There are many ways to cultivate marijuana in the modern era, with some systems significantly more efficient and effective than others. Aeroponics is one method that is capturing the attention of marijuana growers since it requires no growing medium, and can produce enormous yields.
It is a growing method that was first mentioned over a century ago but has only recently earned mainstream attention. With this advanced growing technique, you could cultivate massive amounts of potent weed, use far less water, and eliminate the need for soil. If this sounds interesting to you, read on to find out more!
What Is an Aeroponics Growing System?
Aeroponics is a unique method of plant cultivation where you suspend the roots in the air, and spray them with water. It is a technique that’s older than many people would think. Indeed, in 1911, V.M. Artsikhovski wrote about spraying different substances in the surrounding air while discussing physiological studies of root systems. He created the first aeroponics system and showed its suitability for growing a variety of plant species.
However, the term “aeroponics” wasn’t used until 1957. A Dutch biologist, Frits Warmolt Went, coined the phrase. He grew tomatoes and coffee plants with the roots suspended in the air and applied a nutrient mist to these roots.
Fast forward to 1983, and Richard Stoner filed his first aeroponic patent. His company, Genesis Technology Inc (GTi), manufactured and marketed the first commercially available aeroponic apparatus, the Genesis Machine. The system utilized an oxygenation process that took it ahead of existing hydroponic systems.
In 1985, GTi introduced the “Genesis Growing System,” a new generation of aeroponics hardware. It was a closed-loop system that used recycled effluent, which was controlled by a microprocessor. At a stroke, GTi had created the first plant and harvest aeroponic system ever. Even today, many of these old aeroponic systems are in use.
In the modern era, companies are finding more uses for aeroponic growing systems, including the cultivation of marijuana.
How Does an Aeroponics Growing System Work?
Aeroponics is one of the main types of hydroponic plant growing methods. Others include:
- Ebb and Flow
- Wick system
- Continuous flow
- Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
- Screen of Green (SCROG)
- Sea of Green (SOG)
It is a means of growing weed without needing a growing medium such as soil. Since there isn’t a growing medium to weigh down the plants, you need a support system to keep them in place.
The plants are suspended with roots exposed in the air above a water reservoir. The roots require a nutrient solution to be sprayed directly on them every few minutes. Weed growers generally use an aeroponic system to give cannabis clones a healthy root system before the plants are potted in soil or another growing medium. However, it is also possible to grow full plants using this system.
Typically, aeroponic growing systems use a water-tight chamber, sometimes called a ‘cloner,’ with several misters in it. Once clones are taken from the mother plant, you put a foam collar around each one and place it in the cloner machine. Next, you fill the chamber with water and add nutrients.
When cultivating full plants, you need a planter bed. The process begins with a seedling grown in a medium such as a Rockwool cube. Then, place it in a net pot and put a collar around the stalk’s base. The purpose of the collar is to stop mist from evaporating or causing mold growth on the stalk. The collar also protects the roots from infection.
The next step involves pumping water and nutrients into the chamber to the misters that blanket the plant roots. The chamber collects excess moisture and drains it into the reservoir for future use.
Types of Aeroponic Growing Systems
Typically, aeroponic systems are divided into three categories.
Low-Pressure Aeroponics (LPA)
LPA systems utilize low-pressure sprinklers and pumps to spray water from the reservoir to the plant’s root zones. LPA is the system of choice for people growing weed on a small scale due to the relatively low maintenance requirement and fairly easy set-up. Indeed, you can find almost everything you need from a high-quality garden store.
High-Pressure Aeroponics (HPA)
HPA systems are significantly more sophisticated than their LPA counterparts. They use high-pressure pumps and atomizers to spray water droplets (50 microns maximum) on the root zone. These tiny droplets help boost oxygen levels in the root zone, resulting in rapid growth.
Ultrasonic Fogger Aeroponics
If you’re looking for something even more complex, ultrasonic fogger aeroponics, also called fogponics, could be the right option. This system involves atomizing water from the reservoir into minuscule droplets.
When growing weed aeroponically, remember that the smaller the droplets used to mist the root zone, the better. Plants absorb smaller droplets more easily, and the process also boosts oxygen levels within the root zone. The result is more vigorous plant growth.
