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Aquaponics has become known as one of the world’s most flexible methods to sustainably grow plants and raise fish, without requiring acres of land or labor-intensive maintenance. Because the technique can be established in both indoor and outdoor environments, aquaponics is also seen as a scalable solution to solve many of the world’s problems. However, for the average person looking into setting up their first system, the immediate question is to wonder if outdoor or inside aquaponics is better for their long-term operations.
Both outdoor and inside aquaponics use the same process of raising plants and fish, and both systems can produce quality harvests. The success of indoor or outdoor aquaponics, however, will depend on your local climate conditions, as this can have an influence on the cost, maintenance, and overall productivity of the system.
In this article, you will learn the differences between outdoor and inside aquaponics and how one can be better than the other depending on your crop production goals.
Understanding Indoor Aquaponics
For the millions of people around the living in densely packed cities and small apartments, the idea of being able to grow fresh food right from your home would sound like a distant dream. However, the magic of indoor aquaponics allows gardeners to leverage small systems even when space is at a premium.
Indoor aquaponics refers to growing plants inside a building, structure, or any enclosed area that can be as simple as a home garage. Indoor aquaponics can be ideal for plants and fish that are more sensitive to temperature fluctuations. Because inside setups heavily depend on artificial lighting and temperature controls, crops remain safe from harsh weather conditions, as well as from many pests. In urban areas or for people living in apartments, indoor aquaponics is the only option since they rarely have access to an outdoor space that can support a large scale aquaponics system.
Use Cases For Outdoor Aquaponics
Outdoor aquaponics is typically the most common setup for commercial growers. The reason is largely due to having more space to grow and scale the aquaponics operation more efficiently. However, the name outdoor aquaponics can be slightly misleading, because the vast majority of commercial growers leverage some form of greenhouse environment, or at a minimum, provide some form of protection from outside elements, such as shading to the grow bed.
Anyone with a backyard can benefit from a DIY outdoor aquaponics system. While outside, your plants are exposed to natural elements like natural sunlight or certain insects, which can help with their growth and development. However, even in an outdoor environment, some aquaponics practitioners will minimize fish exposure to things such as rain or wind debris in order to maintain consistent pH levels within the tanks.
Choosing Between Inside and Outside Aquaponics
The question on the minds of virtually all new aquaponics practitioners is to determine which method will work best over the long-run. However, it’s important to note that every situation is different, and the decision will rely on factors such as space, budget, size of the setup, types of crops that will be cultivated, etc. Anyone of these could tip the scale in either direction. Here are some of the common pros and cons of each approach:
Because indoor aquaponics systems can produce food continuously in any climate, they can be inherently more productive than outdoor systems. However, setting up an artificial lighting system, installing heat lamps, or making customizations such as additional plumping drains in the floor, could add a great deal of complexity and expense to getting your ecosystem up and running.
The benefits are that your plants and fish will likely reward you with maximum productivity because their living environment is optimized specifically for them.
The beauty of outdoor systems is that in many cases, you can easily scale your growing operation because you are not confined to limited space, such as the case with indoor setups. This is particularly important if your ultimate goal is to become a commercial producer of aquaponics crops.
In mild winter climates, fish and vegetables can be produced all year outdoors. The downside is that in colder climates, the system generally has to be shut down for winter. This is potentially a big issue your fish have not reached a harvestable size, though some species are able to over the winter if using a greenhouse.
Consequently, even if you use an outdoor greenhouse, conditions may become unsuitable for certain fish if the water temperature becomes too warm in the summer. If you go with an outdoor setup, be mindful of the external factors that may impact your operations.
Combination Of Indoor and Outdoor Aquaponics
Some people choose to have a very small system indoors for breeding fingerlings in the winter that are then released into the outdoor tank once the water has warmed sufficiently.
Growers have successfully maintained thriving aquaponics systems in both indoor and outdoor environments. In an indoor setup, you have complete control of the environment, including the lighting and temperature requirements. Although you can do the same for outdoors, you can’t manipulate natural elements as easily, such as the warmth in the summer, and freezing cold temperatures in the winter.
Conclusion: Which Is a Better Setup?
Between outdoor and inside aquaponics, the better option will depend on the factors mentioned above. If you live in temperate climates, you can enjoy year-round outdoor operations just fine, but there is a benefit to providing some protection to the grow beds using either a greenhouse or other types of coverage. If you choose to operate outdoors despite your climate conditions, then this shouldn’t be a problem as long as you won’t mind extra electricity expenses to power up aerators or heaters.
If you want to manipulate the growing environment without setting up a greenhouse or you want to use the available space in the garage or basement, taking aquaponics inside is also a great option. If you live in an apartment, however, then clearly, an indoor setup is the only option. There are many great options for aquaponics systems the size of a small fish tank! In the end, the choice boils down to personal preferences, availability of resources, and long term goals.