What is Aeroponics?
Jules Walters • Published: Oct 06, 2023
Aeroponics is a way of growing plants without soil. Instead, the plants are suspended in the air and their roots are misted with a nutrient-rich solution. It is a type of hydroponics, but instead of immersing the plant roots in water, they are sprayed with a fine mist of nutrients.
The aerosol method allows plant roots to absorb oxygen more efficiently, promoting faster growth and higher yields.
Aeroponics is often used in controlled environments like greenhouses and vertical farms, as it needs precise monitoring of temperature, humidity, and nutrient levels to ensure the best conditions for plant growth.
Growing plants with aeroponic systems at home
Aeroponics is mainly used for commercial crop production, but you can definitely use aeroponics to grow plants at home.
Aeroponics has gained popularity as a space-saving and efficient way to grow various types of plants, including vegetables, herbs, and even flowers.
Aeroponic systems provide plants with a highly oxygenated environment. They also allow for precise control over the nutrient mist and water provided to the plants’ dangling roots.
The systems can be set up indoors or outdoors. And they’re particularly suitable for growing plants in limited spaces and in urban areas.
Basic economics of aeroponics
Aeroponic systems are more expensive to install and operate compared to traditional soil-based gardening methods.
The initial setup needs equipment such as pumps, sprayers, and nutrient solutions and will cost at least US $500. Aeroponic systems also need regular monitoring and maintenance, as well as the running costs of electricity, water, and nutrients.
Cost clearly depends on the scale and complexity of the system. Small DIY systems will be a lot more affordable, than big commercial setups.
And, though the initial investment can be high, aeroponic systems offer long-term benefits, such as higher crop yields and faster growth rates, than more traditional soil gardening.
These plus factors may help offset the initial costs and lead to more efficient and sustainable gardening over time.
Advantages of aeroponic systems vs traditional soil-based methods
Aeroponic plant growing has several advantages over hydroponic systems and traditional soil-based methods of food production:
Advantages of aeroponic systems
- Water usage: Aeroponics uses up to 90% less water compared to traditional soil-based methods, and less too than hydroponics systems. This makes it very efficient and more friendly to the environment.
- Nutrient efficiency: Aeroponics delivers nutrients directly to the plant roots in a mist, ensuring good absorption and minimizing nutrient waste.
- Better plant growth: Plants grown by aeroponics often have faster growth rates and higher yields compared to traditional methods. That’s due to better oxygenation and direct delivery of nutrients to the plant roots.
- Disease and pest control: By growing in a soilless environment, aeroponics reduces the risks of soil-borne plant diseases and pest attacks that are common in traditional farming.
- Space efficiency: You can stack aeroponic systems vertically, allowing for better use of limited space. So, they are even more attractive options in dense urban environments.
Despite these advantages, there are some disadvantages to consider.
Disadvantages of aeroponic systems
- High initial cost: Setting up an aeroponic system can be more expensive than traditional methods, due to the investment in equipment and technology.
- Technical expertise: Aeroponics needs you to understand and manage various factors like nutrient solution, misting cycles, and environmental controls. YouTube can help!
- Vulnerability to power outages: Aeroponic systems are reliant on a continuous power supply for pumps, misters, and environmental controls. Power outages can disrupt the system and impact plant health.
- Risk of mist malfunction: Inadequate or uneven misting can lead to poor plant growth. A quick check each day will prevent misting failures.
Overall then, aeroponic systems offer significant benefits in terms of resource efficiency, plant growth, and disease control. However, they also require careful management and higher upfront costs.
How to start an aeroponic system at home
Setting up your own aeroponic system can be a great way to grow plants at home, including food for the table.
Here’s a quick guide for getting started:
Research and planning
Do some basic research to understand the requirements of plants you want to grow, such as lighting, nutrient needs, and preferred climate conditions. There are some videos on YouTube on this emerging garden system for home.
Determine the space you have available for your aeroponic system and the number of plants you want to grow. This will help you decide on the appropriate system size and plant configuration.
- Aeroponic system: You can buy a ready-made aeroponic system, or build your own with materials from the local hardware store, like PVC pipes, tubes and containers
- Air pump: to provide oxygen to the plants’ roots
- Growing cups or net pots: to hold the plants securely in the system
- Nutrient solution: for providing the vital nutrients to the plants roots
- Lighting: appropriate grow lights based on the needs of the plants you’re growing
- Timer: for automating the lighting and watering cycles
- pH meter and EC meter: To monitor the pH level and nutrient concentration of the water
Set-up and installation
- Position your aeroponic system in a location that provides enough light, temperature, and ventilation
- Connect air pump to the system and ensure it supplies enough oxygen to the roots
- Install growing cups or net pots in the system, and ensure they’re secure in place
- Set up the lighting system above the plants, ensuring optimal light levels & distances based on the plants’ needs
- Connect water supply to the system and place nutrient solution reservoir in a convenient location
Nutrient solution and pH level
- Mix the appropriate amount of nutrient solution according to the maker’s instructions, or based on your own research
- At least once a week, check and adjust the pH level of the nutrient solution to ensure it remains within the right range for your plants
Planting and maintenance
Typically, you will be planting in growing cups or net pots within your aeroponic system. For routine care, you’ll also need to:
- Set up a timer to control the lighting and watering cycles. Most plants need around 16-18 hrs of light & 6-8 hrs of darkness
- Regularly monitor the nutrient solution level, pH level, and EC (electrical conductivity) to ensure the best plant growth
- Check for any signs of pests or diseases and take appropriate measures to control them
Harvest and enjoy!
Once your plants are fully established, harvest them whole, or just snip what you need. A small pair of secateurs is perfect for neatly harvesting leaves and shoots from growing plants. Then rinse and dry your well earned harvest, and enjoy in your favorite meals.
Just remember that each plant may have slightly different growing requirements. And you will need to monitor and maintain your system to ensure successful growth. A quick visual check each day will do it.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why is it called aeroponics?
The term comes from the Greek words for air and labour or work. A Dutch biologist reportedly coined it in the 1950s.
Hydroponic and aeroponic systems are closely related. In fact, most commercial operators describe aeroponics as a sub-type of hydroponics.
The key difference is that plants in standard hydroponic systems are planted in a sterile growing medium, such as perlite or rockwool. In aeroponics, the plants have no growing medium, and their roots are left to dangle in the air.
Who invented aeroponics?
Aeroponics has a longer history than you might think. Much of the early research into plant cultivation without soil was done in the 1920s, and then again after World War 2.
The first patent award for an automated aeroponics system was in the 1980s. Then in the late ’90s, the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) took up the aeroponic cause for the US space program.
More recently, private companies have developed aeroponic equipment for commercial production at scale. These same manufacturers are now beginning to market smaller-scale versions of the equipment for use in the home.
How much does a home aeroponics system cost?
If you’re reasonably good at DIY, it’s possible to build a simple aeroponic system for home use for under $500.
The cost of a readymade system will depend largely on scale, and complexity of the automation. One self-assembly aeroponic tower kit will cost the better part of a thousand US dollars. Then it’s upward from there!
What is low-pressure aeroponics (LPA)?
LPA uses a nutrient-rich mist or aerosol to deliver water, nutrients and oxygen directly to plant roots. Low-pressure systems use miniature sprinkler heads to supply water in the form of large droplets directly to the root zone.
What’s the difference between low-pressure & high-pressure aeroponics (HPA)?
Put simply, low pressure systems deliver nutrients to the plant’s root system in a spray of water droplets. High-pressure systems deliver the same nutrient-rich mix to the plant in a fog or mist.