Aeroponic Marijuana Growing in Action
If you want to grow marijuana aeroponically, you need a cloner. When growing clones, please ensure they get 18 hours of light exposure per day during the vegetative stage. Use medium-powered lighting such as T5s and set the lights 12-24 inches about the clones.
Growing Clones Aeroponically
Fill the cloner’s chamber with nutrients and water. Next, set up the pump and misters.
Put foam collars on each clone and place them in the machine. Switch the cloner on, and it should mist the bottoms of the clones. It is recommended to buy a timer for the machine and set it to mist the plants are regular intervals.
Growing Plants or Seeds Aeroponically
To start growing your seeds, you will need net pots and baskets with holes filled with a growing medium such as clay pellets.
You also need:
- A sealable container for use as a reservoir tank
- A grow tent or growing room
- Training clips or zip ties to hold the plants in place
- A pump; this moves water from the reservoir to the root zone
- Grow lights
- Sprinkler heads and plastic or PVC tubing to route water from the reservoir and pump to the plants’ root zones
- A cooling fan; this aerates the root zone
- A timer
Select Your Aeroponic System & Grow Space
If you’re an aeroponics novice on a limited budget, an LPA system is the best place to start. There is also the option for a DIY set-up. Many low-end systems are effectively the same standard as a good DIY creation.
They usually don’t have a separate reservoir, so they’re in the nutrient solution when the roots reach the lower part of the growing chamber. This shouldn’t cause an issue since the solution is oxygenated, but you could face issues if the roots get tangled in the equipment.
Popular aeroponics systems include:
- AeroGarden Harvest Indoor Hydroponic Garden
- Stacky Smart Farm
- Aerospring 27-Plant Vertical Hydroponics Indoor Growing System
- WEPLANT Hydroponic Growing System
- Pscyloner Pro Clone Machine, Aeroponics System
How to Grow Weed Aeroponically
Anywhere suitable for standard marijuana growing is fine for an aeroponics system. One simple option is to purchase a grow tent and add a ventilation system and grow light set-up as you would for a typical grow. From there, you can set up the pump, reservoir, and routing pipes on the tent floor.
Make Your Reservoir
A 100-liter reservoir is standard, but you can increase or decrease it according to your needs. Most people use buckets or plastic storage bins. Please ensure the material is dark and sealed properly. If any light gets through the reservoir from the lighting, you significantly increase the risk of fungi, bacteria, or other pathogens growing in the water.
Your plants lie above the water reservoir. You can set up this space easily if you use plastic buckets or storage crates with lids. Punch holes in the lids and put the net pots inside. It is also good to use insulating tape to block out areas where light could seep in.
Route the water
Now, you have to decide how to pump the water from the reservoir to the roots of the plants. One option is to keep a low-pressure pump submerged in the reservoir. However, some growers keep their pumps outside the reservoir so they can access them easily for cleaning and servicing.
The pump you choose depends on the size of your set-up and your budget. One rule of thumb is to use a pump with a liter per hour (LPH) capacity that’s double or even triple the water in your reservoir. Doing so allows for fast and efficient pumping of the water.
You need the pump to move the water from the reservoir to the spray nozzles/atomizer at the roots. Ideally, you’ll ensure that the route is as basic as possible to optimize spray nozzle pressure. Doing so also reduces the risk of leaks and makes the set-up a lot easier.
You could use PVC pipes to route the water, but plastic hosing is also acceptable.
Atomizing the Water at the Plant Root Zone
The spray nozzles/atomizers responsible for misting the plants’ roots are where the water and nutrients in the reservoir get turned into tiny droplets for easier absorption. Simple sprinkler heads will suffice for low-level set-ups. The size of the heads depends on the number of sprinklers you’re using, the volume of plants being grown, and root system size.
For the middle of the root zone, it is best to use heads with a 360-degree radius. Meanwhile, heads with a 180-degree radius are fine for sprinkling the edge of the root zone as you don’t want to spray the sides of your tank unnecessarily.
