Freeing the mist : On High Pressure Aeroponics in practice

May it be to achieve food security while reducing pollution and emissions related to transportation; or to cultivate the most powerful and clean medical cannabis possible, the practice of high pressure aeroponics offers the solution. To succeed, one must know how to master the quality of the mist first, then overcome the obstacles related to its development by making the technique free for all.

The benefits of aeroponics have been known for several decades but with the recent legalization of cannabis, we are looking again for the winning formula promised by this high-level no-soil technique. However, it is rather with the vision of feeding populations more effectively that it has been experienced for 100 years.

It is also the food and ecological challenges of our time that pushed us to put this technique into practice three years ago. Like many researchers before us, we have achieved impressive results in crop health, quality and productivity while reducing the use of water and fertilizer and completely eliminating the use of phytosanitary products. But the question quickly became: Why is this technique not more used in the world of agriculture today?

Overcoming several technical challenges, such as the clogging of misters, we found that some technical limitations may have hindered the large-scale application of aeroponics. But by hovering its complex past, we saw the socio-economic factors and business confusions that prevent it from taking off and becoming a viable solution for producers and the environment.

In Quebec, where we locally produce less than 20% of our fruits and vegetables and the use of pesticides is considered the greatest threat to our waterways, it is high time we share our progress and hope that these will help make aeroponics accessible to all.

 

1. The aeroponic solution

" According to AgriHouse, growers choosing to employ the aeroponics method can reduce water usage by 98 percent, fertilizer usage by 60 percent, and pesticide usage by 100 percent, all while maximizing their crop yields by 45 to 75 percent. […] These results essentially proved that aeroponically grown plants uptake more minerals and vitamins compared to other growing techniques ” – NASA Spinoff (2006)

" [The University of] Ho Chi Minh has successfully studied the aeroponic method of growing broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, etc. The results obtained were at least twice as high as those of a normal planting and cultivation on the soil … Growth 2.5 times faster; save more than 70% on irrigation ” – Trung (2011)

" Aeroponics is a soilless method for producing pre basic potato seed. The method can produce higher yields (up to 10-times higher), more quickly, and at lesser cost than conventional growing methods ” – Otazú (2010)

 
Although there is still a lot of research to be done on aeroponics, its effectiveness and results are no longer to be proven. NASA studies on the subject in the 80s and 90s concluded that it was the most optimal culture technique to support all forms of plants; be it for the propagation of cuttings, high-value crops or even fruit trees. Several countries such as China, Vietnam, Russia and Peru have increased their potato production thanks to aeroponics.

Performances explanation :
• Ease of nutrients uptake
• Rich in oxygen
• CO2 available to the roots
• Full health and natural defenses

The figures of Richard Stoner and NASA are impressive: 98% less water, 60% less fertilizer, 100% less pesticides (this also applies to herbicides and algicides) for 45 to 75% more production than modern conventional agriculture. This is a perfect solution for growers facing soil depletion and contamination, water shortages and phytosanitary addiction. This is even more an option to increase yields in agriculture while decreasing the pressure on territories.

Too good to be true? The explanation is simple: when you give a plant the optimal conditions by feeding it at will without forcing it, it is more productive, healthier and naturally resistant to diseases and pests. The plant does not spend all its energy building a huge root system because the nutrients are available and directly assimilated to the roots. Oxygen and CO2 are also abundant at the root level, which prevents fungal diseases and helps growth. Also, with a mist of quality, the roots are stable so there is no damage related to stress or overproduction of roots due to bad anchoring.

2. Our experimental approach in practice

In 2017, after 19 years of hydroponics experience, Jean-François crossed the frontier he had long been contemplating: putting aeroponics into practice to grow fruits and vegetables all year long. Initially, we found that there was very little material and information available, and that experienced people were not only rare but long abandoned after a few failures. However, we persisted and discovered a unique world that we never want to do without anymore.

Objective : Make a functional concept for producers by reducing equipment costs and systems maintenance without compromising performance.

With limited resources, we went in search of the perfect mist from 50 to 70 microns, the ideal filtration system at 0 micron and the root chamber with optimal height. We are not from any research centers or universities. Our approach is practical at first and experimental by default because it seemed everything had to be done to realize this concept. We much prefer to work with the best fertilizers from Advanced Nutrients but have never received sponsorship and are not affiliated with any company. We have never received grants or investments either.

The only person we were originally accountable to was our 2-year-old daughter. Our wish was to feed her pesticides-free strawberries and food security for her generation’s future. In the face of our successes, we now want to push the concept further to make this technique accessible to all producers by reducing equipment costs and systems maintenance without compromising performance.

 

3. Limitations and challenges of large scale application

For 30 years, we have heard the same arguments about the technical limitations of aeroponics: maintenance, cost and availability of equipments as well the reliance on electricity and the learning curve. Yet many large-scale projects have sprung up around the world and even in some countries where resources are limited.

This led us to also observe the socio-economic factors that slowed down its development. In addition to the countries that kept secret military researches in a cold-war context, we’re also facing the agroindustrial giants selling fertilizers and chemicals, for whom aeroponics is a threat to their turnover.

