Aeroponics is the process of growing plants in a mist or air environment without the use of an aggregate medium like soil. The term comes from the Greek words for labor and air, giving us a process to grow food products that are different than aquaponics, hydroponics, or plant tissue culturing.
The process of aeroponics requires a liquid nutrient solution that can help plants to grow in a vertical apparatus. Each plant receives its nutrients by having moisture sprayed on its lower stem and dangling roots. Then the canopy, which includes the edible leaves, extends above the construct. Many systems use closed-cell foam around the lower stem to create more efficiencies, well trellises help to suspend the weight of any vegetation or fruit produced.
It is a system that works well with modern hydroponics so that a backup supply of nutrition and water is available if the aeroponics approach fails.
Several aeroponics advantages and disadvantages are worth considering when reviewing this plant-growth approach.
List of the Advantages of Aeroponics
1. Three different approaches are possible with modern aeroponics.
The modern aeroponics system uses a low-pressure, high-pressure, or ultrasonic fogger approach to growing fruit and vegetation. Using the first option is simple because it requires users to install a droplet system that keeps the root base moist within the construct. The second choice is more advanced, but it can also atomize the water better to deliver specific nutrient profiles that some plants require.
“Fogponics” is an interesting approach that creates very small water droplets to deliver moisture and nutrients to the roots of a plant. This final option makes the water easier to absorb, but it can also create salt and scale that could adversely impact growing health.
2. It permits a massive amount of plant growth.
When using aeroponics, the roots get exposed to oxygen all day, around the clock. This structure promotes healthier plants that grow faster than in other mediums. Producers can even use the misting process to sterilize the construct to prevent the spread of plant diseases. This combination of factors creates an advantage where nutrient absorption reaches its maximum levels because there isn’t any interference from the growing medium.
3. Higher yields are possible with aeroponics.
When you compare plants grown in aeroponics systems to those that grow in a traditional garden or soil, then this system produces a yield that can be up to three times higher. It also creates fruits and vegetation that carry a richer flavor profile because of the lack of an intervening medium. This advantage creates a closed-loop system that can help producers save up to 60% on the cost of fertilizer and other support of materials.
If any nutrients do not get absorbed by the root base of the plants, then they trickle down into the aeroponics reservoir to get applied again with the next drop, fog, or mist session. Most producers can create a higher yield while taking less space than traditional croplands. That makes it an ideal farming method for heavily-populated urban regions.
4. It is easy to replace old plants with new ones.
The harvesting process with aeroponics is simple and straightforward. Producers will take the old plants out of the construct. Then they will place new ones in the same spot to encourage future growth. Because these systems are indoors, it is possible to create year-round farming opportunities in almost any climate.
Several different plants are well-suited to the growing process and are encouraged by aeroponics. Although technically anything could grow with a system that is large enough to support the plants, we currently producing lettuce, strawberries, tomatoes, and herbs like mint or basil with this technology.
5. The maintenance requirements for aeroponics are minimal.
Because producers do not use a growing medium with aeroponics, the maintenance requirements for this system are minimal and affordable. The primary job that requires regular attention involves the disinfecting of the root chamber. You must also periodically clean the reservoir and irrigation channels to ensure the plants have the healthiest environment possible. If you know how to correctly clean a bathroom with safe materials, then you would be able to perform this maintenance function within an aeroponics system.
6. Aeroponics requires very little space to create high levels of production.
Modern aeroponics doesn’t require much space at all to produce a high yield. The design of a construct allows plants to get added on top of each other, allowing producers to maximize the full potential of their limited growing area. This advantage means that we can put farms almost anywhere on our planet, including in some of the most extreme geographic climates.
Producers can produce crops as far south as Antarctica using the methods promoted by aeroponics. Although some growing areas might require specific plans to be grown due to space restrictions or quarantine issues, these remote spaces can grow anything from bell peppers to several tomato varieties.
7. You have more mobility available when using aeroponics.
Aeroponics makes it possible to move around plants easily without disrupting their growing potential. Producers can even move an entire nursery if it becomes necessary to create a set up in a different location. You need to do is to pick up the collar with the plant in question and then move it to the next spot where you want it to grow. This advantage makes it much easier to keep the space organized when there are different maturity levels to manage.
8. It takes fewer resources to produce a yield through aeroponics.
Because there isn’t a growing medium that takes resources away from the plants, most producers find that it takes considerably less water and fewer nutrients to complete a growing cycle. The plants experience a higher nutrient absorption rate because of the construct’s design, and that means it takes considerably less labor to produce a usable yield.
Although aeroponics doesn’t compete right now with traditional farming methods, an expansion of investment opportunities could make it a viable competitor in tomorrow’s agricultural markets.
9. Aeroponics provides us with a valuable research tool.
The field of aeroponics quickly took hold as a valuable research tool almost immediately after its development. It provides researchers with a non-invasive way to examine roots that are under development, creating a wide range of experimental parameters for scientific work. The ability to control moisture levels in precise ways makes this growing option ideally suited for studying plants under high levels of water stress.
Climate change could have a devastating impact on our planet. The cause of it may be up for debate, but we all agree on what the outcomes will be if a reversal isn’t possible. Aeroponics provides a solution that lets us continue growing food under controlled conditions, even if the weather outside isn’t favorable.
10. It produces healthier root systems.
Aeroponics produces healthier root systems when compared to the processes followed in hydroponics. Less damage occurs because there are fewer points of interference at every stage of development.
11. It provides educational value to producers and growers.
You can learn quite a lot from the processes that aeroponics follows. If you have children at home, then a small system priced at $100 or less can help you to teach them about how plant growth occurs. It is sort of like having a pet, but it is a plant instead of an animal. That means there is less risk and work involved to create a successful experience, which can lead to higher levels of confidence in kids regarding their ability to be a gardener. The educational value of this agricultural approach is undeniable.
