Hydroponics vs. Aquaponics: What is the Difference?

Hydroponics vs. Aquaponics: What is the Difference?

Last Updated on September 13, 2022

You don’t need any soil to grow healthy plants and vegetables. Thanks to systems such as hydroponics and aquaponics, you can make use of different growing mediums and water to grow your own delicious produce.

Best of all, these don’t require much outdoor space. 

Besides both of these gardening methods not making use of any soil, they also save water and can speed up the growth of your plants.

In this article, I’ll explore the differences between hydroponics and aquaponics to help you figure out which system you should use to grow your own plants at home. 

What is Hydroponics?

What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics is a gardening method that makes use of nutrient-rich water to grow plants instead of using soil.

Without the need for any soil to grow plants, hydroponics ensures greater plant growth success by keeping plant roots in direct contact with healthy water and its oxygen content. 

What is Aquaponics?

What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is a similar system to hydroponics in that it grows plants without the use of soil. It also includes aquaculture, which is when you grow fish. It’s a combination of growing fish and plants.

The plants feed on fish waste, and this, in turn, cleans the water to nourish the fish. An important element of an aquaponics system is the presence of microbes.

These are healthy bacteria that accumulate in the areas between the plant roots, and they transform fish waste and solids into substances that can benefit the plants. 

Differences Between Hydroponics and Aquaponics

While both hydroponics and aquaponics systems use water to grow produce, and there’s direct contact between the water and plants helps them to grow faster, they have some important differences to talk about. 

Set-up

Set-up

Both systems use grow beds, but aquaponics requires larger ones. Aim to use grow beds that are about 12 inches deep so that the fish have more room to swim around. By comparison, hydroponic systems only need six-inch beds. 

Aquaponics 

To set up your aquaponics system, you’ll need the following items besides grow beds: 

  • Food-grade container or acrylic aquarium
  • Pump 
  • Container for the plants to grow 
  • Fish
  • Plants 

One of the easiest aquaponics systems to set up is a media-based one. This makes use of a grow bed filled with gravel or clay pebbles.

The grow bed is filled with water through a bell siphon that enables the fish to reach the nutrients. The water then moves back into the fish tank. This system doesn’t need many components or extra filtration. 

Hydroponics 

Although there are different types of hydroponics systems, they generally all make use of the following items:

  • Water 
  • Water basin 
  • Light (natural and other light sources) 
  • Temperature control 
  • Grow trays 
  • Nutrients 
  • Growing medium (substrate such as rockwool or stonewool)
  • Plants

The easiest type of hydroponics system is a Deep Water Culture (DWC) system. This is when plants grow directly into nutrient-rich water.

To set it up, you can use items you already have at home for the tanks, such as storage containers.

Space Limitations

While both systems don’t require lots of space, if you’re really short on space, a hydroponics system is your best bet. 

Aquaponics

You need a bit of space for an aquaponics system as you need to accommodate a few gallons of water for your fish in their designated tank.  

Hydroponics 

This system doesn’t require a lot of space because you don’t have to worry about having a tank for fish.

There are simple and tiny hydroponics systems to consider, such as the wick system, in which water and nutrients reach the plant roots via a wick or rope. The plants are grown in a growing medium, such as perlite, over the growing tank.

Ease of Use

Ease of Use

Both systems have pros and cons when it comes to how easy they are to use and run. 

Aquaponics

Aquaponics systems require more monitoring during use because of the fish. You also need to ensure higher temperatures so that you encourage the growth of healthy bacteria. 

That said, it is easier to maintain when it comes to flushing its water. Since the water-rich nutrient moves around the entire system and gets used, you only have to replace the water that’s used to feed your plants.

When it comes to nutrients, you just have to worry about feeding your fish, and they will ensure the water is healthy for your plants.

Regarding maintenance, aquaponic systems need to be filtered every 15 to 45 minutes, so they are a bit more finicky to run. They’re also susceptible to breakdowns because fish waste can clog the entire system. 

Hydroponics 

Hydroponic systems are easy to set up because they’re beginner-friendly. You also don’t need to worry about monitoring fish or bacteria. This makes them easy for anyone to use.

That said, hydroponics requires regular flushing, as the water needs to be replaced so that it isn’t harmful to the plants you’re growing. You also have to purchase nutrients for your water. 

When it comes to the maintenance of the system, the system is filtered every few hours. This means the system can handle being down for extended periods of time. 

Cost

If you’re hoping to save money, you should opt for a hydroponics system. 

Aquaponics

Aquaponics systems require a lot more money. You’ll have to pay upwards of $1,000 for one. This is because it requires more space and more components, such as fish. 

Hydroponics 

Hydroponics is budget-friendly because you don’t require fish or fish tanks. You can make use of a small water container, and you don’t need as much electricity to keep the system running.

A hydroponics system can cost anything from $100 to $1,000, depending on various factors, such as its size. 

Productivity and Time To Grow

Productivity and Time To Grow

One of the potential drawbacks of hydroponics and aquaponics from a productivity standpoint is that they both rely on electricity.

Suppose your area is prone to regular power outages. In that case, this can severely affect the ventilation, water, and lighting of your hydroponics system or the temperature of your fish in the case of aquaponics.