Technical aspects:
• Maintenance and nozzles’ clogging
• Cost and availability of equipments
• Reliance on electricity
• Learning curve

Socio-economic aspects:
• Monopoly of fertilizer and phytosanitary companies
• Non qualification of no soil farming for organic certification
• Secret and military developments

To come back to the technical aspects, if the dependence on electricity and the learning curve are easily surmountable, the challenge of nozzles’ clogging is the one that posed the most problem. To obtain an ideal nutrient mist, around 50 microns according to NASA, the opening of the misting nozzle must be at its finest. In irrigation, such nozzles are used to control humidity levels and with pure water there is usually no problem. However, when we add 350 or even 500 ppm of minerals and / or organic nutrients we face a problem of clogging within 2 months sometimes even 2 weeks if there is organic matter in the solution.

Traditionally in the world of aeroponics, two strategies have been used to deal with this problem. For a university or military research center with big budgets, regularly replacing the nozzles is not a problem. However for a commercial producer, this is simply not an option considering that each mister costs between $5 and $15. Also, a need for maintenance in the middle of a season can be complicated or even catastrophic.

The other option is to widen the nozzle opening and work with low pressure systems. It lowers the costs considerably but instead of a well atomized mist we end up with a jet on the roots. This greatly reduces the benefits of aeroponics because the roots are in constant motion so stressed out, cut and overproductive.

High pressure aeroponics can also be damaging to the roots if there are pressure variations as the foggers turn on and the lines empty air in a jerky motion. We call this phenomenon “spitting on the roots”. To prevent this, the current technique consists in putting all irrigation lines under constant pressure using a pressure storage tank and several switches, electronic valves, relays and controllers. This is another expensive solution, especially since these valves often lose their effectiveness over time, which discourages many producers from adopting aeroponics.

It is hard to believe that a method more adapted to the needs of the producers had never been developed. We know that the fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, fungicide, and algaecide industry has a lot to lose in an agrifood economy based on less polluting methods. Their lobbies have long been a drag on organic farming and aeroponics has the potential to be much more effective than organics in reducing inputs and increasing production. Today, organic agriculture is presented as the solution of the future, but 116 phytosanitary products are now allowed in organic farming and most organic fertilizer companies have either been bought by industry giants or are forced to buy their basic nutrients from the same giants.

On the other hand, as no-soil crops are not yet eligible for organic certification, producers do not have the motivation of added value to their products in order to develop them. In addition, the only commercially adopted hydroponic methods (NFT, DWC, Aquaponics) are quite greedy in water and fertilizer. A fact that does not mean anything in itself but put in context brings some lines of thought. An overview of the history of aeroponics helps put things in perspective.

 

4. Background and perspective of early aeroponics

First researches

Russian biologist Vladimir M. Artsikhovsky first studied bare-rooted plants and published the article “ On air plants ” in Experimental Agronomy in 1911. Several scientists in the 20th century then used this method to advance their research on root diseases such as WA Carter, who published “A method of growing plants in water vapor to facilitate examination of roots” in Phytopathology in 1942; L. Klotz, who studied the roots of sick citrus and avocado trees spayed with a mist in 1944 and concluded that the method allows for healthier trees; and G. F. Trowel, who cultivated apple trees with root jets in 1952. The Dutch botanist Frits Warmolt Went named the method “Aeroponics” with which he cultivated coffee and tomatoes in 1957.

Developments during the cold war

Isaac Nir (1982)

The patents filed subsequently give a clue to the early commercial developments and it can be seen that aeroponics was also at the heart of the Cold War technological race.

In Israel in 1977, Isaac Nir patented the first complete system and method using compressed air for mist, styrofoam panels and pasteurization.

Some patents were signed by the Soviet Union in the early 1980s and mainly concern foggers but there is little information in English about them.

Schorr et al. (1985)

In the United States in 1983, Agrihouse (Steven Schorr and Richard Stoner) with the support of NASA patented the Genesis Machine , a device for cuttings with the first processor for automation and intermittent irrigation. In 1989, Quebec’s Karl F. Ehrlich patented a vertical design that improved the A-frame model.

In 1990, the All-Russian Research Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology (Moscow, RSFSR) began research on the use of aeroponics for reproduction of healthy virus-free seed potatoes. In 2000, a Candidate of Biological Sciences Yuri Tsaturovich Martirosyan for the first time developed the Universal Harvesting Plant “Urozhay-9000” for accelerated reproduction of healthy seed potatoes and other crops.

Meanwhile, China improved its potato tuber productivity from 11 tons / ha in 1991 to 17 tons / ha in 2000 thanks to aeroponics. In Spain, Italy and Korea several patents were also filed.

Harwood et al. (2014)

From 2006 and onward, the United States and NASA have run potato seed projects in Vietnam and Peru and are publishing their studies for the general public. The technology becomes known and the projects are multiplying in the world. Today, high-level aeroponics can be found in Ukraine, India, Japan and several African countries. The largest commercial farm is Aerofarms in New Jersey and its creators, Ed Harwood and Travis Martin, patented an aeroponic culture technology with jets and reusable fabric in 2014.

 

5. Business confusion

Wainwright et al. (2004)

To add to the challenges that aeroponics must overcome in the popular mind, it must be mentioned that there is confusion in the market about the word itself. AeroGrow a company of Scotts-Miracle Gro affiliated with General Hydroponic and Monsanto / Bayer is the first to have marketed in 2004 a misuse of the term “Aeroponie” with its Aerogarden. In this device, the nutrient solution is at the bottom and the atomization is done by a vibrating air pump. The roots are quick to dive into the solution because the root chamber is shallow and they do not have access to a real aeroponic haze. It is actually a somewhat glorified DWC (Deep Water Culture) system.

