Hydroponics Vs Aquaponics: Similarities and Differences|Which One Is Better

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Nowadays, growing plants in soilless systems are becoming increasingly popular. This gives the gardener many distinct advantages over traditional gardening. Two most popular soilless gardening methods among gardeners are Hydroponics and Aquaponics.

Both systems have similarities and differences between them. In this post, we will dig deep into the similarities and differences between hydroponics and aquaponics systems and reveal which among the two systems is better.

What is Hydroponics:

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants in a water-based, nutrient-rich solution. It does not use soil, instead, the root system is supported using an inert medium such as Perlite, Rockwool, Coir, Peat moss, or Vermiculite.

In hydroponics, the plant’s roots to come in direct contact with the nutrient solution, while also have access to oxygen.

What is Aquaponics:

The aquaponic system is a mixture between the aquaculture, as it requires growing fish in a special fish tank and hydroponics, as it involves growing plants with water and nutrients.

You will probably wonder what role the fish play in all this business. Well, things are quite easy: the fish excrement contains ammonia which is later decomposed in nitrites and nitrates.

The latter substance is beneficial for the plants, offering them enough nutrients to grow and develop normally. Thus, there will be no need to supply your plants with chemical substances as they will already have all the food they need.

What Are The Similarities Between Hydroponics and Aquaponics:

Here is one interesting thing, aquaponics and hydroponics both have some similarities. Here I list down 7 main similarities between Aquaponics and Hydroponics:

Both The System Uses Water to Grow Plants:

Both aquaponics and hydroponics systems use water as their main base for growing plants. though plants are sown in growing mediums it is the water that drives the system. Notice both hydro and Aqua means water.

Soilless Mediums Are Used In Place of Soil:

Both the system uses soilless growing mediums like coir, perlite, peat etc to grow plants. soil is not used anywhere in these systems.

Both Aquaponics and Hydroponics increases your Growing calendar: 

As both hydroponics and aquaponics setups are primarily indoor-based, they are not very much dependent on the seasonality. Plants get the protection from the harsh outside climates. Most of these gardens have a provision for artificial lights so sunlight is not a problem.

So you basically can grow plants for much longer than the traditional form of gardening. If you are using any of the two systems you can grow all year round.

Both Systems Reduce Wastage of Water:

Both the system uses water very efficiently when you compare that with traditional gardening. Water gets recirculated and reused. An aquaponics system uses about 10% of the water consumed in traditional gardening.

Both Systems Have Very Little Pest or Weed Problems:

Plants grown in hydroponics or aquaponics systems have very low pest and weed problems. This leads to very few application of herbicides or pesticides (if any) and less environmental hazards.

Plants Grow Faster:

Plants grown in soilless systems like hydroponics or aquaponics grow on average 30-50% faster than in traditional gardening. When a plant is grown in a soilless medium the aeration in the roots increases tremendously.

This extra oxygen encourages faster root growth, quicker nutrient absorption and overall growth.

They Have Higher Yields Compared to Traditional Gardening:

You will generally have higher yields compared to traditional gardening in both hydroponics and aquaponics systems.

Difference Between A Hydroponics and An Aquaponic System:

Though these systems sound so similar there are some marked differences between the two. Following are the list of the major differences between Hydroponics and Aquaponics systems : 

Size of The Grow Beds:

Aquaponics, on the other hand, needs a minimum of 12” deep grow beds. Hydroponics doesn’t need deep growing media to support the plants or root systems. It usually needs 6” deep grow beds for roots to easily spread out, some systems even don’t use any growing materials.

Nature of The Grow Beds:

Aquaponics uses beneficial microorganisms to get nutrients for the plants. So the growing medium surrounding the roots have microorganisms.

Hydroponics systems, on the other hand, are very sterile.

Setup Cost of The Systems:

If you ignore the cost of the fish the startup costs of hydroponics and aquaponics systems are mostly the same. The cost of purchasing fish for the fish-tank increases the total set up cost of aquaponics slightly higher.

Startup Speed of The Systems:

Hydroponics is fast. You can just add the commercially formulated nutrients to the water and you are ready to grow.

Aquaponics takes about a month to start the system. the system needs to develop a colony of nitrifying bacteria. the process is called cycling. These bacteria are essential for converting fish wastes into nitrates that plants can absorb.