12. You can take clones from your best plants to increase production levels.
If you are a grower that loves to take cuttings from your favorite plants, then the options available for cloning because of aeroponics are quite the advantage. Instead of using rooting cubes and gels, the automated system delivers a fine spray with all of the nutrients you need for a successful outcome. The results tend to happen faster because the root base is more vigorous in its approach to growth.
Although the new plants are more sensitive to environmental changes, you can produce a significant number of clones in a shorter time with aeroponics.
13. The power requirements for growth are significantly less.
The cannabis industry is turning towards aeroponics as a way to reduce its overhead. Traditional growth methods require about 2000 kW of power to create 1 pound of product. That is the equivalent to what the average household in the United States uses in 60 days. Moving to this technology can save a significant amount of electricity because you can stay in better control of the entire growing process.
When cannabis plants are effectively suspended in the air, then fertilizer use goes down by about 40%, while water consumption levels decline by as much as 98%.
List of the Disadvantages of Aeroponics
1. Aeroponics facilities require constant monitoring to be successful.
Although the work is easier when taking this approach to growing plants, aeroponics requires more time and attention to ensure a successful result occurs. The plants must receive constant attention to their pH levels because there isn’t a growing medium available to do this work. Producers must also track the nutrient density ratio because of the sensitivities naturally built into the system.
Understanding how to identify the correct ratio and apply this concept correctly is challenging for beginners who are just getting to know aeroponics. It should only be attempted by someone who is familiar with the growing method to create a better chance for a successful result.
2. It is an expensive growing method to set up initially.
A DIY aeroponics system might set back a producer a few hundred dollars if they know what they are doing. If you want a construct that provides automated nutrient monitoring and a backup power supply, then you could pay over $7,000 for a single unit. Assuming that you have enough space to install 10 to 15 constructs to support growing, this agricultural method can get rather expensive very quickly.
One of the current systems that are available for sale right now includes a double barrel 32 structure with eight-site lids. It is built to order, ships on a pallet, and will cost over $12,000 to secure. Each unit offers 11 spaces for growth to manage.
3. Aeroponics is highly susceptible to power outages.
Producers that take the aeroponics approach to agriculture must take steps to ensure a power outage doesn’t impact the crop. Misting, water access, or fogging must occur frequently to prevent the roots of the plant from experiencing desiccation. Automated systems can make this work simple, but it presents a unique challenge if you lose electricity for any reason. If the system goes offline for more than a few hours, it becomes possible to lose an entire crop.
The only way to avoid this issue is to run an independent generator. Without a backup electrical supply, you will need to water your plants manually until the power returns.
4. You must have a certain level of technical knowledge.
Aeroponics requires growers to have a particular level of technical knowledge to be successful with this endeavor. The constructs need to follow a specific set up process because there is no growing medium available to absorb any excessive nutrients. It is up to each producer to know how much each plant requires daily to produce the maximum amount of fruit or vegetation. Giving the plants too little or too much water or nutrients can produce undesirable results.
5. Aeroponics require regular disinfection of the root chamber.
If you have a large aeroponics facility to manage, then you will be spending a considerable amount of time disinfecting the root chambers of your construct. The most common disinfectant used by the industry today is hydrogen peroxide because it has less of an impact on the plants. You must take this step regularly to prevent diseases from forming in your crop. Failing to do so could allow microorganisms to enter into the nutrient chamber, changing the health profile of the plants that you’re growing.
6. The equipment relies heavily on automatic systems.
Aeroponics relies heavily on its automated systems to create positive results. The dependence that it has on this technology, whether it is a timer or the mist nozzles that keep the plants alive, makes it difficult to manage when something goes wrong. If any component breaks down when there isn’t someone available to supervise the system, then plant death could occur quickly before a response could get generated.
7. Only high-pressure systems are suitable for long-term growth projects.
NASA-funded research found that the high-pressure systems in the aeroponics sector are the only reliable solution for long-term plant growth. It is the only way to create an atomized mist between 5 to 15 µm to encourage ongoing development. The misting system must provide significant pressure to force the moisture and nutrients into the dense root systems. If there is degradation in the spray, then water delivery systems receive an inhibited approach that impacts the quality of the yield.
Even when systems acknowledge this disadvantage, a location with hard water or heavy scale can reduce the impact that aeroponics has on the agricultural sector. Spray degradation can lead to an environmental imbalance in the system’s culture.
8. Aeroponics systems can be noisy in an enclosed environment.
Most aeroponics systems use a vertical approach with their constructs to maximize the potential of the available space. That means you can produce a lot of food in a small room. All of the systems that take care of the plants produce noise, and that can get to be an overwhelming experience in cramped quarters. You might want to consider using a hearing protection product if you plan to install a long-term system.
The world currently produces about 20% more food than it needs to solve global hunger problems. Our issues in the agricultural sector involve logistical problems and political concerns that interfere with the distribution of fruit, vegetation, and meat. If we can solve those issues successfully, then it wouldn’t cost much more to ensure that everyone has enough calories to consume every day.
One of the ways that we can reduce the amount of time fresh produce spends in transportation involves aeroponics. These facilities can get built almost anywhere in the world today. That means each community could use this process to create or supplement needed food items while offering year-round protection against hunger.
These aeroponics advantages and disadvantages attempt to balance the initial expense of these processes with the beneficial outcomes that are possible. As we move toward urban settings and away from rural culture, this technology can lead us into a satisfying 22nd century where hunger could be a distant memory.
Natalie Regoli, Esq. is the author of this post and the editor-in-chief of our blog. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington and her Masters in Law from The University of Texas School of Law. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Natalie has almost two decades of experience as a lawyer and banker. If you would like to reach out to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.