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Soilless methods of growing plants, particularly hydroponics and aquaponics, are becoming increasingly more popular amongst both independent and commercial growers. Each of these methods uses sustainable techniques, which make them more versatile than traditional gardening. However, many new growers are often confused about the differences between the methods, leading many to ask the question, “are aquaponics and hydroponics the same?”
The answer is no – aquaponics and hydroponics are not the same. They do share a similar concept, in which both are soilless methods, but each one has a different approach. In this article, you will learn more about the differences between the two systems, their pros and cons, and how to choose the method that suits your needs.
Aquaponics vs. Hydroponics: The Basics
To find out which method is more appropriate for you, there is a need to understand the basics of aquaponics and hydroponics. Hydroponics systems feed plants in growing media with nutrient-enriched water. This nutrient solution (can be homemade or premade) is composed of essential minerals and fertilizers needed for plant growth.
Hydroponics also uses growing media like perlite and expandable clay, to provide support for plants. There are different variations of this soilless system, but a common element across all setups is to make sure that plant roots come in contact with the solution so they can absorb nutrients they need to grow.
On the other hand, aquaponics involves fish cultivation using excreta to grow crops in a soilless medium. In this method, hydroponics and aquaculture depend on each other for the success of the overall system. The water with waste from the fish tank flows to the grow beds, feeding the plants organic nutrients. In return, the plants purify the water, which can now be recycled for the fish tank.
Similarities Between Aquaponics and Hydroponics
Since aquaponics combines hydroponics and aquaculture, you can expect that both systems share similarities that make them excellent growing methods compared to traditional soil-based gardening. Below are just some of the wonderful advantages that aquaponics and hydroponics share:
Better-quality and higher yields
One of the most important benefits of using either aquaponics and hydroponics is that plants can produce better yields. Crops in soilless mediums have more protection from weeds and pests, but best of all, the yields are significantly higher due to controlled monitoring of nutrient uptake.
Faster plant growth
Plants in soilless systems tend to grow at a much faster rate compared to those that are sewn into the soil. According to the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) agronomist, Winfred Opio, this is because plants don’t need to waste their energy-absorbing diluted nutrients, which happens in traditional soil gardening. Instead, the crops expend their energy to grow and bear fruits.
Longer harvest season
Many aquaponics and hydroponics systems are done indoors, keeping the plants protected from harsh climates. In addition, supplemental lights are also in place to support plant growth. Because of this controlled growing environment, gardeners can enjoy year-round produce, even if plants are grown out of normal seasons.
Lower Environmental Impact
Reducing the environmental impact of growing crops is another advantage shared between aquaponics and hydroponics. Here are just a few of the benefits:
- Since there’s no soil involved, there is no need to use gas-powered equipment like tractors and plows, thus significantly reducing carbon footprint
- Weeds are not present in both systems, so the use of herbicides is not necessary
- You don’t need bags or bottles of fertilizers because plants will get the nutrients from the water
- Aquaponics and hydroponics use less water compared to traditional gardening since the nutrient-rich water can be recirculated within the system.
Differences Between Hydroponics and Aquaponics
- In hydroponics, plants are grown using human-made nutrient solutions consisting of minerals and fertilizers while aquaponics relies on fish waste for nutrients
- Between the two, hydroponic systems are more challenging to maintain because maintenance is more regular, and nutrient solutions need to be reloaded to avoid toxic buildup. In aquaponics, maintenance is a lot easier since the same water can be reused over and over.
- When it comes to the setup, it’s faster and easier to start with hydroponics
- While aquaponics is a more self-sufficient method, it has slightly more expensive running costs, considering it involves electricity for oxygenation
- In hydroponics, pesticides can be used to address pest problems; in aquaponics, however, chemical pest control should be avoided as much as possible to keep the fish safe.
Conclusion: Choosing the Right Method
Clearly, both systems offer several benefits compared to soil-based methods, but when it comes to the more self-sufficient and sustainable ecosystem, many believe aquaponics is the better choice. Despite this, hydroponics still remains to be the more popularly used method because it’s easier to set up, and running costs are more predictable.
Are aquaponics and hydroponics the same? No, they’re not, but both systems share similarities and even differences that one needs to consider before starting a project. In the end, your choice of growing method should be based on your preference and how well the system will serve you in the long run.