Beginners Guide to Aeroponic Systems in Your Home
Aeroponic garden systems are a great alternative for growing vegetables and flowers at home in challenging environments. Aeroponics allows you to control the growing environment for your plants, producing bounties of quality produce.
- aeroponic systems use water vapor to deliver nutrients to plants
- plants hang suspended in the air with their roots exposed, ready to absorb water and minerals
- aeroponics has both benefits and disadvantages compared to other forms of gardening
This guide will explore the fundamental mechanics of growing plants and vegetables in aeroponic systems.
We will also consider what types of vegetables and plants grow well in aeroponic systems. Plus, the advantages and disadvantages of using aeroponic systems in your gardening adventures.
So if you are ready, get ready to become intimate with the inner workings of aeroponic systems.
Why We Chose an Aeroponics System
If you are a regular visitor at the Garden Bench Top, you would know that we are passionate about anything and everything to do with gardening.
But, like gardeners around the world, we all face challenges. Ours is space.
We don’t have the luxury of fields. Heck, we don’t even have a lawn. Our back garden consists of a few garden beds and a small patch of grass big enough for our Yorkshire terrier to do her business on.
On top of that, we have the added problem of pests, such as possums and rats. If you have had the pleasure of pests in your garden, you will know it is a challenge growing any produce. Check out how rats decimated our Jade tree HERE.
What we do have is a deck, which does have room for a gardening project.
This is precisely how we got started on our journey of installing an aeroponic system on our balcony.
What is a Gardening Aeroponic System?
As the name suggests, aeroponic systems deliver water and nutrient solution to plants via AIR in the form of water vapor and mist.
Aeroponic systems use water vapor to sustain a plants nutrient and water needs.
Aeroponic systems (and hydroponic systems) are usually closed systems that circulate the water vapor to allow ample opportunity for the roots to capture the mist.
As the plants grow, their roots extend into the water vapor chamber. At the same time, the leaves and fruits are exposed to sunlight to allow photosynthesis and fruit development to occur.
Since this is our first aeroponics adventure, we purchased a pre-built system called the Air Garden. The primary reason for opting for a ready-made system is that it comes with all the necessary equipment in a single package.
However, there are plenty of ways to build a DIY aeroponic system, such as this system created by Chris Loh on Youtube.
Is Aeroponics the same as Hydroponics?
Although Aeroponics and Hydroponics have similarities, they are not the same system and have distinct differences.
The primary difference is, as we just discussed, in Aeroponics, the plant’s roots are suspended in the air and receive their nutrients and water via misters.
In Hydroponics, the plant roots systems are immersed in nutrient-rich water (or at least fully immersed in water at regular intervals).
Both systems do not use soil (are soilless) and are highly-effective methods for cultivating vegetable crops quickly and with fewer resources.
Can I Use Aeroponics at Home?
Aeroponic systems are not only intended for large-scale commercial systems (although they are very effective for commercial purposes as well).
We ventured down this aeroponics rabbit hole because the system is adaptable to small-scale systems ideal for the home environment.
Our system has a 2 x 2-foot area footprint, so we can install multiple systems if we want to expand our vegetable and herb production.
Benefits of Aeroponic Gardening Systems
Now that you have a better idea of the inner workings of an aeroponic system, let’s look at the benefits they deliver to gardens and homeowners.
We mentioned that this was one of the driving forces for why we considered aeroponic systems for our backyard. And it is a big deal.
There are horizontal aeroponic systems available, such as commercial farms or professional systems. However, most domestic aeroponic systems are designed to be vertical systems.
The primary purpose is to allow gardeners to grow more produce in a smaller space, such as balconies or decks (like we are).
As we said earlier, our Air Garden system has a 2 x 2-foot area footprint. Meaning we have been able to create a previously unproductive space into a thriving forest of herbs and vegetables.
One of the biggest draws of aeroponic (and hydroponic) systems is their water efficiency.
Most aeroponic systems are closed-loop systems, which means the water is circulated within a sealed chamber where the roots of the plants are allowed to grow and thrive.
Because it is enclosed, water wastage is kept to a minimum and cycled back (via a pump) into the system to be absorbed by the roots.
This is more water efficient and means less upkeep for you, which is the perfect segue into the next benefit…
The great thing about aeroponic systems is (with the right equipment) they can be automated to the point of only requiring a weekly spot check.
Our system uses a 24-hour timer that controls the water pump, turning it on and off at regular intervals to keep it operating efficiently.
