HEALTH

Vertical Farms: Growing with Aeroponics

Growing Indoors with Vertical Aeroponics 

Aeroponics is a form of growing plants without soil and a fraction of the water. It is sometimes referred to as a subcategory of hydroponics, since both use water to transmit nutrients to the plant. Unlike hydroponics, aeroponics uses significantly less water and fertilizer to yield crops. NASA pioneered aeroponics for growing in space during the early 90s, and is now being applied for large scale projects in urban areas. 

Reasons to Grow Aeroponically

Aeroponic systems allow plants to grow bigger, faster, while also increasing the number of yields during the year. Fresh food can be grown pesticide-free in an indoor aeroponic system. This means that plants are grown in a clean, pollution and pest-free environment even during the cold winter months. Also, since the plants are not physically connected, if one plant does get a disease, it can easily be removed to prevent the disease from spreading.  Plants grown aeroponically have also shown to take in more vitamins and minerals, potentially making them more nutritious. Here are some of the benefits of growing aeroponically:

  • Plants require 98% less water (1)
  • Plants grow up to 3x quicker (1)
  • Reduce pesticides by 100% (1)
  • Plants grow up to 30% bigger on average (some varieties grew 65% bigger) (2)
  • Vertical may use 95% less space (3)
  • Reduce fertilizer by 60% (1)
  • Extended shelf-life
  • Drastically reduced spoilage (95-98% of seeds planted can be eaten)

How it works

There are a few varieties of aeroponic systems. We’ve been utilizing vertical towers from AERO, located in Gap, PA. The methodology has been as follows:

1. Initially we plant seeds in rockwool, which is a natural growing medium made from Basalt salt and Chalk. It has a texture that is somewhat like cotton candy, with holes in the middle for the seeds. Each rockwool cube is perforated, so later they can be separated easily for planting in a vertical tower.

2. The sheets of seeded rockwool are then placed in seed starter, which is a closed incubator with high humidity and temperature above 70 degrees fahrenheit. This incubator has specially designed grow lamps inside, which provide enough light and heat to sprout the seeds in a stable and protected environment.

3. The rockwool sheets are then placed into open-air incubators, with grow lamps suspended within a few feet for maximum light absorption.

4.Once the plants reach a certain height, the rockwool is separated into cubes along the perforated lines, and placed into vertical growing towers.

5. Once the plants are placed in the towers, their roots hang into the air, and are misted with water enriched with nutrients the plant needs to grow. Since all of the nutrients are delivered directly to the roots, the roots do not need to search for nutrients, which is the reason they grow deep into the ground when outside in soil. The roots of aeroponically grown plants are smaller than normal, which allows the plants to spend that excess energy on growing faster and developing bigger leaves or fruit to be harvested.

6. Depending on the plant variety, a few weeks later the plants are ready to be harvested. Because of the reliability and temperature control, many varieties of plants can be grown aeroponically. This includes strawberries and bananas, seen in the pictures below. 

 

 



Sources

  1. http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/technologies/aeroponic_plants.html
  2. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2014/253875/
  3. Al-Kodmany, Kheir. Eco-towers: Sustainable Cities in the Sky.