Traditional farming requires a significant amount of water and land. As a result, many scientists and researchers are exploring other growing options. While many people have heard of hydroponic technology, which uses water rather than soil as the growing medium for plants, the concept of aeroponics has not yet gained a lot of traction. Aeroponics was actually developed as a subset of hydroponic farming, but one that significantly minimizes the amount of water used by providing roots with a moist, airy environment in which to grow.
In aeroponic farming, no growing media is used, so the resources that go into producing food are minimized. Instead, foam rings hold plants in place as they grow. The rings are lodged in a panel that separates the top of the plant from its roots. Above the panel, the plant is exposed to circulating air and light that is necessary for growth. Below, the roots grow in an aeroponic environment, which is sort of like a mist. Importantly, aeroponics involves a closed-loop system, so whatever water and nutrients are not absorbed by the plant are collected in a reservoir that is then used to create a mist in the environment. The misting intervals can be adjusted depending on the needs of each plant. While most plants grow best when the roots have an opportunity to nearly dry out before being misted, this is not always the case.
Different types of aeroponic systems exist. Smaller operations tend to use low-pressure aeroponics due to their availability, as well as the relative ease of setting up this type of system. Low-pressure aeroponics do not create that fine of a mist. While commercial growers tend to use high-pressure aeroponics to create a very fine mist, these setups require a large investment on the part of the growers. At the same time, because of the potential for vertical and indoor farming, many industry experts believe that this technique will gain popularity in the years to come and could emerge as a primary commercial growing method. Another variety of aeroponics gaining attention is called fogponics. The technology involves placing a disc in water that uses ultrasonic technology to transform water directly into a gas form with droplets a micron or less.
Aeroponic technology provides a wide range of benefits for farmers willing to dabble in new technology. As with hydroponics, plant growth is extremely fast. Aeroponic systems may achieve even higher rates of growth because the roots have around-the-clock access to oxygen, which is often a limiting factor in terms of growth. A major benefit is a reduced need for nutrients and water. Compared to traditional farming, the need is much lower. Moreover, aeroponics requires even fewer resources than hydroponics since the nutrient absorption rate is higher, as root networks tend to be more complex.
Some other benefits of aeroponic farming relate to the practical concerns of growing. Aeroponics require very little space, and plants can be stacked on top of one another as a type of modular system. As a result, plants and even entire nurseries can be transported without a lot of effort or risk to the produce. In addition, the maintenance of aeroponic systems is rather simple since the only aspect that needs attention is the root chamber. The root chamber needs regular cleaning with only sporadic attention to the reservoir and irrigation pipelines. However, the need for regular cleaning of the system points to one of the major disadvantages of an aeroponic system.
Since aeroponics involve maintaining a somewhat moist environment, bacterial growth can occur. If the root chamber becomes contaminated, disease could quickly spread among the roots and destroy the entire crop. However, through proper cleaning and sanitization, this risk is minimized. Another drawback of the system is the multitude of moving parts. If a pressure pump, sprinkler, or timer breaks, the issue needs to be addressed immediately or else the plants could be at risk of dying or at least incurring some harm. The initial investment in an aeroponic system is quite steep, particularly for commercial growers, and the maintenance can also involve significant expense, so the whole operation is not as cheap as some other options. At the same time, as more farmers adopt the technology, it may become more affordable.
Another potential drawback of an aeroponic system that deserves to be mentioned is the need for technical knowledge. Individuals need to have a deep understanding of plant physiology in order to make the most of the system, particularly on a commercial level. Farmers should know the exact nutrient requirements of their plants to ensure that they have everything they need to grow and nothing more. Without soil, which can absorb any excess or incorrect nutrients, the stakes are higher, so calculations need to be much more precise.