As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases
Table of Contents
Aquaponics vs Hydroponics: Differences, Similarities, Advantages and disadvantages
Growing plants in an enclosed system without the use of soil is called hydroponics. Growing plants with water and fish waste in a closed environment where there is no need for soil, the nutrients are provided by the fish waste is known as aquaponics.
The two systems have many similarities and differences, which will be outlined below.
This blog post compares hydroponics to aquaponics so you can decide which one best suits your needs.
What is hydroponics?
Hydroponics is a method for growing plants in water and air where there is no need for soil. There are many different types of hydroponic systems, including Deep Water Culture (DWC), which have the roots completely submerged, N.F.T or Nutrient Film Technique where the roots hang directly into flowing nutrient-rich water, Ebb & Flow Systems where the grow tray fills with water then drains back out again after some time, Aeroponics which uses an inert medium that does not hold nutrients but small droplets of nutrient-rich spray onto plant’s leaves to be absorbed via root hair contact, Wicking Media like coco peat moss pods lining pots to help wick moisture up from the bottom reservoir to feed top growth area, and Drip Irrigation where a timer controlled pump delivers water to each plant through a drip line with emitters placed near the plants’ base.
Hydroponics is often used in conjunction with artificial grow lights as they are not dependent on sunlight.
What is aquaponics?
Aquaponics is a method of growing plants in water and air, where the only difference from hydroponics is that fish waste provides nutrients to feed the plants. There are many different types of aquaponic systems, including media bed, NFT channel system, DWC with rafts or towers, flood & drain (also known as Ebb & Flow), vertical flow design, etc.
The beauty of using an enclosed environment for plant growth is that there is no need to use chemical pesticides or fertilizers, contaminating ground soil and waterways when they run off into natural ecosystems. Of course, if you want to grow food crops commercially, then it’s essential to have a certification process done by your local government department responsible for health inspections so you can sell your products to the public, and it’s also necessary for you to buy a license if you want to breed fish commercially.
Aquaponics is used by many people worldwide who wish to grow their organic food without using chemicals that can be hazardous for themselves and other living organisms such as pets or wildlife that rely on natural ecosystems remaining pesticide-free.
Some aquaponics like growing indoors in winter where sunlight hours are limited because of shorter daylight times (in countries near-polar regions), whereas others use greenhouse structures with artificial lighting depending upon climate conditions year-round, e.g., equatorial areas have longer daylight hours all year long, so they don’t need artificial lighting systems forcing them non-organic ways of producing pesticides to lengthen the photoperiod (daylight period) for their plants.
Aquaponics systems come in all shapes and sizes, from small home setups using buckets or barrels through to large commercial operations with acres of greenhouses under glass or plastic roofs – the largest being 8000 meters.
What is the difference between Hydroponics and Aquaponics?
Hydroponics and aquaponics use water as a growing medium, and no soil is needed. However, hydroponics does not rely on fish waste for nutrients, whereas with aquaponics, the plants are grown in an enclosed environment where fish live too, e.g., tanks, tubs or ponds, etc., so naturally, their wastes turn into plant food via beneficial bacteria which convert ammonia/ammonium ions that the fish produce from respiration into nitrites then later to nitrates which plants can absorb directly through roots hairs up until they need more than what’s available at any given time because of high demand during rapid growth periods, so it’s important to have regular partial water changes varying between 25-50% weekly depending upon species being cultivated and size of the system.
One other major difference between hydroponics and aquaponics is that the latter can support a wider variety of plants because they have access to an additional nutrient source.
In contrast, hydroponics cannot use fish waste as it would increase toxicity levels in the water, which would then kill the plants. However, there are some occasions where people grow aquatic plants (i.e., Algae) in a hydroponic setup for harvesting as part of their closed-loop system design.
Aquaponics produces significantly more food than hydroponics – up to ten times more per square foot. This is because aquaponics utilizes the entire plant, including the roots, while hydroponics only uses the leaves and stems.
Ease of maintenance
Aquaponics requires little maintenance compared to hydroponics, as the water is only changed every few weeks, and there is no need to add chemical fertilizers. However, regular checking of pH levels and nutrient concentrations is necessary to ensure everything is running smoothly; otherwise, problems such as algae overgrowth can occur.
