Imagine this is the year 2067, and you are on Mars. How would you grow the food on the planet RED? If you want to know the new aspect of agriculture this article is for you guys.
What is Aeroponics?
Aeroponics is a technique of growing plants without using soil as a medium. Unlike Hydroponics, we don’t use water as a medium for roots to grow. Aeroponics is the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment. Aeroponics word came from two Greek letters ‘Aer’ which means air and ‘Ponos’ which means labor.
We create a closed or semi-closed environment to grow plants using aeroponics. Then we spray the nutrient-rich solution on its dangling roots and lower stem.
Types of Aeroponic Systems:
1. Low-Pressure Aeroponics
This is the easiest and most cheaper way of setting up the aeroponic system. In this, a low-pressure pump sprays nutrients via jets or by ultrasonic transducers. Which then drip or drain back into the reservoir. A low-pressure aeroponic system will not need many tools compared to a High-pressure system.
2. High-Pressure Aeroponics
This is a bit more advanced and costly system compared to the Low-pressure system. We use this technique in commercial production as it requires specialized equipment. It includes maintaining air and water purification, nutrient sterilization, etc.
Another more popular Aeroponic System type is Fogponics. It uses a very fine mist that looks like fog. In that, growers use an ultrasonic fogger to reduce the size of water droplets to create a fog-like environment for the roots. That way roots can absorb the water as well as oxygen.
In 1911, V.M.Artsikhovski published in the journal “Experienced Agronomy” an article “On Air Plant Cultures”.
First research related to aeroponics happened way back in the 1940s. In 1942, W. Carter researched a method of growing plants in water vapor.
In 1957, F.W. Went grew coffee and tomato plants using this way and the word Aeroponics came into the light.
It took almost three decades for aeroponically grown food to enter the commercial market.
Richard stoner was the first person to sell aeroponically grown food. He filed his first aeroponics related patent in 1983. His company Genesis Technology Incorporated or shortly GTI was the first one to bring the commercial aeroponic system.
GTI launched a product named ‘Genesis Machine’. It was inspired by the Star Trek movie “Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan”. In the film, Genesis Device was technological innovation. It was used to reduce sociological problems like limited food supplies. Richard Stoner was a big admirer of the resource-conserving properties of aeroponics.
By 1985, GTI introduced a second-generation aeroponic system. Its name was ‘Genesis Growing System’. This second-generation aeroponic system was a closed-loop system. GTI became the first company to manufacture, market, and apply large-scale closed-loop systems.
Aeroponics in Space
Richard Stoner’s successes in the research of aeroponics caught the attention of NASA. In 1998, Stoner received NASA funding to develop a high-performance aeroponic system for use on earth and in space. This was the beginning of the idea of growing food in the space.
Stoner demonstrated increased growth rates of dry biomass in lettuce plants. NASA later utilized many aeroponic advancements developed by Stoner.
This is the image of lettuce grown in zero gravity in 1998.
In 2000, Stoner got a patent for an organic disease control biocontrol technology. It allows for pesticide-free natural growing in an aeroponic system.
1. There is fast growth in the plant as the roots of the plants can access oxygen 24/7. Plants become much stronger and healthier because of constant oxygen access.
2. It is easy to maintain. Once we set up the system we only need to focus on providing the right amount of nutrients and some cleaning of reservoir and irrigation channels.
3. There is lesser material used compared to other farming techniques as the nutrient absorption rate is higher.
4. It will need lesser space as we create a vertical chamber for growing up plants.
5. We can move from one place to another.
6. Labor cost is less due to automation
7. We can change plants without putting in more effort.
8. Risk of disease and pest infestation is less as the growing environment is controlled.
As we know every coin has two sides, the same way Aeroponics has some cons as well.
1. It is dependent on technology. The whole system has different components relying on each other if one fails, the whole system stops. For example, pumps, timers, and sprinkler rely on each other. If there is some issue in one component like timer, the system stops, and that way it is harmful or fatal to your plants.
2. Amount of nutrients dissolved in water needs to be perfect. If someone is a beginner, for them it requires more attention.
3. It requires certain experience in this field. As roots will absorb the nutrient, the amount of nutrients in the solution has to be perfect.
4. For setting up High-pressure aeroponics, requires special equipment and thus the higher cost. Plus it has more maintenance costs for its individual parts. The initial set up cost could be many hundreds of dollars.
5. Power outage can cause serious damage. At that time one might have to provide the nutrient solution to the roots by themselves.
We can see that aeroponics has a higher cost. But it also has benefits like higher yields and rapid growth of plants. It requires more technical knowledge to manage such an advanced system. And it reduces the labor cost because of automation as well.
Facts and Future
It increases yields by 30% and uses 98% less water, and 90% less space using vertical structure.
This is the image of Zucchini grown up in space by astronaut Don Pettit. There is a beautiful blog written by NASA titled ‘Diary of Space Zucchini’ for this. Other than that, NASA has grown lettuce in the international space station.
In 2018 a project ran by the German Aerospace Center in -20° Celcius in Antarctica named ‘Eden ISS’. Same way astronauts can use aeroponics in space and grow a wide variety of vegetables and fruits.
With this increasing human population, proper resource use will be the main agenda in the future. Also in space exploration, resource utilization is the key question. Aeroponics allows space travelers to grow the food along the way. This way there will be more room for the other cargo in the ship. Plus they will not need to bring soil or a higher amount of water.
SpaceX is planning to create a colony of one million Martian in 50-100 years. If that happens, Aeroponics will have a bigger role in providing a proper diet to Martians.
“We still do not know one-thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us.” – Albert Einstein
In this forward-moving human race, Aeroponics can be the new perspective for humans to understand this mysterious mother NATURE. Not only it opens our doors to understand our own earth, but it will also help us in exploring the universe. In the conclusion, aeroponics has a lot of positive notes, and it can bring a new dawn in the area of farming.