The depletion of natural resources, contamination of water sources, misuse of synthetic chemical inputs, and lack of arable land have resulted in people looking for alternative, safer, and healthier ways to grow plants. This has led to the concept of soilless gardening, which has grown in popularity in recent years.
Overall, aquaponics and hydroponics are the two most popular in the soilless method of gardening. Both provide significant benefits, but the little differences between them are essential to understand so that you can choose what method of soilless gardening will work for you.
What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is a soilless method of growing that involves fish and plants grown together in one recirculating environment. In this method, the waste from the fish is converted by the nitrifying bacteria in nitrates. These nitrates become natural fertilizers for the plants to thrive in an aquaponics system. In return, plant roots filter and clean the water from toxins before it returns to the fish tank for the fish to live.
While the aquaponics growing method is straightforward, a grower can implement several methods of aquaponics. These are the media bed system, raft system, and nutrient film technique (nft).
Benefits of Aquaponics
- Aquaponics uses 90% less water than other methods of growing.
- Organic produce, because aquaponics, does not use harmful chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides because it can hurt the fish.
- Do not require a large land space because, with aquaponics, you can grow plants indoors, in the balcony, backyard, rooftop, or greenhouse.
- Year-round gardening.
- Aquaponics Produce higher yield because plants grow faster in an aquaponics system, and you can also plant all year round.
- No weeding because there is no soil involved.
- Aquaponics can provide two sources of income (fish and plants).
What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is a soilless method of growing plants that use only chemical nutrients and water. This method works by growing plants in a nutrient-rich water-based solution. Plants’ roots are directly suspended in nutrient-rich water, which gives them access to the substances they need to thrive. In addition, the plants also have access to oxygen, which allows the growing process to work without issues. There are six main types of hydroponics systems, these are:
- Water Culture
- Wick System
- Ebb and Flow
- Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
- Aeroponics System
Benefits of Hydroponics
- Hydroponics systems use ten times less water than soil gardening.
- Hydroponics can be grown anywhere, on the rooftop, or greenhouse and you don’t need a large space of land to grow hydroponically.
- In hydroponics, you can have control over the nutrient balance.
- No weeding involved.
- Year-round growing of plants.
- Plants grown hydroponically grow faster than those grown in the soil.
The Difference Between Aquaponics and Hydroponics
The presence of fish that provides nutrients to the plants is the most significant difference between aquaponics and hydroponics. But there are still some apparent differences between aquaponics and hydroponics. These are:
System Design and Components
The grow bed’s depth is one of the most significant differences between aquaponics and hydroponics. Aquaponics require at least 12″ deep grow beds, while hydroponics only requires 6″ grow bed depth. The second difference is the varying components. Aquaponics systems needed fish tanks and grow media to live and the nitrifying bacteria to colonize. On the other hand, hydroponics is sterile and does not need any grow media to support the plants or root system.
Cost of Chemical Nutrient
Hydroponics systems require chemical nutrients to make plants grow healthy, which can be costly. These nutrients are also scarce in some areas, which makes the cost to drive up. While aquaponics rely on the waste provided by the fish to make the plants grow healthy. The fish feed that is used in aquaponics systems is cheaper compared to chemical nutrients used in hydroponics.
Retain Nutrient Solution
Aquaponics systems are recirculating systems where plant roots clean and filter the water before it returns to the fish tank for the fish to live. The water in aquaponics systems does not leave the system, and the loss of water is only because of evaporation. At the same time, hydroponics systems require high nutrient concentration in the water, which will accumulate too many salts and chemicals that could be toxic to the plants. So the water in hydroponics systems needed to be disposed of and replaced regularly to avoid the accumulation of salts and other chemicals.
Aquaponics systems require very little maintenance because of the natural ecosystem of growth that occurs in the system. The water chemistry is always consistent, and you only need to check pH and ammonia levels every week and check the nitrate level once a month. In contrast, the electrical conductivity of the water in a hydroponics system needed to be checked and monitored daily.
Hydroponic’s environment is artificial, while an aquaponics system is designed to replicate a neutral ecosystem which makes the plants grow organically. This is because the nutrients the plants absorb are from fish wastes converted by the nitrifying bacteria into plant food. The nutrients used in hydroponics systems are composed of various chemicals that are not ideal for the environment. In short, plants in aquaponics systems are grown organically, while plants in hydroponics systems are not grown organically.
pH is an essential aspect of any aquatic-based growing method, so it needs to be monitored closely. The pH level in aquaponics systems should be around 6.8-7.0, which is considered neutral for fish, plants, and bacteria. On the other hand, the pH level in hydroponics systems should have a reading of 5.5-6.0, which is slightly acidic.
In aquaponics systems, the microbes and fish can keep the fungus at bay so that the temperature can be adjusted depending on the fish raised. In hydroponics, keeping the water temperature lower is necessary because warm water is a perfect breeding ground for fungus. Keeping the water temperature between 82-86° F in aquaponics and below 70°F in hydroponics is recommended.
What are the Similarities Between Aquaponics and Hydroponics
Because both are soilless methods of growing plants, they are closely tied together and have several similarities. Here is a list of their similarities.
- They are both soilless methods of agriculture.
- Aquaponics and hydroponics rely on water as the delivery system of the nutrients for the plants.
- Both growing methods can produce crops all year round.
- Both systems can produce higher yields when stable because the plant’s grown in aquaponics and hydroponics grow faster than soil=grown crops.
- There is no weeding involved in both systems because there is no soil being used.
- Both systems do not require an ample space of land to build, and they can be set up indoors, in the backyard, rooftop, or greenhouse.
Which one is Better?
Both aquaponics and hydroponics have clear benefits over soil-based growing methods. But the big question is which of the two systems is better? Well, the answer will depend on your needs and what method you are comfortable with.
If you want to grow fish and plants together and harvest organic crops, then aquaponics is the option for you. Aquaponics are for growers who want to have organic and self-sufficient gardens that can provide products from both fish and plants.
However, if you want to produce crops for commercial purposes, then hydroponics is better. Hydroponics is excellent for commercial growers because it can provide a faster investment return than aquaponics.