The Difference Between Hydroponics and Aquaponics

Hydroponic gardens.

Hydroponics and aquaponics are both soil-free methods of cultivating crops. The major difference between the two methods is that aquaponics integrates a hydroponic environment with aquaculture, the process of cultivating fish. Aquaponics combines hydroponics and aquaculture in a controlled environment, to create a balanced ecosystem that benefits crops as well as the fish.

Basics of Hydroponics

In a hydroponic system, plants are placed in nutrient-enriched water. Some hydroponic systems also use inert mediums such as gravel, sand or vermiculite. The plants placed in the water easily absorb its nutrients. Once the nutrients in the water are used up, it is recycled or additional nutrients are added to it. Hydroponics has several advantages. It is useful in areas where crop cultivation in the soil is not a viable option. Hydroponic systems also show much higher crop growth and yields, which makes it very profitable.

Basics of Aquaponics

In an aquaponics system, one of the components is a hydroponic bed wherein crops are grown with the use of nutrient enriched solution. The other component is a tank or aquarium wherein fish are grown. These two systems coexist and depend on each other for growth. As the fish grow, the tank becomes filled with excreta and other waste matter. This water needs to be changed frequently so that the fish can survive and flourish in clean water. In a conventional aquaculture setting, the dirty water is generally disposed of, which is a great waste of a precious natural resource and also the fish excrement, which is an invaluable plant nutrient.

An aquaponics system uses the waste matter from the fish tank, by having it treated with natural bacteria that convert the fish waste to nutrients that are usable by plants. In the hydroponic section, the plants use the nutrients in the water as they grow. Over time, this water must be replaced with new nutrient-rich water, so that the plant growth can be continued at a normal pace. This is where the nutrient-rich water from the fish tank comes in. After being treated with bacteria, this water is passed on to the hydroponic section, where it replaces the water that is depleted of nutrients.

The nutrient-free water from the hydroponics section is not usable by the plants, but it is safe for the fish because it is free of waste matter and other nutrients that become toxic to the fish. This water is sent to the fish tank, where it stays until it becomes riddled with fish waste again. The same process is then repeated, wherein the fish waste is converted to plant nutrients and supplied to the plants and the tank water is replaced by waste water from the hydroponic area.

Aquaponics has several advantages over independent hydroponics and aquaculture systems. It provides a harvest of crop as well as fish, all without the need for soil. There is no waste involved because of the continuous recycling that goes on. Aquaponics systems function on less water as well, because additional water is only required when sizable amounts of moisture are lost to evaporation. Now it's up to you to choose which is best for you!