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According to the United Nations, the world’s population has exceeded over 7 billion people. While strong population growth can be a positive financial signal for many economists, the alarming environmental impacts due to deforestation and industrial farming will undoubtedly continue to rise. Many environmentalists have searched for answers on how to preserve natural resources, while also meeting the rising food demands of growing populations. Fortunately, plant cultivation techniques such as aeroponics can offer a unique solution to this pervasive global problem. However, after weighing the pros and cons of aeroponics vs. soil, which is better? Could aeroponics ever completely replace soil-based farming?
Many environmentalists, and likely NASA, would argue that aeroponics is better than soil. In fact, NASA’s study on aeroponics has become one of the foundations of rapid-growth systems used today by growers around the world. The space agency has also indicated that this novel growing system can be advantageous over soil-planting when it comes to cleanliness, proficiency, and other factors.
In this article, we will compare the benefits of aeroponics against soil-planting. Lastly, we will make a recommendation on which you should choose for your garden.
What is Aeroponics?
Aeroponics is the method of growing crops without the use of soil in a controlled environment and is a form of hydroponics. Natural evidence of this air-growing process can be found on tropical islands like Maldives and Hawaii where orchids grow freely through the help of mist. In the year 1957, this natural phenomenon finally got acknowledged as a food-growth system and received the name aeroponics when F. W. Went succeeded in growing tomatoes and coffee plants through this process.
In aeroponics, the plant roots are suspended in air and growers only use mist or spray to help its development. This type of planting is quickly revolutionizing urban gardening because it maximizes small garden spaces through the use of special A-frames, horizontal boards, and trellises.
Why Aeroponics Is Better Than Soil
Now that we know the background of aeroponics, let’s explore why it can be a more beneficial technique over soil.
Aeroponic gardening is considered to be more cost-effective than traditional planting because, after the initial start-up costs, most growers are able to better manage their system expenses in a soilless environment. Whereas with traditional gardening, multiple variables such as soil quality, fertilizer, and certain pests can increase operational and maintenance costs over time.
For example, you can find a simple ready-made aeroponics system relatively inexpensively at many online retailers. In addition, the system can also receive extra cost saving benefits by being placed indoors to reduce the effects of water evaporation, runoff, and plant pests. In stark contrast, the United States uses approximately 80% of ground and surface water in agriculture. Unfortunately, much of this usage is wasted simply due to natural occurrences. A transition to aeroponics could mean big financial benefits, as well as natural resource conservation, over the long-term.
When it comes to yield, NASA discovered that aeroponic crops give higher produce even though they require lesser tending. This claim is supported by a 2014 study done by the National Center for Natural Products Research of the University of Mississippi which shows that the average yield percentage of aeroponic fruit crops and leafy vegetables are relatively higher than those that were grown in soil. Here are some of the key findings in the data table below.
Table 1. Leafy Vegetables
|Plant||% Yield Increase According to Study|
Table 2. Fruit Crops
|Fruit||% Yield Increase According to Study|
Looking at these results, aeroponics productivity and efficiency in terms of yield may be a game-changer for the world’s food production. This method is particularly helpful to some developing countries that are facing food shortages.
Pollution and Pests
In growing plants in the traditional way, it is necessary to check the soil for signs of pests and contamination regularly. Aside from this, there is also the possibility that pesky animals would try to damage crops even before they can make their first produce.
These things aren’t a problem with aeroponics. The absence of soil in this planting technique means there are no harmful petrochemicals, rodents, and other pathogens that the grower has to worry about. They may occasionally encounter pests in their regulated plant environment, but it’s only due to air circulation, and it can easily be fixed.
Aeroponic plant roots grow with larger foliage because they are hanging in the open air. This means they can easily absorb optimized sprays and allow increased intake of much-needed oxygen supply.
For plants to grow faster, they need this oxygen to facilitate better nutrient absorption in the process of photosynthesis. Aeroponic plants grow 40% faster than soil plants because of this difference in root zone control.
To illustrate, NASA shares that in planting tomatoes, a grower can produce six cycles per year while traditional planting can only produce one to two.
Growing a traditional garden takes up a lot of land mass and that is a given fact. The best option for those who have very limited space but would like to jump into gardening is setting up a vertical plants system done through aeroponics. This also works for growers whose target is to plant a variety of crops for better profit.
One example of this is Aerofarms in Newmark, New Jersey which transformed agriculture by investing in green farming and producing yields 70 times higher than a large traditional field. They have grown 250 types of leafy vegetables and are still planning to expand their selections.
Modern planting like aeroponics is not as demanding as the traditional one when it comes to land area. With the help of trellises, you can plant vertically and skip all the stress it would take to set up a soil-based garden.
Conclusion: Aeroponics vs. Soil: Which is Better?
There are significant differences between traditional soil-planting and soil-less aeroponics. The latter is quite promising, and it offers a very sustainable way of growing crops. Even though it may seem that it is the obvious choice in this article, it still boils down to the grower’s preference and available resources. After all, whatever works for some may not apply to others. However, at a minimum, it’s clear that aeroponics is the more sustainable and environmentally friendly solution over the long-term.