Timing is Everything
Once you buy a timer, you can automate the feeding process. Experts recommend spraying your plants for 3-5 seconds every 3-4 minutes. A hydroponic nutrient solution is fine for use in an aeroponic set-up.
Tips for Cultivating Aeroponic Marijuana
Here are a few tips to help you grow aeroponic weed more efficiently, divided into a few categories.
- Take note of your reservoir’s water level; remember that the plants consume more water as they grow.
- Keep the water temperature in the reservoir below 75 degrees Fahrenheit; 65-68 degrees is the ideal temperature range.
- Keep the pH of the water between 5.5 and 6.5.
- Build a small cooling fan into the reservoir 24/7 to maximize root zone oxygen levels.
- Use distilled or filtered water; tap water usually has chlorine which you don’t want to add to your grow water.
- Empty and clean the reservoir weekly to ensure mold and pests stay out of the system.
Nutrients & Growing
- Remember that you’ll need to change the amount of nutrients you give your plants as they grow.
- If using store-bought nutrients, begin with 25% of the recommended amount and increase gradually if and when necessary.
- Please take note of the height of the growing lights; your plants will close the gap as they grow, so you must continually raise the lighting.
- Take note of the length of time you switch the misters on for; 3-5 second pumps are usually enough.
- Check your equipment regularly for clogging and other faults. Check the misters and pumps often to ensure the water circulates through the system properly and reaches the plants. Your plants can start dying if they don’t receive moisture for 60 minutes!
- Invest in oscillating fans to keep mold and pests out of your system.
- Choose CFL or full-spectrum LED grow lights. Avoid using strong HID lamps as they can increase the water temperature in the reservoir to a point where bacteria grow rapidly.
- Buy a pH and EC meter to help determine whether your nutrient solution needs tweaking.
- Get an EC meter if your plant nutrient recommendations are in EC units; if they are in ppm, a TDS meter is a better option
The Grow Room
- Ideally, your grow room’s temperature will remain at about 68-70 degrees.
- Although you can grow more plants using aeroponics, it is best to give them enough space as overcrowding increases the risk of bacteria and mold growth.
- Enhancing the grow room’s CO2 level will also boost yield.
- Keep your grow room as clean as possible to prevent pathogens from getting into your system.
- It is best to use photoperiod strains rather than autoflowers.
- Robust hybrids such as Blue Dream fare particularly well in an aeroponic set-up.
Aeroponic Weed Versus Hydroponic Weed
The two systems are quite similar as both involve using a reservoir and a pump to circulate the water. However, they are not the same. In aeroponics, you suspend the plant stems and roots and spray them with water. Typically, growers use aeroponics for clones. Once the plants have a strong root system, you can transplant them into a different medium and grow them into full plants.
In a hydroponic system, you grow the plants for their full life cycle. Also, you use a growing medium such as coco coir, Rockwool, or clay pebbles.
With both systems, a semblance of marijuana growing experience is necessary as you must constantly monitor and adjust pH and temperature levels. Typically, a hydroponic system produces more marijuana, whereas an aeroponic system produces better quality weed.
Advantages of Aeroponically Grown Marijuana
Now that you have a basic idea of how an aeroponics system works let’s investigate its advantages and disadvantages. Like most growing methods, aeroponics isn’t suitable for everyone, but it could prove highly effective for those with the means and desire. Here are the benefits of aeroponics.
It Offers a Higher Yield Than Standard Growing Methods
In the 1990s, Richard Stoner got funding from NASA to create a high-performance aeroponic system for space and Earth. The MIR space station used his research to cultivate plants in space. Incredibly, the MIR seeds showed more growth than the plants on Earth!
Overall, aeroponics boosted crop yields by 45-75%, while plants cultivated via aeroponic methods had about 80% more mass than other methods!
In 2001, a study by the University of Arizona analyzed the effect of aeroponics on two plants. These two plants, burdock, and echinacea, are noted for their medicinal properties. Aeroponically grown burdock performed extremely well. This method produced harvests approximately 1,000% greater than the field-grown burdock’s average yield. Also, the crop was easier to harvest due to the lack of soil.
