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By Ashera Jones, photos by Barge
Aeroponics creates dense, compact and abundant buds that will amaze you
Commercial Aeroflo operation. Photo Jorge Cervantes.
I first heard of aeroponics through a friend, who told me of military experiments in growing enormous tomato plants indoors, by means of aeroponics and cooled lights. When I learned that the roots just hang in the air and are misted by atomized water and nutrient particles, I thought "how unnatural."
Then I saw a system set up: it was so clean and efficient! I saw that this was a very effective nutrient and oxygen delivery system. One which, by nature, is quick to respond to whatever nutrients you introduce into the system, making both feeding and curing more time-efficient and accurate.
But is aeroponics really unnatural? Perhaps not. My aeroponic system reminds me of my visit to floating coral islands in the Bahamas, where the coral provided a natural aeroponics system, and everything grew to an enormous size. The oranges were the size of grapefruits, and the humming birds were the size of Robins.
The layout is important. Other than some basic plumbing supplies, and low cost but reliable sump pump (otherwise known as a jet pump), the lights, environment and electrical are all the same as a regular grow op. One of the advantages with this system is that there is little to dispose of later, this brings less police heat and so less stress for you.
You can grow aeroponically in tubes, buckets, or anything that is sealed and opaque.There are kits and contraptions you can buy, or with a bit of effort you can compose your own. Be prepared for some watery catastrophes and have a wet and dry shop vacuum on hand. Make sure your floor is protected.
The 4 Elements of Aeroponic Gardening
In an aeroponic system, nutrients and water are sprayed onto the roots in an atomized or mist form by a high-pressure pump. This creates quickly-moving water which is capable of delivering more oxygen because it is well agitated, like a waterfall. The presence of more oxygen also discourages bacterial and fungal growth.
The most effective root medium is the one which delivers the most oxygen to the roots. A dense soil may only deliver 30% oxygen to the roots, while a soilless mix will deliver up to 50%, and hydroponics will deliver around 80% oxygen. With aeroponics the sky is the limit, you literally receive 99% possible oxygen to the roots.
Aeroponic can get big buds out of small plants
Aeroponics also allows nutrients to reach the roots directly, with no medium in-between to hamper nutrient uptake or foster the growth of bacterial organisms.
I have measured aeroponic plant growth against soil, soilless mix and hydroponic drip. The aeroponic system doubles the growth rate of plants as compared to a soil system, and is about one-third faster than a hydroponic system. My experience is that it has been easy to grow fat, bushy, almost hardwood-stalked plants.
Just like all plants, plants in an aeroponic system fuel their growth with natural elements from the earth, which are easily obtained in liquid solutions. These store-bought nutrients are limited in content, and I will suggest other substances you can add to enhance the nutrient quality your plants are getting from aeroponic feeding.
The aeroponic garden prefers a lower nutrient solution of between 700-900 parts per million, and an acid ph of 5.5 to 5.8, which means that you will generally need to add a PH down. There are natural alternatives for the open minded that I will talk about later.
In the earth category, we also have the growth mediums, which although limited in an aeroponic system, are necessary. Personally, I use rockwool cubes and baskets, which vary in size.
The usual basket size used in hydroponic systems is 3.5 inches, but you can use 2 inch baskets for mature plants in an aeroponic system, because all the baskets and wool are doing is supporting the plants, keeping them stable and standing.
However, I personally use the 3 inch size because I like to grow 3 foot bushes that become weighted with fat, juicy buds, and they require a little bit of support.
Nutrient uptake varies depending on the growth stage of your plants. I have found that the plants tend to uptake less nutrients when they are changing from vegetative to flowering, and at the same time, the type of nutrient that they require changes. It is essential to have a "parts-per-million pen" so that you can monitor the amount of food your babies are eating and prevent burning of the roots by a solution that is too acidic and full of mineral salts.
Healthy roots make happy plants and rapid growth.
