What’s the Difference Between Hydroponics and Aquaponics?
Hydroponics and aquaponics are two innovative methods of growing crops. Why? Because unlike traditional agricultural methods, they don’t use soil. The main difference between the two is that aquaponics takes the ingenuity of hydroponics one step further, by symbiotically combining a hydroponic growing system with aquaculture. So what is aquaculture? It’s the process of cultivating fish. In an aquaculture system, fish are raised in a tank. Combine this with hydroponics and you get a balanced ecosystem that works to sustain both the crops and the fish.
The Basics: Hydroponics
In hydroponic systems, plants are raised in water that is enriched with nutrients. It is also possible to use other non-soil mediums to grow the plants, including gravel, sand, or vermiculture. When placed in such an environment, the plants are able to easily absorb the nutrients. When the nutrients have been depleted, the farmer adds more or recycles the water.
Advantages of Hydroponics:
- No soil requirements; hydroponics is a good solution in areas where it is not possible to grow crops in soil or where there is not enough space.
- Hydroponic farming is an efficient and profitable farming method due to the high crop yield.
- Requires less water than traditional farming methods, as most of the water can be recycled and there is no loss of water to due ground runoff.
- Lower nutrition costs because the plant grows in a controlled environment.
- Less damage to the environment as the controlled system makes it easier to provide nutrients for the plants.
- Easier to harvest – less physical labour required.
- Easier to get rid of pests.
- No damage to produce from pesticides.
The Basics: Aquaponics
Aquaponics uses a hydroponic bed, similar to the system described above. However, in the case of aquaponics, the nutrients are not added to the system independently. They come from another component of the system, which is a tank or aquarium where fish are grown. The living fish create waste, which accumulates in the tank. Normally, this water must be changed so that the fish may survive – this is a huge waste of our most precious natural resource. In an aquaponics system, the waste water produced by the fish is treated with bacteria and circulated to the hydroponic beds, where the effluents in the water serve as an invaluable source of nutrients for the plants as they grow.
When the plants have used up all of the nutrients in the water, it is no longer usable. But remarkably, it has been effectively cleaned and is once again suitable for the fish. The water is recirculated to the fish tank and “dirtied” water from the fish tank is once again provided for the plant beds.
In this system, the plants and fish rely on each other to thrive.
The Unique Advantages of Aquaponics:
Aquaponics has many of the same advantages as hydroponics (see above.) But it goes above and beyond that, as there is a clear advantage to being able to fully recycle the water.
- Provides a harvest of both fish and crops, without any need for soil.
- Aquaponics systems use 1/10th of the amount of water compared to traditional farming. Water is continuously being recycled; additional water is only added to the system when evaporation and transpiration result in a loss of moisture.
- Organic fertilization of plants from natural fish waste as opposed to fertilizers.
The Bottom Line
Hydroponics is a good idea, but aquaponics is even better! It greatly reduces the environmental footprint of traditional farming and is also a viable solution for farmers.