When I managed a hydroponic retail store, one of the most common questions from customers centered around what is best. What is the best bulb? What is the best nutrient? Is organic better than synthetic? And what hydroponic system is the best?
Valuing customer input, I would go on a question campaign of my own. I would poll customers as to which system they used, what results they were getting and which type of system they thought was best. Overwhelmingly, people seemed to like aeroponics best. Aeroponics almost seems to take on legendary status in the hydroponic world, but is this all hype or is an aeroponic system really as good as my customer anecdotal evidence suggests?
Aeroponics is a form of hydroponic gardening. Traditional hydroponic systems have the roots in constant contact with water, either being submerged, flooded, dripped, or exposed to a thin film of nutrient solution. In aeroponic systems, roots are suspended in air, in a dark, enclosed space, where they are sprayed with a fine mist or fog of nutrient solution.
Aeroponic systems do not use any hydroponic growing media. The plants are usually held in place with a piece of closed cell foam that wraps around the stem, keeping the roots suspended in air in the lower, dark, enclosed section of the system while the canopy remains above, in the light.
Pros of an Aeroponics System
There are many benefits to using aeroponic systems to grow plants. The roots of plants growing in an aeroponic system have an ideal environment – the humidity is always around 100%, they can absorb more nutrients and they are in an oxygen-rich environment.
Larger roots don’t necessarily mean larger yields, but healthier roots certainly do. Healthy roots uptake more nutrient solution and are more resistant to disease. This leads to larger yields and quicker crop rotations versus traditional gardening and other hydroponic methods. Maximum O2 also means less anaerobic bacteria buildup in the reservoir.
Aeroponic systems also do not use any growing medium. This means that there is no medium for many plant-eating insects to live and breed. It also means less money spent each crop rotation and that you don’t have used growing medium to discard or clean when finished with.
Cons of an Aeroponics System
Like all hydroponic systems, there are some drawbacks to gardening with aeroponics. Aeroponic gardens require almost constant monitoring of the pH and EC to ensure safe and ideal levels are maintained. This is because there is no medium to provide a buffer.
There is also the issue of pumps and misters becoming clogged, which is usually the result of salt and mineral deposits or from bacterial and algae buildup. If they were to become clogged and stop misting, then the roots would dry out quickly compared to other hydroponic systems that use a growing medium or have the roots submerged, causing your plants to die in a short period of time. You must monitor the performance of your pumps and misters on a regular basis to ensure proper function.
One way of dealing with salt or mineral deposits is to run vinegar or a cleaning solution through your entire system in between crop rotations. The clearing solution or vinegar will break down the salt and mineral deposits in your pumps and misters, keeping them working as they were meant to.
To minimize algae and bacterial sludge buildup in your reservoir, pumps and misters, keep your reservoir light proof. Light promotes the growth of algae and bacteria. Adding hydrogen peroxide to your reservoir every time you change your nutrient solution can also limit the algae and bacteria growth. Cleaning your reservoir with a bleach solution or food-grade cleaner at each changing of your nutrient solution (weekly or more often) will also keep algae and bacteria at bay as well as clean out any potential pathogens.