Bryan, III (2006)

Then Tower Garden in 2006 started using the term while its system is more a vertical NFT. The nutrient solution is injected through the top of the tower and trickles inside. Interestingly, their patent does not mention the term “aeroponics” but rather “hydroponic system”. On the other hand, their marketing is based on this word and for many people their product is the very definition of aeroponics.

In both cases, these models are simple to use and functional for individuals. However their performance does not compare to high pressure aeroponics and their use requires much more water and nutrients. They are therefore ineffective models for commercial application on a large scale.

Another technique called Dry Fog is sometimes marketed as a simpler, more reliable and more economical aeroponics. In order to atomize the nutritive solution, an ultrasonic machine is used, thus eliminating the nozzles. The fog which emerges therefrom has droplet sizes between 1 and 10 microns. NASA has already determined that the ideal droplet size is 50 microns to support long-term crops. In addition, it has often been shown that Dry Fog remains suspended in the air for too long, does not collide enough with the roots and eventually takes the place of oxygen in the culture chamber. The plants develop surprisingly fast at first, but soon find themselves dehydrated, nutrient deficient and suffocated.

 

6. Our results and vision

For our part, we have developed different solutions to the recurring problems of aeroponics while reducing the cost of equipment and without compromising on the quality of the mist. By using a filtration system and misters more suited to our needs, we were able to eliminate electronic valve equipments and the pressure tank. Our nozzles and filters do not need maintenance during at least 8 months even with organic fertilizers and when they do they are quickly rinsed and are reusable. This allows for complete seasons without worrying about the clogging of the misters.

With a pressure of 60 to 125 psi an atomization of 50 to 70 microns is obtained. The mist is delicate but assimilable and the roots remain perfectly stable even at the opening of the irrigation lines. In addition, the gravity quickly returns the droplets to the drainage which accelerates the drying and increases the oxygen levels in the chamber. Our pumps consume very little energy and can be supported by an emergency system consisting of solar panels or chargers and 12V batteries. We still chose to put a small cube of coconut around the most sensitive part of our plants which keeps their heart moist. This allows us to have a buffer of at least 4 hours before having to irrigate in case of technical problems, lack of electricity or maintenance.


Our results speak for themselves. We harvested multitudes of strawberries, cucumbers and peppers in the middle of winter, 184 g radishes, 200 g beets, wild blackberries with 17-foot-tall branches, hundreds of Espelette peppers on each plant, lettuce larger than our children, tobacco in 3 weeks and half a kilo Aji Charapita peppers on a plant of 17 months and her two cuttings. The three Charapita are now more than 7 feet tall and 20 feet square without showing any sign of weakness or discontent with their living environment. On the contrary, we are talking about a specie that remains a 3-foot bush in its natural state in Peru. All our crops have been documented and published online to remove any doubts.

Comparing our method to that of Agrihouse called True HPAtm our benefits are in terms of maintenance and costs. Agrihouse’s systems, although they are the pioneers of the market, are still selling at astronomical prices as if they were made for space exploration budgets. The self-made HPA systems (DIY) currently found online are very similar to those at Agrihouse, at a much more reasonable cost, but still rely on electronic valves and the pressure build-up tank. We also find the same problems of clogging and if the mist is poorly calibrated we can quickly lose performance. Finally, compared to other cheap methods, our equipment is competitive but offers the true potential for high pressure aeroponic performance and efficiency.

Mist Roots Buffer Maintenance Results Cost
Vertiponic 50-70 μm
Stables
Heart (4h)
8 months
High
Good
True HPAtm 20-50 μm
Stables
No
χ
2 months
χ
High
Bad
χ
HPA DIY 20-70 μm
Average
No
χ
2 months
χ
High
Average
Low pressure Drops
χ
Unstables
χ
DWC
? Average
Good
Dry Fog 1-10 μm
χ
Suffocated
χ
No
χ
? No
χ
Good

*** All these data are estimated according to free access information for informational purposes only.

From the beginning, we worked as a team and made a lot of sacrifices to make these projects a reality. I had to do a lot of research on vegetable crops and travel around the province and the Internet to find the right equipment. But it was Jean-François who unlocked the dead-end in which aeroponics was. Armed with his experiences in horticulture, hydroponics, mechanics and construction, he saw solutions differently where companies have spent years looking for the right path.

Last year we considered the option of patenting this innovation too. Apart from the fact that our financial resources were limited to achieve this, we basically refused the program. It was quite possible to secure the necessary investors for the legal aspects and marketing but then what? How many technologies essential to the evolution of humanity have been bought and buried for the economic priorities of the big industrialists.

Our independence is priceless and we prefer to see an army of makeshift aeroponists rise up with us rather than enrich a handful of investors who would give us back their small change. This is what motivates us to give our technology open source very soon. I hope you will be there. Join us on the Facebook group  Aéroponie et Hydroponie

Tips for Winter Aeroponic Culture

Until we prepare our winter crops and open-source technology, here are some tips if you’re planning your own indoor space.


First, the choice of space requires different parameters. For a completely closed culture you must cover your walls, floors and ceiling with black & white polyethylene or silver Mylar paper to maximize your lighting and avoid mildew and other problems. Jean-François likes to build a wooden frame to minimize the holes in the walls, but there are also already silvered culture tents.


As light, we recommend a digital ballast equipped with a cooltube, blower, an HPS bulb 600W or 1000W (for flowering) and Metal Halide (for growth). Make sure that the digital ballast can fit all the bulbs you will need. The cooltube and blower are there to avoid overheating the grow room while redirecting this heat to the living space and thus save on the heating bill. With an installation as such you can add a charcoal filter if you grow cannabis and/or if you have pollen allergies.

