Food out of thin air? Read more about this eco-friendly method to produce food.
What is Aeroponics?
Aeroponics is a plant growing method when the roots of plants are hanging in water and nutrient aerosol generated through spraying nozzles.
Aeroponic systems only use nutrient-rich mist to feed plants. The idea is based on hydroponic systems, in which the roots are kept in a soilless growing media, such as coco coir, rock wool, pieces of foam, etc. And nutrient-rich water is pumped over the roots on interval or regular basis. In aeroponics, the growing medium is simply eliminated, leaving the roots to dangle in the air and be occasionally puffed by misting devices that were specifically created for the purpose.
In systems that use aeroponics, seeds are “planted” in pieces of rockwool or foam that are crammed into tiny pots and exposed to light and nutrient spray on opposite ends. As the plants develop, the rockwool also secures the stem and root mass.
Types of Aeroponics
In the majority of low-pressure aeroponic systems, the plant roots are hanging inside a closed system above a reservoir. Water and nutrient solution is delivered via a low-pressure pump equipped with sprayers resembling garden sprinklers; the solution then drops or drains back into the reservoir. In these systems, where plants mature, their root systems frequently have dry patches, preventing appropriate nutrition uptake. Due to their simplicity and lower price, these systems lack many of the features and advantages that high pressure aeroponics offers.
In most of high-pressure aeroponic systems, the plant roots are hanging inside a closed system above tubing with high pressure nozzles that generate 20–50 micrometre sized water droplets. The misting of the roots varies from constant to intervals. Smaller droplets generated with high pressure stay airborne longer, have better distribution and reach of roots, do not carry root disease, use less water and nutrients. Unfortunately high-pressure aeroponics has it‘s drawbacks like constantly clogging nozzles, which are expensive, high energy demand for high pressure pumps and overall difficult and expensive operation and maintenance of the equipment.
Advantages of Aeroponics
No root disease
Root disease is a big problem for hydroponic farmers. If one plant in the production line gets it – every plant does. Therefore, every year, globally, hydroponic farmers lose around 20% of their crops.
Since plant-to-plant contact is restricted in aeroponic systems and each spray pulse can be sterile, aeroponics helps reduce the spread of root disease. Root disease can spread across the growth medium in the case of soil, aggregate, liquid, or other media, affecting numerous plants. Aeroponic mist is an awful carrier of root disease. These types of media, that are capable of carrying disease, typically need to be sterilized after each harvest, and quite often farmers choose to just throw away used media and replace it with new, sterile media.
If a single plant does get root or any other disease, it may be easily removed from the growing system without upsetting or infecting other plants, which is a distinguishing benefit of aeroponic technology.
When compared to more conventional means of cultivation (hydroponics or soil), many plants can grow at a higher density (plants per square meter) thanks to the disease-free environment provided by aeroponics.
More oxygen in the root zone = faster growth and bigger plants
Who thought that bare roots could endure, much less flourish?
For a plant to grow properly, oxygen (O2) must be present in the rhizosphere (root zone). So, almost any plant may mature in air with an adequate supply of oxygen, water, and nutrients. As aeroponics is done in aerozol – air mixed with micro droplets of water with dissolved fertilizer, it is a perfect method to grow plants.
Aeroponics are superior to hydroponics on this issue because oxygen solubility in water has a natural physical limit, when in aerosol environment there is more oxygen than needed by the plant.
Some farmers prefer aeroponic systems over other hydroponic techniques because the increased aeration of the water nutrient solution provides more oxygen to the roots of the plant, therefore enabling faster and better metabolism, stimulating growth and preventing formation of pathogens.
Better nutrient uptake, so less water and fertilizer
Aeroponically grown plants spend majority (99.98%) of their time hanging in the air and very little (0.02 %) time in direct contact with water nutrient solution that has been converted into aerosol. The atomised water and nutrient mist makes a major contribution to the roots’ efficient oxygenation. The roots are able to absorb oxygen more effectively because of the period spent without water. For contrast, aeroponics has a throughput of 1.5 milliliters per minute, nutrition film technique (NFT) has a throughput of 1 liter per minute.
The amount of nutrients needed for plant development is decreased as a result of the decreased nutrient throughput volume.
Furthermore, without having to discard the liquid solution or rinse out the growing matrix in which the roots had previously been submerged or embedded, a range of different nutrient solutions can be supplied to the root zone utilizing aeroponics.
Disadvantages of Aeroponics
So as explained above, when it comes to aeroponics, the way to go is with high pressure aeroponics that uses high pressure nozzles that have extremely narrow and small spraying holes for water nutrient solution spraying. Naturally, that means – nozzles clog up easily. When they clog up, your crops do not receive water and nutrients that they need. Without moisture the roots will dry up rather quickly and the result shall be death of your plant. If multiple nozzles clog up… Imagine this happening when it‘s almost time for harvesting, your long and hard work could go to waste immediately. So any aeroponic farmer can tell you how frustrating that is and how much time and labour is wasted to clean the nozzles. Sometimes cleaning is not even an option and the farmer ends up having to replace these expensive high pressure nozzles which is no easy work, which is costly. In conclusion – high pressure nozzle clogging is a big problem to be aware of, because it costs money, labour and sometimes your harvest.
Expensive and Difficult to maintain
Even though aeroponics drastically reduces your water and fertilizer needs, it is still an expensive operation to run. These high tech growing systems require an enormous amount of high pressure nozzles that are expensive and high pressure pumps that aren‘t cheap. The design of aeroponic systems also differs from the hydroponic ones, because the nutrient water aerosol must be contained within the system, the roots have to be protected from light exposure, etc. This results in more complicated structure, more materials, more costs. The maintenance of complicated structure isn‘t easy and solving high pressure nozzle clogging problem is a constant difficulty.
How to fix/solve aeroponic nozzle clogging?
Baltic Freya has developed Fogponics 2.0 fog generator that doesn‘t clog. Our mist generators look like nozzles, but require no high pressure. The water and nutrient delivery hole within our fog generators is millimeters wide and it vibrates. We tried to purposely clog it by adding sand, by adding glass shards to the water nutrient solution and we failed to clog it.
Is aeroponic droplet size good for the plants roots?
In most of high-pressure aeroponic systems, high pressure nozzles generate 20–50 micrometre sized water droplets. Most of aeroponic growers agree that this is a good water droplet size range for plant growing, but recent studies identified 20-30 micron range to be perfect.
Baltic Freya Fogponics 2.0 fog generators can and do deliver the correct water droplet size of 20-30 microns. But if you wish for a different one – Baltic Freya fog generators are tunable, they can generate water droplets varying from 5 to 60 microns.
Aeroponics is a relatively new and novel technique to grow plants. This technology presents numerous benefits compared to soil or hydroponic farming, but it also has serious flaws and problems. Baltic Freya has solved these problems and improved this growing technique, click here to read more about Fogponics 2.0 fog generators.