Aeroponic cultivation: What is it, how does it work, advantages and disadvantages?

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:19 pm

This article is dedicated to aeroponic cultivation. We will explain what aeroponic cultivation is, how it works and what are its advantages and disadvantages. Aeroponic comes from air, but how can you grow a plant with air?

Sometimes, on the Internet we can find sites where the virtues of this type of cultivation are exaggerated and its problems or disadvantages are hidden, with the sole purpose of selling a course or a certain system.

What is aeroponic cultivation?

Aeroponic cultivation: What is it, how does it work, advantages and disadvantages?

It is a type of system in which the growing medium is air. It is a system of cultivation without soil, in which the plants receive water and nutrients through an aqueous solution that is nebulized in the air forming a spray or fine mist, formed by tiny droplets. This mist reaches the roots of the plants, providing them with the water and nutrients they need.

It is a cultivation system different from hydroponics (hydroponics) and aquaponics (fish farming).

How does it work?

The plants are placed on a structure that holds them, leaving the aerial part visible, so that it receives light, and on the other side are placed the roots, which are hanging in a closed environment. The structure can be vertical (culture tower), inclined or horizontal.

Aeroponic cultivation: What is it, how does it work, advantages and disadvantages?
Testing of aeroponic growing system for space missions to the Moon and Mars.

Aeroponic cultivation: What is it, how does it work, advantages and disadvantages?
Pyramidal structure for aeroponic cultivation

On the side where the roots are there is no substrate, neither natural such as peat, nor artificial such as rock wool. What there is is a hollow space where a series of nebulizers are placed that generate that fine mist loaded with droplets of the aqueous solution. In this way, the aqueous solution, which contains water and nutrients, reaches the roots directly without passing through any substrate. In other words, in aeroponics the roots are hanging in the air, where they are periodically sprayed by nebulizers.

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For this aqueous solution to be nebulized, it is necessary that it reaches the nebulizers with a certain pressure. To give it pressure, a pump is used, which sucks the aqueous solution from a tank or reservoir and pushes it through pipes to the nebulizers.

In addition to the structure, the nebulizers and the tank, we need other equipment to dose the nutrients in the water and to program the irrigations. Filters are also very important, since the orifices of the nebulizers are very small and must be prevented from clogging.

Types of aeroponic systems

Aeroponic systems are usually classified according to their working pressure into low pressure and high pressure aeroponic systems.
3.1. Low-pressure aeroponics

Low-pressure systems, which rely on a simple fountain pump to spray water through foggers, are inexpensive and suitable for the construction of home growing systems. Their limitation is that low pressure foggers are capable of producing only a light spray, like a small sprinkler, not a true mist.
3.2. High Pressure Aeroponics

To achieve true misting, i.e., to float moisture in the air and more effectively deliver nutrients to the roots, higher water pressure is needed than a normal pump can provide. Therefore, professional aeroponics systems are based on a pressurized water reservoir with high pressure, together with high quality foggers capable of providing as much fog as possible.
3.3. Aeroponics with ultrasonic nebulization

This type of aeroponics system uses an ultrasonic nebulizer that allows it to generate very small droplets.

The application of ultrasound waves on the solution generates these droplets, which are propelled until they reach the roots.

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Advantages and disadvantages


Advantages of aeroponics

Scientific studies show that plants grow faster in aeroponics than in soil or hydroponics because more oxygen reaches the roots.

Aeroponic systems are also extremely efficient in terms of water consumption. These closed-loop systems use 95% less irrigation than soil-grown plants. Nutrients are held in the aqueous solution, which is recirculated through the system.

In addition to these efficiencies, aeroponics’ ecological reputation is enhanced by its ability to grow food in small spaces, as it makes very good use of space. This is why this method is used in facilities such as “plant factories”, which are appearing in cities. Producing vegetables in these industrial warehouses reduces the environmental costs of transporting food from the field to the city.

The “plant factories” are indoor cultivation sheds, in which intensive vertical cultivation systems with artificial lighting are used.

Aeroponic cultivation: What is it, how does it work, advantages and disadvantages?
Plant factory with aeroponic growing system and artificial lighting.

Another advantage of aeroponic systems is that they are totally closed, so there is no nutrient runoff to contaminate nearby waterways.


Disadvantages of aeroponic systems

It is probably the most expensive form of cultivation per square meter, because it requires the greatest investment in terms of equipment. The cheapest is still outdoor cultivation in natural soil.

Aeroponic systems are more complex and delicate to manage. The nutrient concentration of the water must be kept within precise parameters. A slight malfunction of the equipment can result in the complete loss of the crop.

There is also a major drawback, from an environmental point of view, and that is that aeroponic systems rely on electrical power to pump water through the tiny misting devices. And although they can be used with the natural light of a greenhouse, they are often used with energy-intensive grow lights.

  1. How much does an aeroponic system cost?
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The models of small dimensions, to cultivate at home, can cost around 100 Euros. The more professional systems, of bigger dimensions, start from 1.000 Euros approximately.

Both the cheapest and the most expensive systems are usually sold as complete kits that include all the basic elements required for this type of installation: support structure, tank, pump, programmer, pipes and nebulizers.

  1. What can be grown with an aeroponic system?

In theory, anything. In practice, aeroponic systems are mainly used to grow leafy vegetables such as lettuce, endive, endive or spinach, aromatic herbs such as basil, chives or mint, as well as strawberries, tomatoes and cucumbers. These species are also suitable for hydroponic cultivation.

A peculiarity of aeroponic cultivation, as opposed to hydroponic cultivation, is that it is well adapted to the cultivation of root vegetables such as potatoes.

Aeroponic cultivation: What is it, how does it work, advantages and disadvantages?
Aeroponic potato cultivation

Other horticultural crops are possible, but they have more complex nutrient requirements, making them difficult to grow.

Growing shrubs or fruit trees should be discarded due to their larger size. Commercial aeroponic systems are not designed to support crops of this size.

Author

  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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