Aeroponic systems nourish plants with nothing more than nutrient-laden mist. The concept builds off that of hydroponic systems, in which the roots are held in a soilless growing medium, such as coco coir, over which nutrient-laden water is periodically pumped. Aeroponics simply dispenses with the growing medium, leaving the roots to dangle in the air, where they are periodically puffed by specially-designed misting devices.
In aeroponics systems, seeds are “planted” in pieces of foam stuffed into tiny pots, which are exposed to light on one end and nutrient mist on the other. The foam also holds the stem and root mass in place as the plants grow.
The Advantages of Aeroponics
Who knew naked roots could survive, much less thrive? It turns out that eliminating the growing medium is very freeing for a plants’ roots: the extra oxygen they are exposed to results in faster growth. Aeroponic systems are also extremely water-efficient. These closed-loop systems use 95 percent less irrigation than plants grown in soil. And since the nutrients are held in the water, they get recycled, too.
In addition to these efficiencies, aeroponics’ eco-friendly reputation is bolstered by the ability to grow large quantities of food in small spaces. The approach is mainly employed in indoor vertical farms, which are increasingly common in cities – cutting down on the environmental costs of getting food from field to plate. And because aeroponics systems are fully enclosed, there is no nutrient runoff to foul nearby waterways. Rather than treating pest and disease with harsh chemicals, the growing equipment can simply be sterilized as needed.
What Can You Grow with Aeroponics?
Anything, in theory. In practice, aeroponics systems are primarily used for the same applications as hydroponics systems, including leafy greens, culinary herbs, marijuana, strawberries, tomatoes, and cucumbers. One exception is root crops, which are impractical in a hydroponic system, but well-suited to aeroponics, as the roots have plenty of room to grow and are easily accessible for harvesting.
Other vegetable crops are possible but have more complex nutrient requirements. Fruiting shrubs and trees are impractical in aeroponics systems due to their size.