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Hydroponics and aeroponics: the revolutionary systems that can bring productive vegetable gardening indoors, but is it less back-to-the-soil & more reliance on science?

Winter is the time most of us are concerned with indoor gardening, and as spring gets closer we start to look back outside, and to the months ahead. However for many of us, the summer doesn’t hold much potential outdoors. Gardens & allotments are not universal and for aspiring green-fingers in urban or even suburban areas, the potential for meaningful vegetable gardening seems slim. Renting, or living at home, strips many younger people of the chances to undertake serious gardening projects. Poor soil in developed areas and the penchant for concrete or decking yards can prevent planting without extensive work. Yet as we’ve explored before, all hope is not lost. Opportunities to grow veg inside your home abound, and, for the brave (or foolhardy) gardener, a new movement has recently appeared that seems to turn home gardening on its head- aeroponics. Aeroponics is closely related to hydroponics, and first emerged following research in the 1980s. Using aerosol spray droplets instead of tanks of water, like hydroponics, it can produce 13 crops per year, all while using 90% less water than conventional soil farming. It borrows heavily from the principles of hydroponics, which themselves appeared in pre-colonial South America, and elsewhere. For decades now, people have been experimenting themselves with hydro, and more recently with aero-ponic gardening as, thanks to increasingly flashy water features in gardens, you can now buy a cheap mist-maker relatively cheaply, and run it 24/7 to supply virtually any plant (even roots like potatoes) with nutrients. This aeroponics effect is much more efficient than hydroponics, and hugely moreso in terms of time, energy & resources than soil growing. Of course, for gardeners without the outdoor space to do so, it seems a great chance to experience the feeling of regular, home grown meals. On a wider scale, we hear more and more that these methods are the future of industrial gardening, the solution to global hunger and the key to surviving long-term in space. But how effective are hydro / aquaponics, and are they just a fad?

One of the main concerns about both hydro and, especially aeroponics is the quantity of chemicals required to make them viable for food production. The great crop yield & frequency is widely noted, however for some the process may more closely resemble a school science experiment than gardening. If you’re a traditional gardener, the idea of syringing exact measures of synthetic fertiliser into your water tank might make you think twice. The connection, even affection, the hobby gardener feels to his or her plants often drives a lot of gardeners to go organic, while this method, though productive, will almost always take you in the opposite direction.

It doesn’t feel like gardening- indeed, hydro and aeroponics were developed in labs and factories- but whether a method proposed for feeding the International Space Station fits your definition of back-to-the-land will depend. Lots of gardeners relish the scent of organic matter, the feel of earth and the calming ritual of cleansing your veggie patch from weeds. With no soil, no bugs and no daily watering, indeed very little attention at all, these plants certainly have a feel of cold, hard industry to go with the chemistry-lesson set up. You won’t be looking out over your garden with a sense of peace and calm, instead hydro and aeroponics require plastic tubs in greenhouses or indoors, under grow lights that can make the process of nurturing a plant to harvest feel slightly detached.

It’s complicated- setting up a traditional garden can require a good measure of elbow grease and some mental fortitude- whereas hydro and aeroponics takes all this setting up, puts in a tight space, especially indoors, and adds not-always-100%-reliable electrics, such as mist makers and pumps, that may be exactly the sort of gadgetry you’re trying to escape from in the garden. Expensive specialist kits exist, or you can jury-rig your own from recycled containers, but never do you feel like you’re gardening, or interacting with the natural world. If anything, it might feel more like installing a large aquarium than fostering our leafy friends.

So while you might enjoy record-busting crops in quick time, these systems somehow seem to suck some of the soul out of the raising of plants- the summer days spent digging, watering, and weeding, the winter ones shivering in your potting shed or pottering in the greenhouse. While it’s easy to see why a huge bounty of lettuce springing up in a few weeks in the corner of your living room might sound like an adventure, for those lucky enough to enjoy access to the real thing, these new methods (while not without a place in the spectrum) don’t hold as much appeal as the blogs & headlines might suggest.

TheTopsoil Shopis a leading supplier of high quality bulk & bagged topsoil across the UK. We have depots across the country to ensure fast & hassle-free delivery of fertile, freshly dug topsoil. See our depot locationshere.


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