Meanwhile, a 2014 study compared the difference in yield between aeroponically grown and field-grown leafy greens. The researchers looked at eight different crops and found that when aeroponically grown, the crops produced yields of between 8% and 65% more than crops grown in the soil.
You Use Significantly Less Water
Agriculture accounts for approximately 97% of human land use; unfortunately, soil is becoming increasingly degraded. It is also a fact that the world is facing a potential water shortage. At present, about 70% of freshwater withdrawals relate to agriculture. With aeroponic farms, we can cultivate crops without fertile land. Moreover, it is a method of growing that uses 95% less water than standard agriculture.
Indeed, NASA discovered that Stoner’s aeroponic system decreased water usage by 98%, pesticide usage by 100%, and fertilizer usage by 60%.
Extremely High-Quality Marijuana
Aeroponically grown marijuana is usually of a very high standard. By adding nutrients directly to the roots, you end up with huge buds. Those who use an aeroponic system to grow weed say that the buds are covered in glistening trichomes, usually an indicator of high potency.
Easy Access to Oxygen
The cannabis plant’s roots have constant access to oxygen as the aeroponics process involves keeping the roots suspended in the air. Furthermore, when you dissolve nutrients in water and apply them directly, they are available for rapid plant uptake.
Less Space is Required
Aeroponic systems allow plants to be more tightly packed as there is no battle for soil. Therefore, you can grow more plants in a small area and reduce the risk of pest infestations. It is common for commercial aeroponics operations to grow a large number of plants near each other. This makes sense since the plants are not fighting for nutrients or soil.
Transplanting aeroponically grown plants is easy; all you need to do is lift the pot and transfer it to a different reservoir. Your plants won’t feel any shock since there is no growing medium.
If you’re an experienced marijuana grower, you’ll love the level of control you achieve with aeroponically grown weed. You have full command over pH and nutrient levels. Consequently, you can use your skill to determine the right level of nutrients required and boost your crop’s growth.
Furthermore, you control the grow room’s temperature, lighting, and humidity. Having such control is great news if you’re cultivating strains requiring considerable care and attention.
Disadvantages of Aeroponically Grown Marijuana
Of course, aeroponics is not the perfect cannabis cultivation solution. There are a few downsides which we now explore.
Aeroponics Has a Steep Learning Curve
Aeroponics is NOT a growing method that’s suitable for novices. It requires significant time, effort, and knowledge to get it right. You are responsible for different factors such as nutrient concentration, water temperature, pH levels, humidity, and the system’s efficiency, among other things.
You Must Monitor Your Equipment & Crop Constantly
The system involves the use of a timer with the roots misted at specific times during the day. Therefore, power cuts, clogged nozzles, broken pumps, empty reservoirs, and other faults can negatively impact weed cultivation. As you need 24/7 electricity, you may have to invest in power generators in case of a power outage.
Also, you must regularly clean and sterilize an aeroponic set-up to stop the buildup of fungi, bacteria, or other pathogens around the plant’s root zone.
Mistakes Are Costly
When roots don’t have moisture, they will die. Consequently, you must have a means of knowing when there are issues with equipment so you can fix them quickly. Otherwise, your entire crop could perish. Indeed, if there is an issue, plants will die rapidly.
There are high initial costs associated with an aeroponics system. Apart from the expense of buying or making the system itself, you must also pay for nutrients, pH and EC meters, fans, and a backup electricity source. If you are a serious marijuana grower, the added cost is probably worth it. However, aeroponics is probably a bit too expensive if you only want to cultivate a few plants for personal use.
Risk of Mold
While there is less risk of pest infestations, aeroponically grown weed is more susceptible to mold and root rot.
If you’re an experienced marijuana grower looking for a new challenge, aeroponics is worth looking into. It is a cultivation method that produces high-quality weed and doesn’t require a growing medium. Once you choose the right aeroponic system for your needs, it becomes possible to cultivate a large amount of weed in a relatively small space. Apart from saving water, you also benefit from bountiful yields.
However, it is a system that requires significant time and financial investments. You must monitor your system and crop regularly because mistakes can be deadly for your plants. Nonetheless, if you’re serious about increased marijuana yield and quality, aeroponics could be precisely what you’re looking for.