The element of fire in aeroponic gardening includes light and heat. Light brings photosynthesis and also Ultra Violet "C" rays which discourage some types of bacteria. But excess heat can bring fungus and bacteria, so a good balance is necessary. The layout of your room will determine light availability and the ideal situation is to have all plants receiving as much light as possible, without burning. This will also encourage the dense bushy-type plant that you want to grow.
I use a few strategically placed four-hundred watt lights, with the plants in a stepped, stadium structure around the lights. The placement of plants in what is known as a "stadium" ensures that I get the lights right in there, and give all the potential budding sites fair exposure, while discouraging phototropism, the search for light.
The ambient room temperature is no more than 80?F but preferably closer to 70?F (20?C). A cool room temperature usually means a nice, cool water temperature, which is also important.
The element of water in aeroponics is the great transport system. I suggest you keep it cool and clean. Let water sit a day before adding it to the nutrient tank, and put in one teaspoon hydrogen peroxide per gallon of water, to make sure it is free from unfriendly organisms.
All that your plants receive comes to them through water. Without water there is no air.
To get your water to the roots, you will need a pump, a bunch of high-pressure spray heads and some hose.
People will try to sell you very expensive pumps, but you need spend no more than $200 to buy yourself a pump that puts out 60psi, which is appropriate for atomized nutrients. This kind of pump is available in the local plumbing department of a Home De-pot or similar hardware store near you.
Your pump is meant to run intermittently. Do not bother using the pressure-tank system that can be purchased in conjunction with your pump. You will need an hour timer that will allow your pump to spray for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, and then rest for 4 or so minutes. This will prevent your pump from burning out and your system from flooding.
Stadium set up with central array of sodium and metal halide bulbs.
Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) or "Oxygen Water"
Hydrogen peroxide created by humans is inferior to that created by nature, but it costs less. Human-made peroxide comes in a variety of percentages, and you want to get the 35% variety, as this will ensure that there have been no "stabilizers" added, as is generally done to the 3% variety that you can buy in a pharmacy.
Hydrogen peroxide will most definitely reduce any possibility of bacterial and fungal contamination. Farmers in the US use peroxide for everything from disinfection of the dairy barn and hog pens to increasing crop yields by 20 to 30%. It is also commonly added to the drinking water of animals to reduce the need for antibiotics.
In the aeroponic system, H2O2 replicates nature's own antibacterial mechanism and prevents water from growing putrefactive bacteria which can cause the dreaded bacterial wilt, root rot and countless other diseases.
35% hydrogen peroxide can and should be used in hydroponic drip and soil systems at the rate of one teaspoon per gallon. You would usually add peroxide to your system and let that run through for 1/2 hour before adding nutrients. This will give the peroxide time to kill off bacteria with its extra oxygen molecules and become stabilized before you add the dissolved mineral salts (stock fertilizer). H2O2 will also forcibly cause the out-gassing of chlorine and fluoride from municipal water.
I have used 35% hydrogen peroxide diluted to a 1% solution on a plant in soil that had an infestation of fungus gnats, root rot and unknown other problems. The plants thrived while gnats and other organisms did not. But beware, H2O2 is powerful and experiments can be dangerous to your whole crop.
Be sure not to get any in your eyes. The burning and whitening sensation felt when it touches the skin can be irritating but is not damaging. Wear latex. You should dilute 1 part peroxide to 11 parts distilled water to create a 3% solution for less worrisome handling.
Little clones in aeroponic tube system.
Applying H2O2 to Your system.
You can kill bacteria that might be living in your nutrient tank by wiping out the empty container with a 3% peroxide solution. You can safely create a 1% peroxide solution to feed your plants for a few cycles, but fill less than a quarter of your nutrient tank with this solution, as you will want to dilute it to about 0.25% for longer use.
If there are parasitic invaders then you will know because there will be a profuse bubbling and frothing, which is the hydrogen peroxide oxidizing putrefactive organisms that are not oxygen compatible.
To make a 1% solution, add 35 parts water to 1 part 35% hydrogen peroxide. To achieve an 0.25% solution add 140 parts of water to 1 part 35% peroxide, or add 3 parts water to one part 1% peroxide.
