Grow your plants in the Air! Why?
We have over time been used to growing plants in soil (geoponics) as the norm of growing plants as this is what we were born into. However, with soil dying and becoming scarce, according to Maria-Helena Semedo of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in May 2019 she discussed excessively the world running out of soil with special reference to the US. This is also the same fate we face in Nigeria today, while it is true as a nation we have a lot of landmasses, the sad reality is not all our lands are arable. Arable lands are such lands that can support the growth of plants, however, there is more! All arable lands are not fertile lands hence we have the use (and misuse most times) of soil complements like fertilizers etc. The reasons for this aren’t farfetched – climate change, desertification in the North, coastal encroachment down South, bush burning, misuse of agrochemicals, etc.
We have already gotten other methods of growing plants with no soil – a process called Aquiculture. One of the recent developments is aeroponics – the growing of plants in the air with the roots suspended in a misty environment. This ensures that we can overcome the shortcomings of soil and ensure predictability of food production to overcome the seasonal dependence of food production. Aeroponics is not new – what is – is the introduction to the Nigeria clime is 2012. It has been used for the growing of yam and many leafy vegetables.
The advantages of aeroponics include:
- Fast plant growth – The chief feature of aeroponics. Plants grow fast because their roots have access to a lot of oxygen 24/7.
- Easy system maintenance – In aeroponics, all you need to maintain is the root chamber (the container housing the roots) which needs regular disinfecting, and periodically, the reservoir and irrigation channels. The constant semi-moist environment of the root chamber which invites bacterial growth is the only main drawback of all aeroponics system maintenance.
- Less need for nutrients and water – Aeroponics plants need fewer nutrients and water on average, because the nutrient absorption rate is higher, and plants usually respond to aeroponics systems by growing even more roots.
- Mobility – Plants, even whole nurseries, can be moved around without too much effort, as all that is required is moving the plants from one collar to another.
- Requires little space – You don’t need much space to start an aeroponic garden. Depending on the system, plants can be stacked up one on top of each other. Aeroponics is basically a modular system, which is perfect for maxing out limited space.
- Great educational value – You can learn a great deal about plants from aeroponics. Kids especially will love having a small aeroponic system to grow a pet plant, without having to get their hands dirty.
The disadvantages include:
- Dependence on the system – A typical aeroponics system is made up of high-pressure pumps, sprinklers, and timers. If any of these break down, your plants can be damaged or killed easily.
- Technical knowledge required – You need a certain level of competency in running an aeroponics system. Knowledge of nutrients amounts required by your plant is essential because you don’t have any soil to absorb excess/wrong nutrients supplied.
- Regular cleaning of the root chamber – The root chamber must not be contaminated, or else diseases may strike the roots. So you need to disinfect the root chamber every so often.
- High cost – Most aeroponics systems are not exactly cheap. Aeroponics systems may cost many hundreds of millions of naira.
This can be done on a small and large scale.
In a future article, we will look at step-by-step methods on how to set up your aquiculture systems.