Cost of Running The System:

Main costs for operating a Hydroponics system are for buying fertilizers. You have to purchase fertilizers to keep replenishing the system.

Aquaponics does not need any fertilizers but you have to bear the cost of electricity for running the pump.

Aquaponics Works As An Ecosystem

In aquaponics, the components plants, fish, and microbes interact with each other and result in a mutually dependent environment. Hydroponics cannot be considered an ecosystem.

Sustainability Of The System:

To be a sustainable something has to be maintained at a steady level without the depletion of natural resources or causing severe ecological damage.

Hydroponics is not a sustainable system as you have to replenish the nutrients continuously. Aquaponics is a sustainable system as the components work as a unit and minimal inputs needed from outside.

Source of Nutrients For Your Plants:

When you grow plants in a hydroponics system, you have to periodically add fertilizers to create the appropriate nutrient levels for the plants. While in aquaponics, the fish waste serves as a natural source of nutrients for the plants.

pH Of The System

The optimum solution pH in hydroponics is 5.5 to 6.0. As aquaponics deals with growing fish, the optimum solution must be neutral or only slightly acidic (between 6.8 and 7.0 ).

In fact, after some time, the fish waste will cause the solution to become acidic, so keep monitoring pH levels closely.

Affect of Electrical Conductivity (EC):

Salts naturally build in hydroponics as you add salt-based fertilizers to the water solutions. Over time it increases the electrical conductivity (EC) of the water. If this reach dangerously high levels, it can damage the plants. That’s why when you grow plants in a hydroponic system you have to check EC regularly hydroponics.

In aquaponics planting, no salt is added from outside, the organic wastes from fish also have very little salts in it. So a high electrical conductivity is not a concern in aquaponics.

Disease Problems:

A common problem in hydroponics is root rot diseases that are caused by the fungi Pythium. Pythium is almost non-existent in aquaponics. as the microbes present in the aquaponics system prevent the fungi from growing.

Daily Maintenance of The System:

As aquaponics is a self-sufficient system, once the system is established, you rarely need to monitor (except for checking pH and or the health of the fish).

In hydroponics, life is not that simple. You have to continuously check the aquatic solution for the nutrient concentrations, Electrical Conductivity, the pH, total dissolved solids, etc.

It’s also necessary to periodically drain the water from the hydroponics system and replenish it with fresh new water.

Waste Disposal Methods:

Waste disposal is one of the major differences between the two systems. In hydroponic systems, the wastewater is dumped outside the system periodically, which can create environmental risk.

In aquaponics, you don’t waste anything, it is mostly used by the system itself.

Why We Think Aquaponic Systems Are Better than Hydroponic Systems:

Hydroponic gardens are already highly popular among people of all ages as they need little space, are easy to take care of, faster ROI (Return on Investment) and give satisfactory results.

However, because you will need to supply the water with necessary nutrients, which are most of the times chemical, the taste of the crops is not quite the ones people expect.

Also, as we all are having a hard time in coping with the chemical additions in our daily food it might be a better option to go from the hydroponically-grown vegetables to the aquaponics system for its organic nature.

This would lead to the several advantages that the aquaponic system has over the hydroponic one.

  • The vegetables will have a better taste as they will grow only with natural food and at their own pace.
  • The system is simpler, as you will no longer need to feed your plants every day. Just make sure that your fish are in good shape and then let nature take its course.
  • Aquaponics creates an almost entirely self-sufficient, utterly sustainable ecosystem with very less day to day maintenance.
  • You are also not polluting the environment by dumping waste materials.
  • And last, but not the least, with the aquaponic system you do not only grow vegetables, but you also have fish which you can use for decorative purposes or you can very well cook delicious meals for you and your family.

Aquaponics is an improved version of the hydroponic system. The crops are better and the process is easier. In addition to that, you get to eat organic food! What more can you wish for? 

For more information on how Aquaponics can revolutionize the way you grow plants, watch this video.

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prasenjit saha author Gardening ABC

Hi there! My name is Prasenjit and I’m an avid gardener and someone who has grown a passion for growing plants. From my hands-on experience, I have learned what works and what doesn’t. Here I share everything I have learned.