As impossible as it may sound—farming in the sky—aeroponics is modeled after naturally occurring plants, such as the “air plant” called Tillandsia, which features bare roots that take moisture directly from humid air.
According to J.M. Clawson at the University of Colorado, “Aeroponics is the process of growing plants in an air/mist environment without the use of soil or an aggregate media.”
This airy-fairy brother of more traditional plant-growing methods relies on a super-simple idea. It involves suspending plants in air, while making sure they get the goodness they’d ordinarily receive from soil by spraying them with nutrient-rich water.
Why would anyone want to do that, you might ask. Well, one good reason is water conservation. Aeroponics can reduce agricultural water usage by up to 98%, according to a study by NASA.
It also reduces the risk of plants getting disease. Microbes such as the e. coli bacteria that causes food poisoning can’t exist outside an earthy environment.
Most growers use sterile sprays and air-growing reduces plant-to-plant contact, too. That may not bode well for their social lives, but keeps the plants a whole lot healthier.
And there’s more. Aeroponics is a proven way to make plants grow faster, as the freely dangling roots are able to pick up more oxygen from the surrounding air.
The process also helps out with photosynthesis, as plants have access to all the CO2 they could possibly want. (For those of you who’ve forgotten your Plant Biology 101, CO2 + light = photosynthesis.)
Other than a few flowering Bromeliads (tropical air plants), it’s highly unlikely you’d keep an aeroponic system in your house, not with all those roots hanging around. But you can put one in your garden or greenhouse and save money on water, soil and fertilizer.
Aeroponic systems take up a lot less space than the average flower bed. Those folks living in the city without so much as a blade of grass on their property may find this growing method especially well suited to their environs.
Alfablue, March 2013