The First Aeroponic Fogger
At two months old my mother plants are finally hardy enough to begin my aeroponics experiments. You can see, roughly, my ultimate design for the smart garden here. In the system I use two types of buckets. Smaller buckets for the mother plants, grown in soil, which will ultimately end up on the top shelf and be used to propagate future generations raised under an aeroponic system. Larger buckets which will be aeroponic systems of various types; filling out the lower two shelves.
As you can read up on in an earlier post here, there are to my understanding three types of aeroponic systems. High pressure, low pressure and fogger systems. I want to use my shelves as a laboratory for experimenting with each of these three systems and their nuances. Where my resources stand today I only have the materials to do a fogger system.
To me, the biggest hurdle in Aeroponics is getting the nutrients right. I’ve studied aeroponics on and off for years, but not once have I seen a hard answer to the ratio of plant nutrients needed in any system. In fact, I often find that when you do find an informative website it is without photo documentation of their claims. Which often leads me to question the voracity of their claims or if aeroponics is really even a real thing.
Anyway, it seems that the industry standard for hydroponics and Aeroponics are the three part FloraGro / Flora Micro / Flora Bloom nutrients by general hydroponics. This is the only liquid nutrition I have experimented with to date.
Last night I began setting up for my first aeroponics unit in the laboratory. Ideally, I would be setting up three units side by side with low , medium and high nutrient contents to give me a better idea of what direction to go in terms of quanity. This first unit is a fogger. An AGPtek pond fogger runs constantly in a bath of nutrient rich distilled water.
I chose to start with a 1/4 strength solution. This means a 1/4 tsp of each nutrient (floragro, floramicro, florabloom) for each gallon of water. If you’re not familiar with using these nutrients, here is all you need to know. It is critical that you add the floramicro, stir it up and give it time to assimilate before adding the other two nutrient solutions. Otherwise you will impede the release of critical nutrition from the flora micro. So, I dumped in a gallon of distilled water, a half teaspoon of floramicro, stirred it up and walked away for twenty minutes.
When I returned I added a half teaspoon each of the floragro and the florabloom, then added a second gallon of distilled water to give me a 1/4 strength nutrient solution. As it turned out this was far too much water in my particular bucket to get a nice fog going, so I dumped it in to the mothers’ water reservoir until the bucket was left with just under a gallon of nutrient rich water.
Then I put in one of my AGPtek pond foggers, plugged her in and secured the lid. I use 1.75″ plastic netpots to hold rockwool cubes which serve as the collars for the plants. Collars are a critical part of any aeroponics system and subject to further experiment in my laboratory here. I have tried a few different things in the past, but don’t yet have any great insight in to which is better than the other.
I will say this though. When it comes to hydroponics there are many products competing to be the best “grow plug” or “grow medium.” So when it comes to aeroponics people will assert one as better over the other; rockwool, coconut husk, even neoprene I think. In my mind, however this doesn’t matter at all in aeroponics because your plant is not growing in to this plug. The plug merely servers to hold the plant in place and allow the roots to grow in to the open mist contained. Therefore no plug has any intrinsic advantage over another.
Back to the point, my Aeroponic units have 8 openings, each with a 1.75″ netpot whose bottoms I cut out. I plug a rockwool cube in to each netpot and let the whole unit sit and fog over night. This way the water can come to temperature and I can test for any unexplained changes in ph or ppm over night. My ph happens to be 6.3 and my ppm 116 both after adding the nutrients last night and again after checking this morning.
PH and PPM seem to be the sine qua non of Aeroponics. Without being able to keep track of these metrics there is little to no shot of sustaining an aeroponics system. Small movements in PH can have strong adverse affects on plants in the system. The PPM, alternatively measured in us/cm uses electrical conductivity to tell you the ‘salt’ content of my nutrient water. Salt being any dissolved mineral. My quarter strength nutrient solution consistently reads just around 110 ppm. Half strength would be around 220. Full strength would be over 400 etc. Point is, get yourself a digital ph tester, a digital EC or electrical conductivity tester and take good care of them.
While I’m on the note of promoting products, make sure that you have lots of thermometers around. Particularly an infrared thermometer. The infrared gun let’s you find anomalies real quick, such as lights running too hot, or buckets that are too cold. I’ve been using the same gun since 2010 and it hasn’t let me down yet. The pond foggers will throw off a good amount of heat, so it’s important to keep an eye on how hot it is inside the buckets.
For this fogger unit I set out to plug in two basils, three dills and three oregano from the mothers. I don’t know if this is the best way to do this, but it’s how I did it and I would love to hear some insight. I did not put any sage in this bucket because I still don’t feel my sage mothers are hardy enough yet to plug in.
I started with the oregano, uprooting a few strong shoots doing my best to leave as much of the root system intact as possible. I rinsed the roots under luke warm water, soaked, rinsed etc. to remove as much soil trapped in the roots as possible. I then individually placed them each in rockwool cubes; ensuring the roots hung well below the netpot and the collar kept a good hold on the stem of the plants. I repeated this for two whole basil plants. I used whole basil plants instead of cuttings because I have an excess of basil and want to make room for new mothers of other species.
For the dill, I took three of the tallest cuttings I could, using sanitized scissors, and plugged them in so that the freshly cut stems plunged well in to the fog. I would have liked to apply rooting solution to these stems, but for now I do not have any. I noted that after plugging in the dill their branches wilted markedly and rapidly, slumping over within ten minutes. They seemed to wilt to a certain extent quickly then cease. I believe they will need a recovery period.
I am going to call this bucket Fogger Unit One. I do not have any particular expectations for fogger unit one, one way nor the other. I know that my lighting conditions are ideal, temperature conditions are good, and I have nice air flow going that has visibly strengthened my plants. My focus is on seeing how PH and nutrient content affect the plants in fogger unit one. My 1/4 strength, 6.3 PH will be the control against future adjustments so that I can see which direction will give me the strongest yield. I will follow this post up with periodical image updates of the health of the plants in fogger unit one.