On the other hand, hydroponics requires much more maintenance. Chemical nutrients have to be added regularly, and pH levels are checked much more often since it tends to fluctuate easily when fertilizer is being used in the water.
With aquaponics, there’s organic growth as fish waste is converted to plant food, and the plants act as a natural filter to clean the water for the fish. Hydroponics does not have this advantage; instead, it relies on chemical fertilizers for nutrients.
Aquaponics is more sustainable than hydroponics because it uses less water due to the recirculating system. Additionally, aquaponics does not rely on artificial chemicals or pesticides, making it an environmentally friendly option.
Hydroponics also has a positive effect on the environment by reducing groundwater usage; however, it still requires some level of chemical input, which can be harmful in high doses.
Any growth method that depends on water as a solvent will have an effect on pH, with hydroponics tending to maintain alkaline levels (pH over neutral at around pH of seven) as this helps prevent the root system from rotting whilst aquaponics systems tend to trend towards acidity (below pH six) because the fish and bacteria consume oxygen and produce carbon dioxide which lowers water’s total buffering capacity until such time that regular partial water changes using rain, grey or wastewater help stabilize it again over weeks/months.
Related: pH for hydroponics
In aquaponics, as there’s fish involved, chemicals cannot be used without poisoning them, whereas, with hydroponics, there’s no such limitation to the range of pesticides that can be employed.
Hydroponics requires perfect environmental conditions for plants to thrive, which means light, temperature and humidity must all be controlled via ventilation or air conditioning; otherwise, any/all could tip towards being too hot, too cold, or too humid resulting in poor plant growth. With aquaponics, regular partial water changes help maintain stable temperatures.
At worst, it would only require an additional supplementary heating system if outdoor ambient temperatures were consistently lower than around 13°C (55°F). Fish are also more resilient than plants when it comes to variations in pH, etc., because they’re ectothermic animals, i.e., their body temperature is regulated by the water temperature.
Hydroponics is more affordable to set up in the short term, as there is no need for a fish tank or grow bed. Aquaponics, on the other hand, has more startup expenses, as both a fish tank and grow bed are necessary. However, the cost of chemical fertilizers can add up over time, making hydroponics more expensive in the long run.
Aquaponics systems can be larger than hydroponics systems, as more plants can be grown in the same space. This is because aquaponics uses vertical stacking, whereas hydroponics does not.
Similarities and advantages of Aquaponics and Hydroponics
Both aquaponics and hydroponics use water as a growing medium and can support a wide variety of plants.
Some of the primary similarities include:
Less negative impact on the environment
As plants are grown indoors, there’s less need for pesticides, reducing the amount of harmful runoff that enters the water supply. There are also very few weed issues as there’s no soil needed.
Increased food production efficiency
Hydroponics and aquaponics are both more efficient in terms of the amount of food that can be grown in a set area when compared to traditional farming methods. Compared to other farming methods, the yields are about 30% – 40% more.
Ease of automation
Both systems can be automated relatively easily, making it possible to have a high degree of control over the entire growing process. This helps ensure that everything runs smoothly and that there are no surprises.
Low water requirements
Both systems use significantly less water than traditional agriculture, which is especially important in areas where access to freshwater is limited.
Both systems also have a longer growing period than traditional agriculture, which means that there can be more food production over a longer period. Certain food products can be grown even during off-seasons using these methods.
Disadvantages of Aquaponics and Hydroponics
Both hydroponics and aquaponics are more expensive than traditional agriculture methods.
The need for an enclosed environment means that the equipment is complicated to set up, maintain and clean compared with other growing mediums such as soil. It also makes these systems relatively costly in terms of ongoing maintenance costs. There’s a high risk of contamination if anything goes wrong during water changes, pump failures, etc.
Another major disadvantage is that both systems rely on electricity to power pumps, filters, heaters, e.t.c. Hence, they’re not particularly good options where access to reliable renewable energy sources isn’t available (or too expensive).
Finally, while some people claim environmental benefits over conventional farming methods, it should be noted that most commercial-scale operations use huge amounts of plastic and energy to make their systems work effectively. While this isn’t a problem in areas where access to these resources is abundant and cheap, it could become an issue as we look for ways to reduce our carbon footprints moving forward.
In conclusion, hydroponics and aquaponics can be useful tools for sustainably growing food. However, they do have some disadvantages compared with older methods of farming which make them less desirable to use on a commercial scale or where resources are limited.