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Looking for a little adventure in your indoor gardening pursuits? You can do something a bit different by combining technology to your traditional houseplants with aeroponics.
What is Aeroponics?
Though the concepts of aeroponics aren’t all that new, it’s still not a very well-known technique for indoor gardening.
Hydroponics has gotten more attention as of late, and most people are familiar with growing indoor plants in a water solution instead of soil.
Aeroponics takes this a step further. Plants are suspended with their roots literally exposed to the air, and water is delivered by a frequently applied nutrient mist.
And to avoid any more terminology confusion, aquaponics is a system that uses the same type of water solutions as hydroponics, but includes tanks of live fish to create a more complete and self-sustaining ecosystem for your plants.
An aeroponic system usually includes artificial lighting rather than just relying on natural sunlight, allowing you to choose plants regardless of their lighting needs.
You just need a fixture or two of good fluorescent or LED lights to keep everything growing, no matter the weather.
Why Use It?
It might seem a little peculiar to take such a complicated route to growing plants when the old-fashioned method with pots of soil does work well. There are actually several benefits to having an aeroponic garden rather than a “normal” one.
One clear bonus is that aeroponics uses far less water than conventional gardening. When you water your soil-bound plants, most of the water just goes through the pot to collect in the bottom, which is wasted as it evaporates.
Nothing is wasted with aeroponics. Only a small amount of nutrient-laden water is sprayed at a time, and all the excess is collected for using again.
Overall, an aeroponic system uses 2% of the water that a soil garden would. This is why it is a serious interest for NASA as they look for ways to grow plants away from Earth.
By leaving the roots exposed to the air, you eliminate a lot of potential health problems that typically are a concern with traditional gardening.
Water-logged roots are no longer an issue, and neither are any molds or mildews that can develop in or on the soil.
Finally, having your garden indoors protects your plants from all the insects and weather damage that the outside world holds. Of course, any indoor gardening has this advantage too.
Best Plants for Aeroponics
Technically, any plant should grow in an aeroponic system, providing you have the right equipment and large enough system. In reality, there are a few plant that really thrive when grown this way.
In some cases, the plants are just naturally well-suited for aeroponic growth, but sometimes it’s just a matter of being better documented.
In other words, some plants are better for aeroponics simply because so many people grow them and there is much more information on their care.
Lettuce and other salad greens are the most popular plants to grown with aeroponics. It works so well that there are several companies growing lettuce on a commercial scale this way.
They don’t need a lot of special care, don’t grow overly large and can produce a harvest in a month or less.
The key to growing successful aeroponic lettuce is keeping the temperature from getting too hot or exposing the plants to too much light. This will trigger the plants to “bolt,” or go to seed. Once that happens, the leaves get quite bitter.
Lettuce is straightforward since you are just harvesting the leaves. When you move on to fruit, you have a little more to consider because you have to support your plants through flowering and fruiting along with just leafy growth.
A balanced nutrient solution is fine when your plants are first growing but once the flowers develop, you should make a change to a mix that is lower in nitrogen and higher in potassium to help the fruit develop.
One quirk about strawberries is that they will put out runners to reproduce and sprout new plants. These are great if you want to add more plants to your system, but it also means less fruit because the plant is putting too much energy into the runners.
To encourage a better harvest, snip off the runners as soon as they start to form.
Another fruit option for aeroponics is the tomato, and you don’t necessarily have to stick to the small cherry tomato varieties either. They’re easier for the novice but a good aeroponics setup can support larger varieties if you want to give them a try.
You definitely want to avoid the indeterminate or vining varieties that never stop growing. They are unwieldy to manage unless you are very experienced.
Just like with strawberries, you’ll need to monitor your fertilizer use and adjust the mix once your plants have matured and begun to flower and fruit.
You can also tweak the lighting to shift the color tone towards red to encourage better flower/fruit development.
Mint and Basil
Most leafy herbs will grow very well aeroponically since you have no fruit or flowers to work with. It’s also been shown that herbs are considerably more aromatic when grown this way.
In particular, mint and basil are two very good ones to start due to their simple care and rapid growth.
Stick with a nutrient mixture that has a higher nitrogen component to encourage lots of leafy growth, and your pH should be just slightly on the acidic side.
Basics to Get Started
If you are intrigued with the idea of using some aeroponics for yourself, you’ll have to invest in the right equipment. Though you can get started in aeroponics without necessarily spending a fortune, its not the simplest nor the cheapest hobby to experiment with.
At an introductory level, an Aerogarden kit can give you a taste of how aeroponics works as an all-inclusive unit. They come in various sizes from one that will hold a couple of herbs, to a larger “farm” that handles 24 plants. This is a real plug-and-play option that takes care of all the work for you.
For something more hands on, you’ll need several things. A small system can be put together with 5 gallon buckets, a pump, timer, spray heads and mesh pots to hold the plants.
Instructions for building such a system are a little too detailed to outline fully here, but there are numerous guides and tutorials online that can help you out.