Aeroponics refers to a cultivation system where plants are suspended and their exposed roots are regularly misted with a nutrient-rich solution. Aeroponic growing systems are more temperamental than other cultivation methods and require careful, consistent monitoring. Because of the expense of starting an aeroponic system and the precision required to maintain it, as well as questions about whether it's an ideal way to cultivate cannabis, aeroponic growing systems may not make sense for the casual or hobbyist grower.
Nonetheless, people get very excited about aeroponics for a number of reasons. Cannabis cultivation using aeroponic systems allows the plant roots to have greater access to oxygen, which can lead to faster and more efficient growth than hydroponic or soil cultivation. Applying nutrients and water directly to the roots allows growers to use less of those resources, and the run-off is collected and used again, which appeals to conservation-minded cultivators. Finally, the internet abounds with instructions for “quick and easy DIY” aeroponic setups, leading many to believe the canna-harvest of their dreams is quick and easy using storage bins, a few hoses, and a small aquarium pump. (Spoiler alert - it is not.)
Basics of aeroponics
Aeroponics systems include an aeroponic chamber with a lid that holds the plants above on the outside with their roots dangling below on the inside, a reservoir to contain the water and dissolved nutrients, a pump that delivers the nutrient-rich solution to misters, a timer that controls the pump, and tubing to connect the reservoir to the misters and the drain at the bottom of the chamber back to the reservoir. At regular intervals, the timer turns on the pump to send nutrient solution to the misters, which cover the roots with nutrient-laden mist. Excess nutrient water drains off the roots and into the reservoir where it waits to start the cycle again.
In the first half of the 20th century, aeroponics evolved as a way to study how plants grow, with a special focus on plant roots. Today, this approach is used by some commercial cannabis growers as well as in some forms of food production. Besides cannabis, crops grown in aeroponics systems include leafy greens, tomatoes, and other common vegetables.
Aeroponics versus hydroponics
Aeroponics systems and hydroponics systems are similar in that they do not use a traditional growing medium. Instead, both of these cultivation techniques use a nutrient-rich solution to nourish the plants.
Some possible benefits of an aeroponic system over a hydroponic system include:
- Diseases spread more quickly with hydroponics since roots sit in a shared water supply, whereas in aeroponics, the roots are misted but left exposed to the air.
- The plant's roots are more thoroughly oxygenated in aeroponics because of their suspension in air.
- Nutrient absorption is better in aeroponics so cannabis plants grown using this technique will generally have a higher yield than those cultivated with a hydroponic setup.
- Aeroponic systems require less space than other cultivation methods, including hydroponics.
On the other hand, an aeroponic system is more expensive to start than a hydroponic system and requires more expertise, so a cultivator should weigh all the pros and cons before beginning an aeroponics venture.
Benefits of growing cannabis with aeroponics
The benefits of the aeroponic technique lie primarily in the fact that it provides a very controlled environment in which to grow. This means growers can fine-tune nearly all aspects of the cultivation process, including light, temperature, humidity, space, nutrients, and other variables. Tightly controlled cultivation systems also give the modern farmer excellent opportunities to avoid pests and disease while conserving water and space.
A major benefit of aeroponic growing is providing a constant supply of fresh oxygen to the plants' roots, which makes for thriving cannabis plants. In addition, harvesting is fairly easy with aeroponics systems since plants grow close together. Because it does not use soil, it is generally harder for pests to invade plants in an aeroponics grow. Further, the moisture the system uses is recycled, so water isn't wasted. Since the nutrients are applied directly to the roots, there's no waste and nutrient uptake by the plant is very efficient.
Disadvantages of aeroponics
One disadvantage of aeroponic growing is that it is not easy for beginners to master. The aeroponics system must continually mist the cannabis roots because any roots even momentarily deprived of moisture will quickly start dying. Since the nutrients are applied directly to the roots, getting the mix right is crucial. Finally, aeroponic growing can be an expensive undertaking, since it requires specialized equipment. Additionally, you will have to be careful to avoid issues like mold in order to benefit from the advantages of aeroponics.