For those home gardeners and professional planters who worry over soil health, be of good cheer: there are alternatives to growing from the ground. Treating the roots directly by means of nutrient solutions allows ornamentals and vegetables to develop without taking healthy organic matter from the earth.
Best of all, you can raise a wide range of plants all year round within the confines of your home. Two popular ways of doing this are aeroponics and hydroponics. Similar in many respects, they also diverge in important aspects. These distinctions are essential to know when considering aeroponics vs hydroponics for gardening.
Plants growing under hydroponic regimes have their roots submerged in the nutrient solution. Absent that, the roots receive a near constant flow of nourishing solvent as they develop. Although ongoing water exposure is central to hydroponics, this method nevertheless utilizes less of it than soil-based growing because the solution is recycled continuously.
In aeroponics, however, the primary growth medium is air. The nutrient solution is sprayed on the roots in the form of mist at strategically timed intervals. Since water conservation is an important environmental concern for soil-less planters, this point in the aeroponics vs hydroponics contest goes to the former.
The kind of container each system demands depends upon the size and type of plant in question. Hydroponically-produced vegetables, for example, can grow in buckets partially filled with a non-soil medium like pearlite. This does not enrich the plant, but simply provide a support structure for the roots. The buckets access water through a drip system or a flood-and-drain design.
Aeroponic growing lives up to its name. In a sealed container, gardeners hang plants over a basin or reservoir that holds the nutritive solution. A pump and nozzle structure periodically douses the roots with mist drawn from the reservoir. When evaluating aeroponics vs hydroponics gardening, growers must determine the materials and designs with which they are comfortable.
Design also dictates how much space you will need to raise your plants. By necessity, hydroponic gardens require more area since growers must arrange them horizontally. This allows for equitable distribution among all the plants. Whether using a pump or simple gravity, using a tier arrangement would favor some over others in terms of nutrition receipt.
Aeroponics is not subject to such restriction because its delivery system produces a mist (or fog, or film) as opposed to flowing water. Consequently, home gardeners can create these systems vertically, with multiple levels of plantings. This conserves surface area – though the height can also become problematic (unless you have vaulted ceilings). Any study of aeroponics vs hydroponics should reference the scale of the project. If small, space is not an issue.
How does the nutrient solution differ when considering aeroponics vs hydroponics? When planting in soil, the fertilizer must supplement the nutrients found in the medium to meet the crop’s particular needs. In aeroponics, there is no medium to supplement so the solution is rich and concentrated. It will, of course, contain nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium – macronutrients essential to all plant life. Furthermore, the solution should fall somewhat south of neutral in terms of alkalinity. A pH between 5.5 or 6.0 is ideal.
In this respect, there is not much difference when it comes to hydroponics. At the same time, electrical conductivity (EC) – i.e. the total quantity of dissolved salts – should not exceed .25 millisiemens per centimeter in hydroponic systems where the solution is recycled. Often, EC can be higher due to impurities in the water so filtering is advised before adding the nutrients.
Again, a test of aeroponics vs hydroponics can be a choice between apples and oranges since so many other factors are at play. Still, comparing their relative capacities to yield fresh produce is one way to evaluate these methods fairly. When growing plants in soil, a frequent concern is compaction, i.e. when equipment presses soil into a denser layer thereby eliminating oxygen from the medium. This stunts the development of the plant so farmers often aerate their soil so oxygen can infuse its molecules.
As with dirt, hydroponic reservoirs must likewise be aerated. This oxygenation hastens the growth and abundance of the plants. On the other hand, aeroponic systems by definition leave ample oxygen for the plant roots to absorb. On average, these flora grow faster and more copiously than their hydroponic cousins.
The price of setting these systems up might make the whole question of aeroponics vs hydroponic moot. If you want a durable and efficient system, both are expensive. That said, aeroponics systems at their cheapest start at several hundred dollars. Moreover, they are pricey when it comes to maintenance. By contrast, hydroponics can work with cruder designs that are easily assembled at home. It really depends on the gardener’s ambitions and budget.
Optimally, the less water involved the better when it comes to avoiding bacteria and other disease-inducing micro-organisms. This might give the mist strategy the edge in the aeroponics vs hydroponics debate. Yet there are ways to keep the solution free of harmful pathogens. For example, preventing light from hitting the solution will inhibit the formation of algae.
Using only healthy seedlings also decreases the potential for disease formation. All in all, hydroponic gardening calls for greater vigilance when keeping greenery vibrant and strong. As aeroponic growth employs minimal moisture, plants are less prone to health problems.
While aeroponic gardening might appear more favorably, hydroponic systems are well known for giving up healthy, generous yields more quickly than soil-based systems. Beyond that, they are cheaper and easier to maintain than aeroponic gardens.
For the passionate (and well-heeled!) planters, however, aeroponic growing is space-efficient and generates abounding harvests in record time. Choosing one over the other is more a matter of enthusiasm and means as opposed to respective superiority. Then again, it is no sacrilege to make use of both methods in your home garden.