Aquaponics vs Hydroponics

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: March 1, 2022  •  6 min read  •  Science
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While aquaponics and hydroponics are similar, they are also rather different. Choosing the growing method you prefer will make a difference. One of these two options may fit better for you than another.

Before you decide which one is right for you, consider what they both are. Let’s look at what aquaponics is and what hydroponics is, along with the differences.

What is Aquaponics?

There are two words found within Aquaponics: Aqua and Ponics. Aqua refers to aquaculture, which is raising fish in a controlled environment. Ponics is a Latin word that means to work, which in this context refers to growing in a soil-less media.

The Ponics part of this word also refers to the fish, which are put to work in the water. Fish will eat food and produce waste. This waste will fertilize the plants and allow them to grow.

According to TheAquaponicsSource, Aquaponics mimics a natural ecosystem. This process will provide the nutrients and bacteria necessary for plants to grow abundantly.

What is Hydroponics?

According to ExplainThatStuff.com, hydroponics is growing plants without soil. This is a very simple definition and there are several different types of hydroponic growing techniques.

Hydroponics is split into two Greek words, Hydro and Ponics. The first means water and the second means toil. The basic process is putting water to work to grow plants without soil.

Aquaponics vs Hydroponics: The Key Differences

While both aquaponics and hydroponics use water to grow plants without soil, they do it in a different way. These are similar, but not the same. Let’s look at a few of the key differences.

System Design

The system used for both is quite different. With hydroponics, the grow bed is often about six inches deep. This allows the roots to spread out in the system. Aquaponics will need at least a 12-inch bed because the fish will need room to move around in the environment.

Along with this different in the system, hydroponics systems are very sterile. Aquaponics, on the other hand, will have fish in the system, which means they won’t be nearly as sterile. Plus, aquaponics needs to count on microorganisms for the plants to grow.

Plants You Can Grow

With hydroponics, you can grow just about any plant you want. Aquaponics can grow quite a few plants, too, but often work best for leafy greens and herbs.

The Cost

The overall cost of both systems will be similar. However, you will need fish for aquaponics, which can cost more than using a hydroponics system. There are also hydroponic methods you can use for a very low cost.

The running cost will be similar, too, but aquaponics tends to be a bit more expensive. This type of system will use more electricity and will require food for the fish. Overall, aquaponics tends to be more expensive than hydroponics.

Nutrients in the System

With hydroponics, you will add a nutrient solution to the water for the plants. Aquaponics gets the nutrients from the waste the fish create. Nutrient levels tend to be lower in aquaponics, but it’s also more of a natural source of nutrients.

Common Methods of Aquaponics

Raft

A raft system may also be called a deep flow, float, or deep channel system. Polystyrene boards are used to float on the water with the plants. The tank where the plants are is often separate from the fish tank, in this system.

The main benefits of this system include providing a buffer for the fish. With an extra water tank, this takes the stress off the fish. It can also help to provide better quality water.

Media-Filled Beds

Another method you can use is called a media-filled bed method. This type of tank will use gravel, perlite, or another medium for the plants. These plants will be flooded with water from the fish tank periodically. After this happens, the water is drained back into the fish tank. The plant bed will then break down the solids.

A media-filled bed system may also include worms to help break down the water. this specific method will use the fewest components and no added filtration is necessary.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

A common method used in aquaponics is NFT. In this method, plants will be grown in long narrow channels. There is a film of water that will flow continuously throughout each channel to provide water and nutrients to the roots of the plans.

The water will continuously flow from the fish tank and go through a filtration system. It will return back to the fish tank. You will need a biofilter for this system since not much water will be in the plant beds.

Common Methods of Hydroponics

Deep Water Culture

A very common type of hydroponics is the deep-water culture method. This method will use a grow tank with a nutrient solution and an air pump. It’s a very simple method to use with the plant roots dipping into the water and an air stone and air pump providing oxygen to the roots.

Ebb and Flow

Also called the Flood and Drain system, the Ebb and Flow hydroponics system offers a popular choice. This system will irrigate the roots for a short amount of time. They will not be in the water all the time, which gives them time to take in oxygen.

You will need a grow tank, reservoir, reversible water pump, air pump, and a timer for this type of system. With an Ebb and Flow system, you get excellent aeration and a controlled system for feeding and watering your plants.

The Kratky Method

The easiest hydroponics system, the Kratky Method is cheap to set up and anybody can do it. It’s a set and forget system sort of.

You just need a water tank for your nutrient solution, a way to suspend your plant above the water, and a growing medium. This system is so simple, it can be done with a mason jar on a window sill.

It’s very simple, incredibly cheap, doesn’t take up much room, and doesn’t require much maintenance. The plant will actually create upper roots to take in oxygen, while the lower roots take in the water and nutrients.

Both aquaponics and hydroponics allow you to potentially grow plants indoors. You can use both to extend the growing season and even grow plants faster. You can also get higher yields with both methods.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path. I, personally, am the high school dropout son of two teacher parents. So how did I get here? That story is coming soon!