Another option is to install the system in front of south-facing windows and add extra lighting, either Sunblaster T-5 or Sunblaster LED to extend the photoperiod. In this case make sure that all your components: pipes, tables and tanks are covered in white like polyethylene “Black & White” because the sun even in winter can overheat your nutrient solution very shortly.

For the aeroponic system you need: Pump, Filters, Misters, Roots Chamber, Tank, Plumbing, Drains, Plant Stand (3.5″ basket with clay balls and coconut or rockwool cube or neoprene), Sort period Cycle Timer (minimum 1 or 5 seconds on), Fertilizer (recommended Advanced Nutrients). Contact us for our self-assembly kits (DIY) of our technology already available including a pump, a filtration system and misters. For all hydroponic projects, you will also need some practical and essential tools: Reverse Osmosis, Computer and PH Probe, EC/PPM Pencil.

Thank you for having accompanied us so far in this presentation which is only the beginning. Jean-François reminds you that: “you have no right to make mistakes with your high value crops”. See you soon with your hands in the water and the roots in the air!

To stay in touch : Facebook group Aéroponie et Hydroponie (In French but English content most welcomed).

 

  • Bryan, III. « Hydroponic Plant Cultivating Apparatus » Patent 7,055.282 B2. 6 Juin, 2006
  • Chanh Trung / Cultiver des légumes sans sol / 2011
  • Ehrlich, Karl F. « Aeroponic Apparatus » Patent 4,869,019. 26 Septembre, 1989
  • NASA Spinoff (2006) Progressive Plant Growing Has Business Blooming.Environmental and Agricultural Resources NASA Spinoff 2006, pp68-72.
  • Nir, Isaac. « Apparatus and method for plant growth in Aeroponic conditions » Patent 4,332,105. 1 June 1982.
  • Otazú, V. 2010. Manual on quality seed potato production using aeroponics. International Potato Center (CIP), Lima, Peru. 44 p.
  • Schorr, Steven et al. « Method and apparatus for aeroponic propagation of plants » Patent 4,514,930. 7 May, 1985
  • Wainwright et al. « Low Pressure Aeroponic Growing Apparatus » Patent 6,807,770B2. 26 Octobre, 2004

 

Urban Agriculture Story: From NASA science to indoor gardening with Vertiponic

This article is a repost. The original article was published on RakeAround’s blog

Urban Agriculture Story: From NASA science to indoor gardening with Vertiponic

by Dominique Bernier,

Growing food in Space requires doing more and better with less. To achieve this, it was necessary to deconstruct the principles of agriculture and to question the importance of soil and water. NASA sponsored research showed that it can be done using high pressure aeroponics (HPA). Vertiponic has decoded some of this research and pushed it further to develop their own high-efficiency indoor garden.

This story began when I went to visit Vertiponic in Montreal, curious to learn about the Aji Charapita, a rare and expensive hot pepper they grow. I was blown away by what I discovered, as you can see in the clip below.

It turned out that the real deal was not this variety of pepper called the mother of all chilis, but how Vertiponic was growing them. It’s not exaggerating to say that it has the potential to completely disrupt the way we grow organic foods in an urban environment.

Vertiponic’s indoor garden, which looks a bit like a Space shuttle pod from the inside, can grow high-yield organic foods on a small surface using HPA. Although the current design may not have yet been refined for the mass market, it could become the new must-have home appliance in the near future.

JF explaining to me technical aspects of his garden
alt textJF’s daughter decided to join the discussion

Unlike most of the indoor gardens currently available on the market, which may serve more decorative purposes than productivity, Vertiponic’s garden can drastically reduce the cost of buying fresh food. It also answers many other problems such as traceability, sustainability, food safety, and food accessibility.

It can grow 36 crops on 16 sq.-ft., including extra space for side crops like micro-greens. There’s a 2 sq.-ft. space that remains available at all time for harvest and maintenance, as one of the growth tables can be moved from side to side when required. In this concept, the yield value is measured by cubic feet instead of square feet, simply because it better reflects the efficiency of the space used.

On average, each crop space can produce up to 10 pounds of fruits or greens per year (depending on the type of crop: e.g., Lettuce, 12 lbs/y; King of the North peppers 11 lbs/y, Doe Hill peppers 10 lbs/y, Melon radish 5 lbs/y). When considering the market price of each crop, the yearly value of food grown in this 128 ft3 space can vary from $500 to over $1000. Because Vertiponic grows Aji Charapita peppers, their average revenue per ft3 is skyrocketing. Market price per kilo for this hot pepper can be up to $25000. Their space can produce 400 grams of it yearly, making their yield value flirting around $78.00/ft3.

The indoor garden HPA system is calibrated in a way that prevents nozzles from clogging, for minimum maintenance and maximum performance. Water used for the mist has a density of 4ppm. It could be entirely powered by a 5,000 watts solar panel or 2,000 watts wind mill, making it completely self sufficient. Heat generated from the lights is recuperated to warm the apartment or house during winter and pushed outside during summer, similarly to what a dryer does.

Indoor Garden with closed doors
Indoor Garden with panels removed for an inside view

Another particular aspect of this garden is its cost of research and development. While major tech companies like Microsoft, Tencent, and Intel are injecting millions of dollars in projects to develop efficient ways to grow food assisted by AI, Vertiponic has generated similar or even superior results from a budget below $5,000 (without artificial intelligence support).