Organic aeroponic is at least partially possible with little or no hassle. No indoor gardening can be completely organic. Aeroponically, you're best to introduce partial organics which provide micronutrients not available in standard inorganic, mineral-salt based, hydroponic mixes.
You can provide your plants with their requirements as organically as possible by making your own nutrient teas with plants that you know "fix" certain types of minerals into themselves. First dry the plants you want, then put them into water,. Let them sit for a few days, then boil them, let them cool, put them through a fine particle filter, test the PH and parts per million so you know what percentages to add, and then introduce them to your aeroponic garden. The same can be done with "meals" like soybean meal and others.
I do not like to use blood and bone meals because I am not sure of the source. I would rather use plant sources of nutrients to help the persons who ingest my buds avoid contracting Mad Plant Disease!
Beautiful aeroponic bud.
How many people are using animal-based fertilizers whose origin they know nothing about? There is less restriction on the source of these "bone and blood meals" than there is in the pet food or agricultural industry, meaning that the indestructible "prion" particles responsible for "transmissible spongiform encephalophathy" (mad cow disease) are likely also present in bone and blood-meal plant fertilizers, and can find their way into plants fertilized with these products.
Liquid organic multivitamins for plants are useful and I would suggest using them in combination and in low concentrations. Be careful to avoid creating a giant toxic soup by adding nutrients all at once. Add one and then wait before you add the other. You will be amazed how readily your plants will gobble up the food you give them, and with aeroponics you can expect near immediate results, good or bad.
If you have bad results after feeding, remove all nutrients and run a low peroxide solution through your system. Everything should be visibly back to normal within a day. If you see no positive results after a day, you may have a problem unrelated to feeding, or you may have added too much nutrient solution.
Too much nutrients and only the gods can save you. The gods, and maybe a little less lighting. Unplug a light or two and give you plants a chance to recover, as their energy will then be concentrated down in the roots, which will be trying to heal from chemical insult. If the leaves start yellowing, you have probably developed root rot. Shock can precipitate root rot and you must remember that plants have an immune system and do respond to stress, so try to avoid disasters.
Another plump aeroponic bud.
The problem with introducing organics into an aeroponic system is that there is always some other organism that wants to cash in on the good life. To avoid such a problem, I run my organic fertilizers through the system first. Then about a day later, when I am low on nutrients and water, I drain the system and put my hydrogen peroxide solution in and let it run for 1/2 hour, sometimes 3 or more hours, depending on how much I have added. Then I add my stock nutrients, the ones you buy at the store. I let them run through for half a day, then I add my organics again. I let those run through for a day, the food and water get eaten, and then it is time to clear the system and add the hydrogen peroxide again. Hydrogen peroxide kills unwanted freeloaders.
Aeroponically grown plants prefer a rather acidic solution of between 5.5 and 5.8ph. With a 900 parts per million nutrient solution you will still need to add some ph down. A higher concentration of mineral salts generally makes the water more acidic and brings ph down and parts per million up.
What are in those ph up and ph down bottles anyways? Who cares! Nature's best solution is simple, cheap and has inherently less packaging. Lowering the ph can be done with apple cider vinegar but I like to use Kombucha fungus, as it creates a wonderful selection of living interacted nutrients that are amazing and affordable.
Basically, you grow a particular bacterium in a medium of black, green or herbal tea, and then add the altered medium to your solution. Kombucha is an oxygen producing bacteria that is compatible with both the human and vegetative world because it metabolizes nutrients in the tea itself, providing the plant with easy to assimilate nutrients. Kombucha also has beneficial health effects for the human organism.
Long, lush healthy roots.
Having an acidic, low-ph environment will reduce funguses like root rot. It is important to note that oxygen creates a high ph or neutral environment. So using hydrogen peroxide will bring your ph up, which is problematic because "Kali weed" likes low ph in the aeroponic environment. By adding Kombucha, a living nutrient, you can lower ph while still providing oxygen and bringing micronutrients to your plants that they would not regularly get.
