Learn the basics of aeroponics and see how this method is being scaled for large-scale cannabis growing facilities.
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Aeroponics is a method of growing plants in an environment with no soil.
The first gardens with no soil environments were developed in the 1920s. It became popular among scientists because having a plant’s roots outside of the soil made studying root systems easier.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that indoor growing methods like hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics left the laboratory for recreational and commercial growing.
In an aeroponic growing growth system, plants are suspended in a closed or semi-closed environment. The plant’s roots and lower stems dangle below a foam barrier and are sprayed with an atomized, nutrient-rich water solution.
The leaves and fruit (or buds, in the case of cannabis) are separated from the plants’ roots by a plant support structure, which usually consists of closed-cell foam compressed around the lower stem.
Below the foam barrier, the roots dangle in an aeroponic chamber.
In an ideal environment, the aeroponic chamber is sealed away from pests and disease, which helps plants grow healthier and allows the grower to monitor progress easier by eliminating unforeseen variables.
Unfortunately, no system can be 100% sealed away from the environment, so aeroponic grow facilities still need to be vigilant against pests and diseases. Since the exposed roots in an aeroponic system are sensitive, they are often paired with a hydroponic system to act as a backup to save the crop — just in case the aeroponic chamber becomes contaminated.
BENEFITS OF AEROPONICS
Aeroponic systems also allow growers to reduce the density of pesticides in their operations by lowering the chance of contaminants in the system with the elimination of soil.
Aeroponic systems take up less space than hydroponic and outdoor grow facilities because the plants’ root systems don’t need to fight for space.
Another major benefit of aeroponic systems is their efficiency. On top of the higher survival rate and reduced area, aeroponic systems tend to have a faster grow cycle than soil-based grow facilities.
Avid Growing Systems, a company that makes modular aeroponic grow systems, claims that their facilities reduce the average grow cycle from 90 days to just 60 days, which allows for an extra two harvests every year.
Aeroponic systems also drastically cut down on water and fertilizer usage.
DRAWBACKS OF AEROPONICS
Despite all of these benefits, aeroponics is not without some drawbacks.
Aeroponics is currently the most expensive way to grow cannabis, so it isn’t ideal for growing a large amount — at least not yet.
Eliminating variables within the system requires a constant stream of atomized water for the roots and electricity for the lighting. It doesn’t take long for the plants in the system to die in the case of a power outage, making backup power sources a necessity for an already costly system.
A leak or empty reservoir in the water system can be even more catastrophic, which can cause roots without water to start dying within an hour.
The high level of supervision required raises the cost of labor to run it, since it needs to be monitored 24/7 and the person watching over the system must be knowledgeable about the system and the plants themselves. Aeroponics is not for beginners.
HOW CAN AEROPONICS CHANGE THE CANNABIS INDUSTRY?
In an industry that has a reputation for being not so sustainable, aeroponic systems are a highly effective solution for reducing cannabis growers’ carbon footprints.
In fact, aeroponic systems use between 90% to 98% less water than traditional cannabis cultivation methods, since the water is recycled back into the system. They also take up far less space and produce higher yields.
As a result, aeroponic grow ops are much more sustainable — both environmentally and economically.
Even if aeroponics doesn’t scale easily over the next few years, it will still be an important part of the industry. As the cannabis industry becomes ever more sophisticated, companies with large-scale hydroponic and even outdoor growing facilities are incorporating aeroponics into their business for product development. The advancement of strains is crucial for growers looking to distinguish themselves. Nobody wants to grow the Bud Light of cannabis.
Switching over to aeroponics isn’t easy or cheap, but in the long run, it’s a great investment.
Moreover, there are certain companies seeking to lower the initial cost, knowledge, and labor required to run these systems.
One such company is Canada-based Avid Growing Systems, who make automated, modular systems that can be monitored and controlled remotely. Since the systems are modular, growers can scale incrementally, allowing growers to lower their upfront costs and start growing sooner. Their systems have an array of sensors and can be monitored and controlled through an app.
For American cannabis growers, California-based AEssenceGrows offers similar aeroponics solutions. They offer several different modular aeroponic flower production systems that also grow the plants automatically. They claim their aeroponic solutions “use 10% of the water, 30% of the nutrients, no soil, no pesticides, and eliminates many duplicate manual tasks further increasing yield efficiency and profit when compared to soil.”
If more cannabis enterprises adopt aeroponics systems, they will be helping the cannabis industry become more eco-friendly while also producing higher quality products in larger quantities. Therefore, aeroponics could even help drive down the cost for end-users, as the overhead costs are lowered for the cultivators.
Utilizing aeroponics is clearly a win-win-win solution for producers, consumers, and the environment as a whole.