Who’s behind Vertiponic?

This small startup was created by JF, a construction worker with a strong interest in growing plants. His spouse Noemi helps him with communications by promoting his work on Vertiponic website and social media.

JF explained that he didn’t have the opportunity to get a university education. However, his passion for science, engineering, and biology, his curiosity, as well as his hunger for knowledge turned out to be the best teachers. At the age of 18, he already started to experiment with high-efficiency growth techniques with medicinal cannabis plants.

In 2002, his own designed strain of organic medicinal cannabis earned him the first place at the Quebec Cannabis Cup. His award-winning strain, called the Magic Crystal, was a cross between a White Widow and an Orange Bud. From there, cloning became his specialty.

“With what I know today, I would need only 4 quality plants and a 600 watts light to produce 400 high-quality clones per plant in less than 2 weeks”, JF said proudly.

Such skills became highly valuable in Canada since October 17, 2018, and you may wonder: why JF is not a full-time professional cannabis grower? “The social impact between growing cannabis and food is not the same”, JF said. Already in 2003, he noticed a change in the cannabis industry. The hype around scientific and medical purposes of growing cannabis switched to interests for entertainment and product promotion.

For JF, it is the lack of seriousness and concrete social objectives that have pushed him aside. An industry solely in search of high profits from entertainment was not exactly what he was looking for. His primary interests were in researching, developing, and creating new growth techniques. Therefore, he decided to continue what he had started but changed from cannabis to food crops. If you think about it, this is far from being a bad move. This field is in terrible need of new, sustainable and economically viable innovations.

JF understands that the traditional agricultural model reached its limits. That’s why he wanted to create a system that offers the highest yields at the lowest cost, using a minimum of natural resources, human resources, and space.

“High margin can be generated in agriculture if using the right science. And you don’t need Roundup, underpaid foreign workers or an army of volunteers to achieve that.” -JF

Everything he has learned in the cannabis industry was applied to food crops like tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, and many others. To carry out his project, HPA became his main growing technique and his research subject.

High Pressure Aeroponics is a plant growing process that uses air as a substrate to feed the root systems. To prevent them from drying out, the roots are sprayed by an intermittent mist.

“NASA sponsored research has shown that HPA is the most performant and sustainable method to grow food that has ever been developed and it’s simply indisputable.” – JF

How Aeroponics Works

alt

According to Richard Stoner, the NASA’s researcher who developed the method in the 80s, HPA is using up to 98% less water than traditional agriculture. As an example, for every 1000 litres used in traditional agriculture, aeroponics would use only 20 litres to reach the same results.

The same NASA study shows that Aeroponics reduce fertilizer usage by 95% compared to traditional agriculture, making it very competitive with other popular hydroponic technics. « If you compared with hydroponic deep water current (DWC) in which you need at least 15 litres of water per plant, my aeroponics system has a reservoir of 40 litres for 36 plants, reducing significantly operational costs and the quantity of nutrients needed”, JF said. “Aeroponics is the only method that enables you to work with high-quality nutrients, reach high efficiency and get optimal results, at the lowest costs”, he added.

Decoding High Pressure Aeroponics Science

What makes JF’s aeroponics system unique is the way he was able to apply what he had learned from NASA’s HPA research into its own calibration, which includes:

  • water ppm level

  • size of each droplet in the mist

  • droplet pH level

  • the dosage of nutrients in each droplet

  • the frequency of the mist sprayed

  • duration of each spray

  • PSI level

“These settings are Vertiponic’s secret weapon”, JF explained. By experimenting with his aeroponics configuration, JF learned that the faster a plant grows, the better the quality of the crop and its nutritional value. This is particularly noticeable through the taste and aromas that the fruits give off.

With HPA, it takes 15 seconds for the plant to detect nutrients in the mist and about a day to absorb what it needs. Calibration of a droplet is calculated in microns (1 micron = 0.001millimetre) and it is something JF takes really seriously.

The better the mist quality, the better the productivity of the plant will be. Currently, he’s working on downsizing his droplets to get a bit closer to 50 microns, which NASA researchers established as the size to reach optimal results. However, it is an ongoing debate, he noted.

At this moment, his current calibration prevents all nozzles from clogging and had reduced significantly maintenance time and cost. It’s something that very few people or systems can brag of having accomplished, JF said.

Would reaching 50 microns impact nozzles performance? He doesn’t have the answer yet, as not enough people have crossed this territory and documented it so far. He’s in a position where part of the knowledge on the matter is created by himself. For now, he understands how and why his crops react so well to his specific calibration, making it one of the most valuable pieces of information he developed.

“With the size of my droplets, my system is performing very well, nozzles stay clean, maintenance effort is low and plants are thriving like crazy!”- JF

JF is shy of discussing results with people employing traditional agriculture methods, as the gap between what the science knows and what the agri-food industry does becomes too wide. He often experiences systemic negation, bashing or is accused of lying and cheating. Nonetheless, he persists in sharing lots of his knowledge so people could understand the possibilities of HPA. You could also give it a try by consulting Vertiponic’s 7 Steps for Indoor High Pressure Aeroponics.

“I still don’t understand why aeroponics is not widely taught in agricultural schools and universities in North America”, JF said. “This method produces 30% more and faster than hydroponic, and in my system, my crops require no fungicides, pesticides, and algicides”, he added.