Another way to raise ph is by adding a small quantity of baking soda, and I mean small!
Clearing Your Plants
Before harvest, you will want to leech the unused mineral salts out of your plants. Leeching is easily done with aeroponics by changing the water daily for three to seven days. Note that you do have to change the water every day, as just running the same water through won't work!
Because mineral salts concentrate in the plants at a high ph, if you run a low ph through while leeching, your plants will release their mineral salts at a much faster rate. Kombucha with its low ph, is thus the ideal thing to add to your water during leeching. It facilitates the release of mineral salts, while also providing the plants with a continued, clean source of micronutrients.
Some people use birth control pills to raise the estrogen level in their plants. This is a personal choice, but it is not mine. These pills are synthetic and cause a lot of trouble for women and generally I have a certain disdain for them.
Menstrual blood, however, is a good source of estrogen and is as organic as the donor. Decreasing other fertilizer levels before introducing blood will reduce the possibility of the blood feeding unwanted organisms in your system. Ultimately, I can say that there is a part of me in every plant I have ever grown.
It is annoying that some, usually young, square men think this is disgusting. Get real. They prefer using bone and blood meal which they know nothing about, other than that it came from a dead animal who had a miserable life and ate less organically than most of the women you know.
Such backwards attitudes aside, menstrual blood is not plant based and is arguably a secondary source to phyto-estrogen. Blue Cohosh is a herb which contains plant estrogens, and I also use this in my flowering formulas. It can easily be introduced in the form of tea, or you can even grow your Kombucha on it.
A small, inexpensive pump in the corner...
DISEASES COMMON TO AEROPONIC SYSTEMS
There are lots of other problems gardeners face, but these ones are particular to aeroponics.
Curing your aeroponic garden of diseases is very easy. Fungus gnats cannot get very far and are generally not a problem. They can only go a few inches into the rockwool before they meet the nutrient solution, which is no good for them. The standard powders, including diatomaceous earth, also work, so keep your eyes peeled for the evil, little, hopping flies and dust them with death at the first sign.
If you notice that you have more than five in your room, I would definitely run a 1/2% solution of peroxide and no nutrients through for one day to help the plants and kill any gnat larvae that may have made it into the medium. The larvae will also be filtered out by the fine particle spray filter before long.
Root rot is particularly dangerous in aeroponic systems. It is a fungus that shows up as rust, a black spot and/or a powdery mildew. It might also come as a simple yellowing of the leaves and kill your babies in a short period of time, depending on your response. A sure sign is a browning of the roots, not to be confused with the staining caused by certain nutrient solutions. Another sure sign is black spots on the roots, which accompanies the brown discolouration. Check your roots regularly.
There is always a margin of time before your plants will die, which can be increased depending on your knowledge. There are products which can be introduced through either the leaves or roots, both of which are effective.
One way to avoid root rot is to inoculate your plants' medium with a predator fungus. These are readily available at well-equipped grow stores.
...can be used to feed 8 tubes with 20 plants each!!
This is a weird one. Once you have it, pray and change everything. That sounds radical but so is the problem.
Bacterial wilt causes yellowing of leaves and flowers, and a portion of the stem directly below the yellowing will be entirely lifeless, brown and mushy, with a clear viscous goo oozing out of the plant's pores. Wilt is not common, and even in gardening books it is rarely mentioned, yet if environmental conditions are right it can affect your plants.
Not enough UV, and air which is too cool, may lead to bacterial wilt. Ultra-Violet light is a natural part of the spectrum and kills bacteria. Water-cooled lights have a tendency to cut out a lot of UV. These cooled lights can be placed really close to plants, delivering lots of light, increasing both growth and resin production while countering the effects of photo and geotropism (the effects which lead to increased internodal spaces). Yet such lights negate the healing effects of both light heat and UV rays.
Hopefully wilt never happens to you. If it does, add a UV light or two. They are inexpensive and may give you a better chance at recreating what nature delivers.
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