At first glance, aquaponics and hydroponics are very similar because both involve growing plants in a soilless environment. However, while they’re both similar in concept the big difference are the fish or the lack of them. In a nutshell, an aquaponic systems uses fish to provide nutrients to the plants while hydroponic systems utilize nutrient-enriched water solutions.
Differences between aquaponics and hydroponics
- Aquaponics uses fish to provide essential nutrients for plant (although you can use additional plant food with them) growth while hydroponics doesn’t involve growing of fish but uses nutrient-enriched water solutions.
- Aquaponics is typically purely organic and doesn’t use synthetic fertilizers while hydroponics uses nutrient solutions which consist of minerals like calcium and magnesium in the raw water and nutrients added with fertilizers.
- While both use nutrient-rich water solutions there’s a difference in how plants receive the nutrients. Aquaponics rely on fish waste to nourish the plants being cultivated.
- Since aquaponics uses fish there’s a greater tendency for contamination due to the fish waste compared to hydroponics where there are fewer chances for contamination since there’s no excretion used.
- An aquaponics system typically costs 30% to 50% more to construct and implement compared to a hydroponics system. The former is more complex because of the fish element in addition to the cultivation of plants and vegetables.
- While aquaponics is cost-effective because of the use of organic matter to supply nutrients, hydroponics is less cost-effective because chemical nutrients need to be purchased.
- An aquaponics system is slower and takes time to start compared to the hydroponics system which is quicker to start up.
- The operating temperature of the hydroponics system is lower to discourage the growth of bacteria as opposed to the aquaponics method where the higher temperature is needed to encourage the growth of nutrient-rich bacteria.
- Aquaponics has a closed-loop system and water is recycled and doesn’t need to be replaced while hydroponics require flushing and water needs to be replaced to prevent salt build-up and for solutions not to harm the plants.
- Hydroponics results in lower yields compared to aquaponics where you can both yield vegetables and fresh fish.
What do aquaponics and hydroponics have in common?
Despite the obvious differences between the two agricultural farming methods, both have their corresponding and weaknesses. Most of all, they also share some common characteristics. Here are some of the similarities between aquaponics and hydroponics:
- Both systems are agricultural farming methods that thrive without the use of soil.
- Both hydroponics and aquaponics rely on water as the delivery system or medium for the plants’ nutrients.
- They’re both stable systems that can produce higher crop yields compared to soil-grown crops.
- The two farming systems have a lower tendency for pest damage.
- Water and nutrient levels are conserved using the two systems and there’s less wastage.
What are the methods used in aquaponics and hydroponics?
Aside from differences in characteristics, these two agricultural systems also have varying methods that are commonly practiced by gardeners nowadays. Here are the methods commonly used in aquaponics and hydroponics:
This is also known as float, deep flow, and deep channel. In this system, the plants are cultivated on rafts or polystyrene boards that float and this is in a tank separate from the fish tank. The water flows continuously through filtration components from the fish tank, through the raft tank where plants are grown and back again to the fish tank, following a certain cycle.
Nutrient film technique
In this method the plants are grown in long narrow channels where a thin film of water flows along each channel and provides the plant roots with water, oxygen, and nutrients. However, a biofilter may be needed for this particular method.
Media-filled bed system
This method uses a tank or container and utilizes perlite or gravel for the plant bed which is periodically filled with water from the fish tank which drains back to it. The solids and wastes are broken down in the plant bed.
In this popular system the aerated and nutrient-rich reservoir supplies solution by pumping it through tubes going to individual plants and dripped slowly to the growing media around the root system allowing the plants to stay moist and nourished.
Ebb and flow system
The method involves flooding a grow bed with nutrient solution from a reservoir. With the use of a timer, the pump in the reservoir fills the grow bed with water and nutrients and when the timer stops, the gravity drains the water out of the grow bed and returns it to the reservoir.
In this method the plants are placed in a growing media on a tray atop a reservoir that has a water solution with dissolved nutrients and wicks travel from the reservoir to the growing tray. Nutrients and water saturate the growing media around the plants’ root systems.
This method suspends plants in the air and exposes the naked roots to a mist that’s filled with nutrients. It’s enclosed in frameworks like cubes which can hold a lot of plants.
Deep water culture system
The plants are suspended in aerated water in this particular system which is considered as one of the easiest and most popular hydroponics methods around.
Nutrient film technique system
In this method, the plants are suspended above a stream of continuously flowing nutrient solution that’s sprinkled on the ends of the plants’ root systems.
Both aquaponics and hydroponics farming systems are sustainable and environmentally-friendly because they don’t take up much space, don’t require soil usage, and water is considerably conserved. However, these systems have differences when it comes to cost-effectiveness, productivity, and ease of maintenance. Most of all, aquaponics enjoy marketing appeal and draws more attention because of the use of fish in addition to the cultivation of plants and vegetables.