All nutrients used are mineral and organic based and no chemicals are required. JF explained that he may use Boron (5B) at one point, but on specific occasions and for certain types of crops only, such as strawberries.

To feed plants adequately, JF developed his own soup for his aeroponics system using nutrients from Advance. What he calls soup is a personalized combination of nutrients for crops, which feed them through the mist.

Here are some examples of crop productivity results from his HPA system:

  • Beetroots: 160g in 6 weeks

  • Blackberry plant: grew up to 17 ft and took 8 weeks to produce berries

  • Cucumber plant: produced 1-2 fruits per week

  • Doe Hill pepper plant: 100 to 200 peppers per year

  • Espelette pepper plant: produced over 400 peppers per year (avg market price $12/lbs)

  • King of the North pepper plant: 50 to 100 peppers per year

  • Iceberg lettuce: 5 weeks from seed to harvest

  • Melon radishes: 180g in 5 weeks from seeds to harvest

  • Purple radishes: 60g in 3 weeks from seeds to harvest

  • Tobacco: 3 weeks from seed to ready-to-dry leaves)

To get a better visual, have a look at Vertiponic Flikr account.

Next Step

Vertiponic aims to create a variety of peronalized HPA installations and services to answer the needs of many types of client. Such products or services could:

  • help increase or maximize existing urban farms yields

  • support non-profit organizations to grow food efficiently and at a low cost for their clientele

  • enable restaurateurs to reduce their food costs

  • provide turnkey solutions to entrepreneurs wishing to start their urban farming projet.

To demonstrate the power of cloning and the system productivity, JF plans to make the Aji Charapita, a rare plant growing in Peru, as common as basil by producing up to 1000 clones per month. It is also a way to show that his productivity value per ft3 can be equal or superior to those of big players like Square Roots, AeroFarm or Bowery Farming.

He already started and you can see in the video below how he transformed the indoor garden pod into a mini Peruvian jungle.

alt textAji Charapita plant in the indoor garden
One of the Aji Charapita harvests

Continuing the research and development on the indoor garden remains a priority. “This type of product can really scale and could become as useful as any home appliances we know”, JF said.

The indoor garden pod could have different sizes. The main benefit of increasing the size (if you have space) is that the value of the garden yield becomes well above the initial cost, the operational cost, and the effort required.

The purpose of the indoor garden pod goes beyond efficiency and productivity. It’s about making it accessible to as many people as possible. Combined with a monitoring software or AI support, it would have the potential to make each of us the most sustainable and productive farmers in the history of mankind.

“If my system would be supported by a monitoring software or AI, a 1,600 ft3 indoor garden space or greenhouse would easily make a family of 4 completely self-sufficient in fruits and vegetables.” -JF

Other crops will be tested shortly, such as exotic fruits, avocado trees… and coffee! Now imagine this: people easily growing their own coffee or growing coffee locally. The potential and the opportunities are real. It would represent a huge relief on the supply chain and a considerable drop in our carbon footprint. This is what happens when you mix Space science and agriculture: the sky really is the limit.

Do you have an inspiring urban agriculture story to tell or innovative ideas to share? Contact us or leave a comment below!

About RakeAround and Selling the Food You Grow Online

You’re an urban food grower with harvests to sell? Let us help you reach buyers in your city!

The practice of urban agriculture is growing rapidly. People like JF are true ambassadors in promoting the benefits of growing in cities and E-commerce can play a role in what they do.

Online shopping has reshaped our buying habits, especially for city dwellers. The web gives us the ability to sell products at a low cost with less effort than ever.

As e-commerce-for-all is still relatively new, RakeAround provides a simplified online selling process to help small-scale urban food producers generate revenues, without the burden of attending farmer’s markets or spending too much time searching for customers.

Proximity buyers can find their products in one click, using the “What’s near me” feature. Our user experience is designed to make buying local products simpler, fresher and faster by considering both producers and consumers’ busy urban lifestyles.


About the author

Dominique Bernier

Dominique is the co-founder of RakeAround. For him, demographic trends, the democratization of technology and the personalization of food will shape food systems of the 21st century.

Heat up the festivities with Aji Charapita Ceviche and smoothie

Hola from Cote St. Luc! Here we have been getting into celebration mood by exploring Peruvian Fine Cuisine and trying colorful recipes to honor our gift of the year, the aeroponic Aji Charapita. If you want to join us in heating up your festivities with this storyful pepper and be a host with the most, make sure you place an order fast. We are offering 30% off and free shipping until 2019 !!!!!

In the meantime, here are two fun recipes to share. The Peruvian classic, Fish Ceviche and … scroll for it… A Healthy Spicy Smoothie, because we are NOT going to encourage you to drink alcohol this year BUT IF YOU DO, we have a great cocktail to put you back on your feet the next day.

 

 
 

ORDER FRESH CHARAPITA NOW!

2 grams of Aji Charapita peppers were used for those 2 recipes. We are offering 30% off celebration discount and free shipping until 2019.

7 steps for Indoor High Pressure Aeroponics (HPA)

We are happy to introduce the Winter 2019 High Pressure Aeroponics (HPA) setup. We used the same 16 square foot indoor space as last year, but JF rebuilt it all from scratch making it more efficient and beautiful than ever. Here is how he made the new garden in 7 steps:

1. Prepare the space

JF started by pulling apart what was left of the old garden to redesign it. On the walls he put a first layer of black & white plastics and a second layer of mylar papers. To avoid piercing new holes in the walls and have more flexibility with our tables, he built a wooden frame and covered it with mylar papers as well.

