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When diving into sustainable gardening, naturally, most beginners are interested in using the best method to make their crop cultivation dreams come true. After a few quick searches in Google, it doesn’t take long before you find that the three most common methods are aquaponics, aeroponics, and hydroponics. While aquaponics is our personal favorite, the debate between aeroponics vs hydroponics is growing with intensity, as each method has both pros and cons depending on your specific situation. Understanding the difference between aeroponics and hydroponics allows gardeners to know how their plants will receive nutrients differently, and also some of the external factors that may influence your decision.
So, what’s the difference between aeroponics and hydroponics? It’s important to note that aeroponics is essentially a sub-category of hydroponics, however with a slightly different water delivery method. Hydro is also another word for water, so using hydroponics means that the roots of your plant are submerged in water, while aeroponics receives water from an overhead sprinkler system.
However, there’s a lot more to this story and some key differences and similarities you will want to know. In this article, you will discover the key components of each system, and why one may be better suited over the other.
How Hydroponics Work
In the hydroponics method, you submerge the roots of your plants in water. On a routine basis, you have to meticulously check the water levels of your plants so you can add more water when necessary. Growing hydroponic plants requires you to leverage one of the following general systems: Water Culture, Nutrient Film Technique, Wick, and Drip.
With this method, you have to do more work, but your plants are floating above another nutrient-infused solution. You use a pump to supply oxygen to the plants and keeps the nutrient solution going in the container or reservoir. Like the wick system, this system is not designed for larger plants that require more water.
Under this simpler system of hydroponics, your plants are submerged in a nutrient-infused liquid solution in a reservoir with a wick and sometimes, a pump. The plants are above the reservoir in a growing medium, so it’s mostly designed for smaller plants like coconut fiber, which won’t take up as much water from the wick.
When you utilize this method, you put your plants on a growing platform. When you look at the reservoir, there’s a more complex and fast-moving cycle going on; the nutrient solution is pumped to the plants’ roots and then recycled back into the reservoir.
One of the more popular systems, you use a timer to control the pump that gives nutrients to plants via a drip line. Under the drip system, there is both a recovery and non-recovery process. Under the Recovery Drip system, the excess nutrients are recycled back into the reservoir, which occurs in the NFT system as well. As it sounds, under the Non-Recovery Drip system, the excess nutrients are not used.
How Aeroponics Work
Using aeroponics, you place your plants in an appropriate area where you can shower or provide a mist of water to the plants a few times each hour. You should make sure the water is nutrient-infused and also perform checkups frequently throughout the week. Unlike hydroponic plants, aeroponics plants need extra attention, so their roots don’t dry out, or there aren’t any issues with the water source.
It’s important not to forget that the aeroponic system is a category under hydroponics. So, in retrospect, the aeroponic system is simply another method of hydroponics that requires more technical skills, cost, and space. When it comes to the technical skills, you have to ensure your plants have the appropriate nutrient temperature and oxygen levels for the roots, establish the shower/misting system, and set up the appropriate items to begin growing. The comparable cost in terms of time and money will be elaborated in the next section.
Under the aeroponic system, you place your plants on a growing medium. It would help if you had a timer to control the pump that will infuse nutrients and perform in cycles every few seconds. Of course, then, you provide a mist of water to your plants on the growing medium.
Most misting systems are placed overhead, similar to a traditional sprinkler system, but is fine-tuned to distribute nutrient based water on a fixed schedule. You should use an interval system, such as misting 3 to 5 seconds every five minutes. Remember, your misting system settings will vary by plant type, size, and other variables.
Time and Money Differences Between Aeroponics and Hydroponics
If you’re a beginner gardener, the hydroponics method will definitely have a lower barrier to entry. With this method, you can provide nutrients to your plants in a variety of places and ways. For example, you can easily grow hydroponic plants in a container of water so the plants can be submerged. Due to the fact that the hydroponics method requires simply a container or reservoir of water, you can grow hydroponics methods in many places.
With aeroponics plants, gardening can be a more difficult or technical process. You will need to simultaneously secure your plants in a perfect position while not compromising their ability to receive water. You can either buy an aeroponic clip or spend the time establishing a platform with a way for the plants to breathe. You not only have to invest more time with aeroponic methods, but it costs more to grow aeroponic plants than hydroponic. The increased complexity of the aeroponics system makes it costly in time and money: you will have to purchase automation tools for the pumps, spray nozzles, timers, aeroponic clips, and more. Then, you have to set up each of those items to start growing your plants aeroponically.
Sustainability of Aeroponics and Hydroponics
By using environmentally sustainable methods, gardeners can pursue cultivation practices that require the least amount of ecological footprint and damage to the planet. Gardeners can accomplish this task with both aeroponics and hydroponics. Although both methods are less damaging than traditional industrial farming, water consumption is typically much less in aeroponic processes, than hydroponic methods.
While you have to submerge plant roots in water for the hydroponics method, in aeroponics you can use water mist from an overhead sprinkler system to provide nourishment for your plants. When compared to soil farming, both methods can significantly reduce water use, which ultimately has a net positive impact on the environment by reducing evaporation.
Here are some additional ways both hydroponics and aeroponics are more sustainable than traditional and industrial farming methods:
Pesticides Not Necessary
The use of harmful chemical pesticides in soil farming is often due to the total exposure of crops to the natural elements, including pests. Many hydroponic and aeroponics setups are established in either an indoor or enclosed environment, thus, limiting the plant’s contact with pests. Because pesticides usage is not a requirement, and soil is not used, chemicals are not widely entering natural ecosystems.
Transportation Needs Reduced
One of the main criticisms of industrial farming, and even with organic farming in some cases, is the need for diesel trucks or heavy tractor equipment needed to transport the resources that are needed to maintain the land or to harvest the crops themselves. Diesel trucks are well-known to produce carbon emissions, which contributes to global warming.
Since both aeroponics and hydroponics are largely self-sustaining ecosystems that are done without soil, the need for industrial carbon-producing machines is not necessary. In addition, because machines aren’t needed this also reduces the amount of oil and petroleum needed for operations.
Efficiency Of Soilless Systems
Industrial farming produces a ton of waste, in fact, according to this, there are 10 types of waste that farms produce that can have a negative impact. By using aeroponics or hydroponic systems, you can increase the efficiency of your growing operations because you can control more aspects of the environment such as light, nutrients, water evaporation, and others.
These methods do not depend on soil, making things like soil erosion or crop selection based on land impact no longer a concern. Also, soilless systems are highly efficient and able to yield more crops in considerably less time than their soil-based counterparts.
Conclusion: The Aeroponics vs Hydroponics Debate
It’s better to grow your plants using aeroponic or hydroponic methods if your goal is increase the efficiency of your crop production while also doing it in a more sustainable manner. When it comes to aeroponic vs. hydroponics methods, it’s all about establishing what system works better for you concerning your technical skills, budget, and time.
Beginners might choose hydroponic methods because it requires less technical skills and initial costs than aeroponic methods, while others may choose aeroponic methods because of additional sustainability and less water usage. Although it may require additional skill and time, it is certainly worth it. You will also be gardening in a more natural way that removes or lessens the necessity to introduce questionable additions such as pesticides.