Any vertical or urban farmer worth their salt at this point has no doubt heard of aeroponics. There is, however, some degree of mystery surrounding the science behind the field and oftentimes it’s overshadowed by its predecessor system of hydroponics.
Aeroponics has its challenges of course—no one said farming should be easy—but this new, 100% soilless way of growing plants has been revolutionizing the way modern man sustains itself. It’s no secret that climate change is set to permanently alter the planet and the impending changes won’t be to mankind’s benefit.
New solutions are needed to keep the food chain operational, especially as most of the world’s arable land is already in use and demand for more of hectares for agricultural usage shows no sign of slowing down. Aeroponics is chief amongst any viable solutions.
A lot of new urban farmers might wonder how aeroponics is special from any of the other “-ponics,” especially from the vastly more prominent system, hydroponics. Aeroponics and hydroponics shouldn’t be thought of as two disparate and competing systems of growing.
Aeroponics is in fact a type of hydroponics. "Hydroponics" is merely an umbrella term. Although an aeroponic system never places the roots of its plants in a bed of water, every single aeroponic device will have to have a mister to hydrate the crops' roots at specific intervals.
Every single aeroponics farm, from the largest outdoor tower to the smallest home kit will have a mist component to make sure those roots are kept wet at regular intervals.
There is unfortunately an enormous con to using aeroponics to grow crops. This method of growing needs electricity at all times—not just to provide lighting to the plants (as aeroponics can be done outdoors), but to manually keep the roots moist at all times.
A power outage for an aeroponics system that has no backup generator could kill the entire crop supply within minutes. Amateurs looking into breaking into the world of urban farming with this method should seriously evaluate whether they can afford to have a power source providing the massive amount of energy required at all times.
Aeroponics however is not an untenable field full of doom and gloom.
On the contrary, if done properly, growing crops without soil can be a liberating experience. Soil is unfortunately not free of harmful microbes: far from it. Additionally, weeds can grow in soil right next to crops and leech the nutrient supply.
Indoor farms can have water and air filters to ward off airborne bacteria & viruses. Just the space factor alone makes aeroponics a viable practice. Without soil to hold the crops back, aeroponic farms can more efficiently pack crops in to tight spaces.
Since nutrients are directly fed to saplings and they don't need to pull nutrients from soil themselves, adequate space between plants is no issue and crops don't compete for the same resources anymore. Drowning of the roots is also a non-issue because whatever the plants' roots don't absorb falls back into the solution chamber to be reused later. Just because plants have grown in dirt since time immemorial doesn't mean they need to.
Fortunately for the amateur grower, companies are starting to bow to consumer tastes and bring aeroponics out of the post-industrial warehouse and into the well, house-house. Everyone’s favorite Swedish furniture company, IKEA, introduced a home kit three years ago, named the “Krydda/Växer.” Its seedlings are imbedded in “stone wool plugs” and require approx. seven months from the set-up to harvest.
IKEA specifically designed this gardening kit to above all be user friendly. Purchasers need not have a degree in agronomy to operate this diminutive piece of machinery.
As scientists in both the public and private sectors further tweak how aeroponic farms operate in order to maximize harvests and simplify the growing process, one company in particular stands out as leading these innovations—AeroFarms. While A.F. doesn’t sell equipment, consumers should certainly keep up on this company’s technological advances. Whatever new and exciting ways they invent to improve the way plants are grown without soil will no doubt be picked up by other, cheaper companies whose products are aimed at people with limited space.
Afterall, not everyone can expect to have an old factory on retainer to convert into an indoor farm. We here at Urban Vine totally recognize that aeroponics can and indeed should be utilized by those environmentally conscious, new growers. Keep planting, everyone. Your community just might need your expertise in the upcoming years.