2. Light and Blower

On the ceiling, he repositioned the blower and cooltube to make them both as high as possible. Last year, the blower and carbon filter were screwed to the ceiling and the cool tube attached right underneath. It was okay at first but by spring we had some peppers and beans growing above the light. Now with the wooden frame’s support, he could position everything right at the top without any holes in the ceiling. In the cooltube, we have THE 600W Hortilux Super HPS (best spectrum for flowering) and all its heat is pushed outside the garden into our apartment.

3. Bring in the tables and plants

During summer our HPA tables had been setup in a greenhouse outside. As it started freezing too quickly in the fall, we had to rush over 24-48h to bring the plants inside. So the three first steps were completed overnight and we installed an emergency reservoir before we could complete the other steps. The 6 months old Aji Charapita was at least 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide so it was quite a challenge to move it. Also, aeroponic plants having their roots hanging in the air, they usually get misted every 5-10 minutes. We had to be as fast as we could in that delicate step. The tables are now placed in L so the most mature Aji Charapita plant can get full light from a lower level than the others.

4. Door and equipments

Last year some parts of the garden were very difficult to access, even just getting inside was a hassle especially with my pregnant belly. Now, JF had the brilliant idea to build a solid door and wood panels openable with hinges. This solves a great deal of access problems for maintenance, electrical work, cleaning, pollination and harvesting.

On the other side of the door, he installed an old Coleman cooler as a more compact and food grade reservoir. In the reservoir he put the pump intake with a custom filter, an air pump and the PH probe on a floating raft made out of PVC leftovers. Just above in a metal box, he put the Aquatec 8800 booster pump (food grade and permanent magnet high pressure pump), the CycleStat-2 timer (set to mist 5 seconds every 7 minutes) and the Milwaukee PH controller/pump injector. In the garden he installed an air pump, extra fans, Sunblaster LEDs and neons.

5. Plumbering and misters

We started experimenting true High Pressure Aeroponics (HPA) in spring. On the summer setup we had Maxijet hoses rated for 125 psi and we had 55 psi pressure. But we noticed some leaks and deformations on the hose around the nozzles. It still worked but it needed tie wraps. So this time, JF built more rigid plumberings (quickconnect sharkbites) and we gained 3 psi (58 psi total) which does not sound like much but at this level it helps getting closer to the perfect mist droplets size.

We are also happy that all this R&D paid off in improving HPA technics. One of the biggest aeroponics critic is that the nozzles (also called foggers or misters) often clog. But with the technic that JF has been fine tuning for the last 8 months, NOT ANY NOZZLES has clogged even once. He recently cleaned some of them and I could take a photo of what 8 months of dirt look like while still working fine. This holds real potential for large scale Aeroponics as it could be possible to do a complete season without any maintenance on the misters.

6. Make deeper root chambers

Our peppers plants getting more mature, the roots were lacking space in the chamber. Because the tables were 8 inches deep, when the roots grew long enough to touch the bottom they formed a thick layer that would soak in stagnant water. The plant started to behave as if it was in an hybrid Aeroponics/NFT system, thus reducing its performance. So, JF extended the table’s root chambers with foodgrade styrofoam (the blue one) to 18 inches depth. The day after the change, the Aji Charapita’s roots switched back to a white color and for the first time we saw tiny fluffy rootlets appear.

7. Put it on wheels

The last but not least improvement of our new garden is that the whole bottom table is now on wheels. We can unfold it like a drawer allowing us to go work, harvest and do maintenance on the other side of our big plants. As for top table, its height is customable as it is hold by chains.

Conclusion

Now that all the mature plants are safe, we will be starting new seedlings. Last year, we were growing raddishes in 3 weeks and we can’t wait to see what effect HPA will have on those. Also, we still have a 4 square feet space available in there so maybe JF will come up with a new compact growing prototype.

For all of you indoor growers out there, happy season! Also if you have winter crops you want to sell check out our new partner RakeAround, an e-commerce platform for urban agriculture products.

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The Aji Charapita shows its colors

We are having so much fun growing our first Aji Charapita hot pepper plant in outdoor aeroponics this season. From the tiny fragile seedling that was dropping its leaves to this majestic bush full of pods that are now gorgeously turning yellow, we have been falling in love.

It is so rewarding to see the pods maturing. Called the “mother of all chilis” and known to be the rarest and most exclusive hot pepper in the world, Aji Charapita has a unique fruity flavor and a Scoville heat ranging between 30,000 and 100,000 SHU. Our original seed is 100% pure F1, having been harvested in the peruvian jungle itself.
Quickly visit us on RakeAround to get them fresh while they last

All summer we gave this special plant the best we possibly could. Natural light, shelter under the greenhouse, good air circulation, high pressure aeroponics with perfect micron mist on the roots and all the way organic Advanced Nutrients feeds. At the end of the outdoor season, we added double layers on the greenhouse walls and Sunblaster orange neons/LED additional lightings.

We recently found out from peruvian friends a little more about all the myths surrounding this amazing plant. The wild Aji Charapita is a very ancestral variety of Capsicum chinense native to the peruvian jungle. Many peppers we know today may have evolved from it thus the name “mother of all chilis”. It needs very delicate conditions like hot springs to survive in winter.

Unfortunalty for it, bad people found out they could use it to increase their profit in the coca extraction. Because of this and its unique flavor, the wild variety started being abusively harvested to the brink of extinction. This is why it became rare and its culture is now forbidden in Latin America.

