the stems and canopy can be extended to trellising and other methods to support the weight of the fruits or biomass in the canopy.
There are D.I.Y. kits for you to experiment with making basil or other herbs, even micro-greens. In addition to this low-tech system there is massive funding and research put intodeveloping large “Vertical Farms” using aeroponics.These building sized systems are being designed with massive computer control systems that monitor pH, nutrient levels, O2 in the root zone, CO2 in the canopy zone, and constantly test for imbalances in the root zone architecture. These systems show promise for bringing fresh fruits and vegetables for low transportation costs to large cities where delivery of goods imparts a large portion of the cost of fresh foods.
The ability to provide ideal light and air penetration for the canopy, and ideal high O2 and nutrient zones for the roots can allow for massive production of crops wilt very little waste and lower amount of water and nutrients used. Aeroponics researchers and firms have designed multi-tier systems relying on LED lights, or large cylindrical tubes for housing the root zone and a large vertical space for canopy to soak up the sunlight.
The sole nutrient delivery method of nutrients and water to the root zone is water droplets size, pressure and O2 availability. The size and pressure and availability of each can provide drastically different results with the prevailing research indicating higher pressure micro-droplets, sprayed on uncompact and free hanging roots provide the fastest and healthiest growth parameters. The extremely small size of these spray heads can lead to blockages of minerals and is a maintenance task that must be accounted for in making these systems work consistently.
We can’t completely extoll the virtues of aeroponics without describing some of the drawbacks. The pH can drastically change with improperly closed systems and water evaporation, the nutrient must be tightly controlled to avoid burning the delicate root tips with too high of concentration of nutrients. The misters need constant maintenance to keep them emitting the correct size droplets. Power loss of a facility can lead to the loss of an entire round of crops. While aeroponics can be used in greenhouses and semi- greenhouses built on a vertical scale, the use of energy intensive bulbs and heat buildup can also bring the cost of operation higher. Lastly for a full-scale system extensive sensors and computer controlled systems for dialing in your proper parameters are a must, and can be costly.
In conclusion, Aeroponics shows enormous promise for clean, abundant crops close to major cities. Lowering the carbon foot print of food, allowing fresher produce in areas that are far from traditional growing areas, and generating jobs for a variety of tasks. IN a growing and unstable world, aeroponics may provide a powerful tool to help our planet.