When it comes to their productivity and growth rate, various studies have been conducted on both systems. Here are some important findings:

  • In a study, herbs and lettuce grown in an aquaponic system grew equal to, or better than, those grown in a hydroponic system. 
  • Another study that compared various elements, such as plant health, plant width, and root length, found that aquaponics displays faster plant growth than hydroponics.
  • Aquaponics and hydroponics provide different nutrients. Research found that aquaponic-grown plants had more potassium, calcium, sodium, and magnesium yields compared to hydroponic plants but lower levels of phosphorus. 
  • Both systems have similar produce yields. When fish waste and additional mineral fertilizer were used in aquaponics, a study found that its tomato fruit yields were similar to those in a hydroponic system. During a 197-day long harvest period, a total amount of approximately 68 pounds of tomato fruit were harvested in hydroponics, while aquaponics harvested approximately 63 pounds. 

pH and Chemical Nutrients

When setting up your system, you’ll need to consider the water’s pH and chemical substances—such as pesticides—that are required.  

Aquaponics 

Aquaponics doesn’t use chemical methods to eliminate pests because you must ensure the fish remain healthy. Non-chemical treatments help you to grow healthier plants.

When monitoring the pH of your system, you need to keep it at approximately 6.8 to 7.0 (neutral). Fish waste can make the water acidic, so you’ll have to check it regularly to ensure it’s neutral. 

Hydroponics

If you have a hydroponics system, you’ll need to monitor it for any pests. You might also need to use pesticides to keep their numbers down. 

When it comes to pH considerations, you have to ensure the water maintains between 5.5 to 6.0 pH. This means the water needs to be slightly acidic. 

Pros and Cons of Hydroponics

Pros and Cons of Hydroponics

Hydroponics has many benefits, although there are some potential drawbacks to be aware of. Let’s explore them. 

Pros 

  • Hydroponics is perfect for areas where there’s no access to land or soil to grow produce.
  • You don’t require a lot of materials to get started with hydroponics.
  • You keep your plants and produce in a controlled environment, which can increase your gardening success. It’s said that hydroponics has double the growth rate of traditional gardening.
  • You don’t have to try to eliminate weeds, which are common when gardening in soil.
  • You can grow more plants. In a hydroponic system, nutrient-rich water comes into direct contact with plant roots, so you can grow more plants close to each other without worrying that they will compete for more nutrients.
  • Hydroponics saves water. The water reaches the roots and makes contact with them much easier, so you require less. 

Cons

  • Hydroponics systems can be expensive, depending on the size and type of system.
  • Hydroponics systems need electricity for their various parts to work, such as their fans and water pumps.
  • Since water is constantly running through the system, infections can quickly spread to all your plants. 

Pros and Cons of Aquaponics

Pros and Cons of Aquaponics

Aquaponics has some important benefits as well as potential drawbacks. Here are some to consider. 

Pros 

  • Aquaponics enables you to grow vegetables and fish simultaneously.
  • This system doesn’t require fertilizers since the fish nourish the plants with nutrients.
  • You can’t use any chemicals or pesticides in this system because these can be fatal for the fish, ensuring you can grow healthier produce.
  • You can increase how much produce you grow because the plants are gaining nutrients from the fish waste.
  • An aquaponics system not only uses less water than soil-based gardening but also uses less water than a hydroponics system. Aquaponics only need complete water exchanges every year, while hydroponics require them every few months.

Cons  

  • You will have to make use of a lot of electricity to run the pumps for 24 hours and to maintain the correct temperature for the fish tanks.
  • An aquaponics system can be expensive, as you’ll require water tanks, grow beds, fish, plants, and other equipment.
  • A limited number of plants and produce can grow in this system.  

What Plants are Better for Hydroponics?

What Plants are Better for Hydroponics?

You can grow many plants in hydroponic systems. Some plants, such as lettuce, herbs, mustard, and kale, can grow throughout the year.

There are other plants you can grow in a hydroponics system, as long as you set it up outdoors in the summer.

This includes cucumbers and tomatoes, but make sure that when choosing a variety, they are a “container variety” or that “grows well in pots” is on their label. This will ensure you boost their growing success.

Some plants that you shouldn’t grow in a hydroponics system are those that require large quantities of soil to ensure their roots can absorb enough moisture and nutrients, such as onions, garlic, rutabaga, and turnips. 

What Plants are Better for Aquaponics?

What Plants are Better for Aquaponics?

If you want to grow plants in an aquaponics system, the ones that will grow well include leafy vegetables and herbs, fruits, and berries. You can also grow tomatoes, peppers, and sugar snap peas.

You should avoid growing produce such as corn in your aquaponics system, as it doesn’t provide enough nutrients for hungry corn to absorb.

Others that won’t grow well include potatoes, as they have a long growing cycle that makes them impractical to grow. 

Conclusion

Growing plants and vegetables without any soil is an exciting concept. You can make use of different systems when gardening at home, such as hydroponic and aquaponic systems.

This article has explored what you need to know about them and how they differ. We hope we have helped you pick the one that’s more suitable for your home. Happy gardening!

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