Learning that fact made us feel sorry that this special plant could go extinct for such a destructive industry. This motivated us to double our effort in order to propagate the plants we take care of right now and share them as much as we can. More people should know its worth and how amazing it tastes. And to preserve the strand we also won’t devaluate it or sell open pollinated seeds. Clones will be available during the winter and spring.

Update:
The plants and aeroponic setup is now back indoor under the sodium light and the mother plant is still full of pods and flowers. We are also happy to announce that JF successfully cloned a dozen babies. With God’s help we may have a solid Aji Charapita winter harvest.

Aji Charapita

Why we love aeroponics

Aeroponics has been put forward by NASA as one of the greatest ecological solution for the future of agriculture and food security. We feel blessed to be experimenting a technic with such high potentials.

In 2005, I was sitting in a Hubert Reeves conference in which he was asking: “What are we going to eat tomorrow?” In the last decade, issues like the loss of arable lands, desertification, food transportation and water pollution are a painful reality-check about our consumption wasteful ways.

Solutions come in many forms mostly by looking at ways to do more by using less, reusing more and wasting less. Aeroponics and vertical farming have been developed in this exact context.

 

Aeroponic vertical farming advantages

In the 1990’s, NASA researches proved High Pressure Aeroponics (HPA) was the most water and nutrient efficient growing technic that can sustain any types of plants, even trees. Since then, no better technic has been developed, it has only been improved with better yields and better results.

Our 3 months old pepper roots in low pressure aeroponic system

HPA is achieved with a high pressure pump (80-110 psi) and misting nozzles that gently give nutrient solutions to plants’ roots through an ideal of 50 microns droplets. It is a delicate technic that can easily go wrong but when done well, the results are uncomparable to other horticultural methods.

  • Because nutrients are easily available, plants spend less energy on their root systems so they grow faster, are healthier and produce more yields
  • “Aeroponics systems can reduce water usage by 98%, fertilizer usage by 60%, and pesticide usage by 100%” – NASA, 2007
  • Vertical farming uses about 1/10 of the conventional agricultural space, therefore it releases pressure on lands and natural habitats
  • Urban farming reduces food transportation as it is set up close to population density

A story that inspires

We see more and more urban, vertical and/or hydroponic projects rising in the USA, Canada, Japan and Europe. But the one company that is a true inspiration for us is AeroFarms in New Jersey.

Starting in 2004, they now successfully operate 9 aeroponic vertical farms, one of which is the largest indoor farm in the world. They compete with a highly subsidized agriculture and produce 390 times more per acre than field farming.

Our aeroponic journey so far

Our winter 2017 vertical setup in 14 feet solarium

We have been experimenting low pressure aeroponics since two years. Before that I was an amateur gardener trying out aquaponics with mixed results. JF is the true master grower with 19 years of hydroponic experience. When we started in our 14 feet high solarium, aeroponics was JF’s last hydroponic frontier.

Since then, we cannot imagine going back as aeroponics is the only obvious choice for us. We are still mezmerized everyday by how fast our plants grow and how healthy they are. Last year, we had fun eating wild blackberries indoor with branches growing 17 feet in one winter. Also, we harvested more than 400 espelette peppers on 3 plants.

Aeroponic peppers from 3 months old plants

In our current setup, we are harvesting raddishes in 3 weeks, iceberg lettuces in 4-6 weeks and peppers since the plants were 2 months old.

We have achieved great results with only low pressure systems and now we cannot wait to try high pressure. We are soon expecting delivery on an Aquatec 8800 pump that will make it possible. So stay tuned for the next season HPA setup.

 

Aquatec 8800 Booster pump for HPA

 

Update 08/04/2018: We have just received our Aquatec 8800 Booster pump for High Pressure Aeroponics. JF is already making a mess while doing testings and we are very exciting to share results very soon.

 

 

Vertiponic garden winter 2018

Currently Growing: an early aeroponic spring

We have been experimenting aeroponics and photo documenting our progress for more than a year now. During the 2017 winter, our vertical setup was in a countryside home with a majestic 14 feet high solarium.


This winter, being back in the city, we have been working in a much smaller space with no natural light. This forced us to become more efficient and we are having as much if not even more fun growing our fresh vegetables.

We built our garden in a 4 feet wide hallway with mylar papers. On the ceiling we have a fan, a cooltube, an electronic ballast and a 600W Hortilux Super HPS. The first aeroponic table on top is were we put all the fruiting plants and raddishes. Underneath it we setted up six T-5 sunblaster neons. The second aeroponic table sits there filled with herbs, lettuces and young plants that will eventually move on the top table.

We started growing early January and already harvested raddishes, lettuces, peppers, beans and ground cherries. We use Advanced Nutrients for our recipe. We should change our soup every week but to reduce cost and push our experimentations further, we change it every month. This should limits our results but we still succeed with impressive grow rates.  One of the way we achieve this is by monitoring the plants closely and adding specific nutrients at first signs of a deficiency.

Two weeks ago, we added blueberry plants that had been sleeping for two months in a soil pot. We washed all the roots with icy water and put the main plant and its babies in 3 inch coco pots that fits in our aeroponic tables. The first leaves started growing after 5-7 days.

But to our most surprised delight, the aeroponic spring brought us our first blueberry FLOWERS yesterday! We are very excited to see where this leads and we hope you will be pleased to follow our progress.

 

 

 

Vertiponic garden winter 2018