15-year-old Erik Meike and Briana Das, along with their 12-year-old sisters Elise and Leona (respectively) wanted to create a “No-Touch Garden”. Calling themselves “Tribe Awesome” they started tinkering with hydroponics systems (using an off-the-shelf marine pump, standard tubing, PVC piping and marine float switches). Then they discovered aeroponics, garden tech tested by NASA on the space shuttle, and after “hours and hours” of research they created an aeroponics-in-a-bucket kit that any teen could learn to make.
Aeroponics, like hydroponics, doesn’t uses soil, but unlike hydroponics which floods the system with water every few minutes, aeroponics uses a fogger to mist the roots. The Tribe Awesome teens use an ultrasonic fogger (purchased for about $25 online) to deliver what they consider the exact micron-sized droplets for their plants’ roots.
“It vibrates at 4 megahertz and atomizes the water and nutrients into 5-10 micron bits and that is the exact right size for the roots, explains 12-year-old Elise. “They have pores in them that directly get things that are 5-10 microns. that’s why we think it’s so much more efficient because the water and nutrients can go directly into the roots instead of being larger droplet sizes.”
Combine the fogger with a $5 bucket, a bit of foam, water and some seedlings and Tribe Awesome has what they consider future garden tech. “This was developed by NASA to be used in space for the space shuttle and stuff but we think it can help here on earth too.”
According to NASA, aeroponics (AKA fogponics) can reduce water usage (often by 90%) and pesticide use and improve crop yields. The Tribe Awesome kids have grown comparison plants in dirt, hydroponics and aeroponics systems that show that fogponics grow faster.
Bothered by the energy usage of the system, Erik Meike began tinkering with an Arduino controller and triacs to pulse the foggers and cut the energy usage. Once this setup has been calibrated correctly they hope to use their 100 Watt solar system (which currently can power just the ebb and flow hydroponic system) to power their aeroponics buckets.
Concerned by California’s water shortages and providing more youth with access to fresh, organic veggies, the teens hold workshops to teach other kids to make their own aeroponics gardens (and to take one home with them).