In theory, the system could operate automatically for 2-3 weeks without intervention. However, we like to check the system’s water, nutrient, and pH levels to ensure plants absorb the necessary minerals and moisture.
One of the most underrated benefits of an aeroponics system is the fact that it is a controlled environment.
When you grow vegetables in the ground, you depend on the soil’s quality and the available nutrients. Not to mention your plants will be subject to the weather elements.
Whereas with an aeroponics system – you are in control.
You dictate the amount of nutrients in the water. You control the temperature and other water conditions, such as pH and temperature.
You can even develop a completely internal aeroponic system with grow lights. This means your system isn’t reliant on the sun for natural light.
Faster Growth Rate & Better Yield
Did you know that herbs and vegetables grow faster in an aeroponic (and hydroponic) system?
According to a study performed by the New Phytologist Foundation, they found that a
…study reported that yields of aeroponically cultivated basil, parsley, cherry tomato, squash, bell pepper and red kale increased by 19%, 21%, 35%, 50%, 53% and 65% compared to soil culture, respectively (Chandra et al., 2014).
This is partly because the root systems are suspended in the air and consequently exposed to more oxygen, facilitating accelerated growth.
With the added oxygen also comes greater yields of fruit and leaf production. Resulting in more, tastier produce.
Disadvantages of Aeroponic Gardening Systems
Aeroponic systems may seem like the perfect option for many home gardeners. However, some considerations should be made before you take the plunge and commit to a new way of gardening.
Here are some disadvantages of aeroponic gardening systems.
One of the biggest hurdles we had to overcome was that an aeroponic gardening system requires power to operate.
Comparing this with a vegetable garden patch in the backyard, which only requires nature to do its thing, it is a hard pill to swallow.
However, we believe you need to consider a system’s merits together.
The fact that aeroponic systems save on water and are suitable for small spaces while yielding more quality products overshadows its power requirements.
The fact that most aeroponic systems are closed systems, meaning there is no opportunity for external factors to positively or negatively affect the result, is both a benefit and disadvantage.
We discussed the benefits earlier. Now let’s look at the drawbacks.
A closed garden system is entirely reliant on you to provide their nutrients. This means you are solely responsible for providing the necessary nutrients and controlling the optimal growing conditions.
To ensure your plants have the best opportunity to thrive and yield an abundance of fruit, you need to constantly test the environment in the aeroponic system, such as pH levels, water quality, and nutrient levels.
Maintenance and Upkeep
Aeroponic systems consist of many moving parts. And as with most things, each piece requires upkeep, cleaning, and maintenance.
The fact that aeroponic systems are soilless makes them easier to maintain. However, each part of the system (particularly any misters) will still need to be regularly cleaned to ensure there are no blockages in the plumbing.
Any blockage will render the system useless, putting all your plants at risk of dehydration.
Ready-made aeroponic systems are not cheap.
A good quality, robust aeroponic system ranges anywhere from $399 upwards. For example, look at this Nutraponics system from Amazon.
If you don’t have the budget, don’t fret. There is always the option of constructing your DIY system. Begin by sourcing cheaper parts around the home or from online marketplaces.
How Does Aeroponics Work – Main Components
Each aeroponic system will have its unique nuances. However, they will all have the same general structure.
This guide section will explore the components that make up aeroponic gardening systems.
Main Water Vapor Chamber
The main chamber is where the plants’ root systems will grow and receive nutrients and water.
In our system, it is a vertical farm. However, the water vapor chamber can also be a horizontal design.
The chamber is enclosed and circulates nutrient-rich water vapor with misters. Alternatively, it may drip down from above, using gravity to distribute the water to each plant.
Plumbing System with Pump
The plumbing and water pump are the other critical components in an aeroponic technology system.
Each aeroponic system recycles and circulates the water around the enclosed plumbing system – which is why it is so water efficient.
It will use a water pump to move the water from a water reservoir to the beginning of the main water vapor chamber to create nutrient mist.
Part of the main appeal of aeroponic systems is that they can be automated. And this can only be achieved with timers.
The timer will operate the water pump and allow the plants to receive nutrients and water regularly throughout the day.
The other important aspect of aeroponic systems is the netted baskets where the plants grow. It is netted because the roots need to grow from the pot and hang in the main chamber.
Usually, the plants are stabilized in a soilless growing medium like coconut coir or rockwool.