The hydroponics vs aquaponics vs aeroponics debate is one of the most controversial among gardeners. These three growing techniques allow you to grow plants indoors without using soil. However, they come with many differences and benefits. This begs the question, which is the best?
In this article, we are going to compare the differences between Hydroponics, Aquaponics, and Aeroponics and deliver a verdict on which soil-less system is best.
Hydroponics vs. Aquaponics vs. Aeroponics: Details Comparison
What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is the most popular technique for growing plants without soil or indoors. This alternative involves growing crops with just water and a liquid nutrient solution. The positive benefits of this form of agriculture have led to its popularity among both commercial and household growers.
Hydroponic systems can be very simple, especially for normal household growers, or very complex when done for commercial purposes. In addition, it can be used to grow a wide variety of plants.
In general, a hydroponics system features a solution of water and nutrients. The plants’ roots are submerged in the solution and which is constantly circulated throughout.
Types of hydroponics systems
The following are the main hydroponics systems
- Deep Water Culture (DWC)
- Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
- Ebb and flow
Equipment Needed for Hydroponics
- Water pump
- PVC pipes for the channels
- Net pots for the plants to grow in
Advantages of Hydroponics
- Consumes less water
- Higher plant yield
- Eliminates the need for herbicides
- Sealed-off growing spaces reduce the need for pesticides
- Plants grow 40-50% faster
Disadvantages of Hydroponics
- Requires more effort and knowledge about nutrients and plant pH
- Requires more maintenance
What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics systems are not very popular as it is more intensive and comes with a wide range of differences. First, this method actually involves growing plants and fish together in one ecosystem. The waste from the fish will provide nutrients for the plants. The fish waste would first go through a multi-step process to remove solids. Using bacteria and microbes, the fish waste would be transformed into a suitable nutrient-rich food for the crops.
The plants help to filter the water for the fish to ensure a suitable environment. The system also uses less water than traditional agriculture while making use of less land than soil-based farms.
Aquaponics systems might not be the best commercially, but they tend to provide an interesting learning experience for students when used in schools. The closed-loop system educates them about cause and effect, as well as the circle of life.
When it comes to using aquaponics as your growth system, it is important to have the necessary equipment and knowledge of the process before you get started. You need to ensure you have the right fish-to-plant ratio to keep the fish alive and the plants growing. You need to figure out the fish feed ratio. This is usually 1-3% of the fish’s body weight and would depend on the age of the fish, the type of fish, and the size.
In addition, ammonia levels have to be monitored as high levels of ammonia will kill the fish. Luckily, this problem is easily solved as the ammonia is converted into nitrates or plant food. The plants will absorb and process the ammonia.
While this process does come with many benefits, it does require a lot of effort. It takes almost half a year before the system becomes self-regulation and the plant and fish will begin to thrive. Only at this point will maintenance become easier.
Equipment Needed for Aquaponics
An aquaponics system would require some equipment to get started.
- Fish tank, fish food
- Fish (tilapia are the most popular species of fish used, but channel catfish, trout, carp, largemouth, and striped bass can also be used).
- Grow beds with net pots where the plants will be placed
- Water pump to provide water for the grow bed
- Air pump to circulate oxygen for the fish
- Grown lights
- Growing medium (hydroton, lava rocks, gravel grow stones, etc.)
- Tubing for pumping up the water and returning the excess water from the grow bad to the fish tank
Advantages of Aquaponics
- The best option for growers looking to grow both fish and plants
- Fertilizers and plant food are not required for this process
- Self-sustaining and environmentally-friendly ecosystem
- Requires less water than aquaculture
- Faster growth rates for plants
- Higher and better quality plant yield
Disadvantages of Aquaponics
- Extra costs in winter as the system would need extra heating to keep the water from freezing
- Can be expensive to set up and run
- Extra costs for feeding fish
- Requires knowledge about fish care and diseases
- The pH of the water would have to be monitored to ensure it is tolerable for fish plants and nitrifying bacteria
- Requires constant maintenance for the first 6 months
- Not suitable for commercial growers
What is Aeroponics?
In an Aeroponics system, the roots of the plants are suspended in a chamber of air, hence the name. The roots are then misted with a solution of water and nutrients regularly.
This system requires on technology and perfect timing to ensure that the roots get water and nutrients at the right time. The water mixture and nutrients are directly sprayed on the plants based on the timer.
Aeroponics and hydroponics feature similarities in how the systems are built with the main difference being how the roots are kept.
Equipment Needed for Aeroponics
There are two types of aeroponics systems, Low-Pressure Aeroponics (LPA) and High-Pressure Aeroponics (HPA). The LPA systems are typical for DIY setups and usually come cheaper. However, they’re not as effective as the HPA system
In general, you will need to following equipment for an aeroponics setup
- Reservoir for storing water and nutrient solution
- Net cups for suspending the roots of the plants when in the chamber
- Water pump for pumping the water through the misting nozzles
- Mister nozzles
- Timer for activating the water pump
- PVC pipe for channels
Advantages of Aeroponics
- Consumes less water than other methods
- Reduces fertilizer usage
- No pesticide needed
- Minimal maintenance required
- Faster plant growth
Disadvantages of Aeroponics
- Setup and equipment can be very expensive
- Requires technical knowledge to start
- Constant monitoring for pH levels and nutrient density ratio
- Power outages could ruin the entire production
- Regular disinfection of the root chamber is required.
Hydroponics vs. Aquaponics vs Aeroponics: Which One is the Best?
The best option for your growing operations would depend on if you’re a DIY grower or a commercial grower. All methods come with their own perks. You will experience less water, reduce water usage, reduce the use of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, and enjoy high-quality plant yield.
If you’re up for a method that offers the easiest maintenance, then hydroponics is the best option to start.