Photo found on Flickr, courtesy of pgoings.
There are many different gardening techniques, but aeroponics is certainly one of the most unique ways to grow vegetables, food crops, flowers and other plants. As with hydroponic systems, aeroponics uses no soil, but aeroponics also dispenses with the use of growth mediums as well.
Aeroponics uses an air or mist environment to grow plants, providing a fascinating alternative to not only traditional gardening techniques but hydroponics as well. In an aeroponics environment the plants grow with the roots suspended in a misted solution of nutrients.
Many commonly grown plants have been found to grow well in an aeroponic system, and there is a great deal of experimentation underway to determine the optimal setup for this unique form of gardening. Since aeroponics uses no soil to grow plants this method has shown great promise for growing crops where past soil depletion is a problem. Many people feel that using a combination of hydroponics and aeroponics will be a good way to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture and produce a greener world.
In the aeroponics type of gardening the only nutrient carrier present is water. The root zone of the plants are suspended in an atomized solution of nutrients, while the rest of the plant remains above. With this type of gardening the root system is misted or sprayed with a solution of nutrients and pure water.
The complete omission of growing media in aeroponic gardening presents a number of challenges, but perhaps the most significant is a lack of support for the delicate root systems of the plants. Closed cell foam is often used around the plants to hold them in place and provide protection, while a trellis system is sometimes used to provide support for larger plants.
Some of the biggest benefits of aeroponics are in the field of ecology and environmentalism. Growing plants aeroponically has a number of important benefits, and this method of gardening is considered to be both a safe and ecologically advantageous method of growing healthy, nutritious and natural food crops and other plants. Among the chief advantages of this method is the fact that it uses considerably less energy and water than traditional agriculture. In fact aeroponics systems can be even more water and energy efficient than comparable hydroponics operations.
The history of aeroponics as we know it today began way back in the early 1980s with the introduction of the first commercially available apparatus for growing plants without soil or other growth mediums. This early device used a water driven system, controlled by a microchip, to deliver a nutrient spray to the plants within the aeroponic chamber.
Aeroponics has produced many revolutions in the intervening years, but one of the most significant has been improvement in the field of propagating plants from cuttings. Many plants that had previously been difficult if not impossible to propagate in this way responded quite well to aeroponic techniques. A wide variety of plants, including many widely grown food crops, responded very well to these new techniques, providing farmers with a new and innovative way to grow the food we eat.
In fact aeroponics has largely replaced hydroponics as the preferred method of sterile propagation. These techniques have given growers an easy and cost effective way to clone their best plants, helping to improve strains and breed in desirable traits like drought resistance, resistance to common plant diseases, resistance to common pests and overall hardiness.
Aeroponics also has allowed growers to transplant the plants they clone directly into normal soil. Since the plants were grown aeroponically they did not suffer from the wilting, leaf loss and reduced vitality commonly associated with transplant shock. In addition, those transplanted aeroponic plants tend to be healthier and less susceptible to common plant diseases.
The world of aeroponics has continued to grow and evolve, and later systems made significant improvements while retaining the integrity and efficiency of the original. Newer generation aeroponic systems utilized a closed loop system to recycle the nutrient mixture more precisely, providing better efficiency and better use of precious resources. In fact many of those closed loop systems are still in operation today.
The best aeroponic systems will have the plant suspended completely in the air, allowing it to make full use of all available oxygen in the environment. This increased oxygen availability promotes root growth and enhances the overall hardiness and vitality of the plant. The intermittent sprays of nutrient enriched water further serve to promote the growth of the plants while making efficient use of water and avoiding the need for soil of any kind.
As the technology behind aeroponics continues to grow and evolve more and more amateur and commercial farmers are looking at ways to use the efficiency and power saving nature of this technique. Aeroponics remains the subject of intensive research as well, with scientists from around the world hoping that these innovations will lead to a cleaner, greener and more efficient future.