Which is Better Hydroponics or Aquaponics

Thomas Angas by Thomas Angas | Last Updated: January 20, 2021

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Hydroponics is on the rise with more and more people taking interest in this new method of growing plants.

There’s also been a boom in the number of people starting to go one step further and take up aquaponics.

In this post, we take a look at which is better hydroponics or aquaponics and put forward arguments for both before casting our vote on which we believe is best.

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What is hydroponics?

Hydroponics is a type of gardening that grows plants in a soil-less environment. Rather than seeking nutrients from the soil, within a hydroponics system plants receive nutrients from those added to water.

If you’ve read our history of hydroponics you’ll know that while it certainly sounds like a modern invention, hydroponics has been around for centuries!

While it might seem like an odd concept to do away with soil, plants actually grow significantly larger and quicker using this method.

The reason? Within a hydroponic system you are providing optimal levels of nutrients, light, water and space.

What is aquaponics?

Just like hydroponics, aquaponics replaces soil with a nutrient rich solution to help your plants grow, however, unlike hydroponics where you add nutrient mixes to the solution in an aquaponics system you use aquaculture (raising fish) to provide nutrients for the plants.

In aquaponics, the waste produced by the fish is broken down by microbes in the water and this is how nutrients are generated for the plants.

Essentially, aquaponics takes all that’s good from hydroponics and builds on it.

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Differences Between The Two

While the differences between the two might seem obvious (one uses fish, one doesn’t) there are a few other key differences that’s it’s worth understanding before rushing in to setting something up.

System Differences

The first difference is in how the grow beds are set up. Within a hydroponic system you only need to set your grow beds to be six inches deep as the roots are able to spread out.

In an aquaponics system you need to set the grow beds to be around 12 inches deep as you need to allow for fish to swim.

The next big difference is that while hydroponics is largely a sterile system, aquaponics actually needs the grow media to help the roots build an environment for microorganisms.

Costs

While 90% of the costs are the same, the biggest difference when it comes to cost is the amount you need to initially spend on fish.

That said, once you’ve got an aquaponics system up and running, you need to spend very little on additional nutrient solutions, however, in a hydroponic system you need to constantly provide your plants with nutrients which do come at a cost.

Speed of Set Up

While the initial construction takes similar times, it’s in the nutrient solution cycle where the speed difference lies. Hydroponics typically only takes just a couple of days before a system is ready for seeds and plants.

Aquaponics on the other hand can take up to a month before enough nitrifying bacteria has been established within the system to allow plants and seeds to develop.

Running Costs

Again, there are similarities in running costs, however, aquaponics does require more oxygen to be in the system so running costs are slightly higher for aquaponics.

Which is better hydroponics or aquaponics?

So now to answer the big question, which is better hydroponics or aquaponics?

While both have significant advantages over traditional soil based farming, there’s a school of thought that hydroponics has a slight edge over aquaponics due to aquaponics being more self sustaining than hydroponics.

Aquaponics also has the benefit of needing less maintenance. Aquaponic systems don’t experience the build up of salts that hydroponics systems sometimes experience which results in the solution needing to be replaced.

That said, there are significantly more commercial hydroponics farms than aquaponics farms and for me personally, hydroponics still has the edge as I can measure and manage all the things that my plants and crops need to grow in an optimal way. I’ve previously outlined some of the biggest benefits with hydroponics in my ‘reasons why hydroponics is important’ post.

The Bottom Line

So there you have it, hopefully you now have a much clearer answer to the question of which is better hydroponics or aquaponics and while there isn’t a clear winner, both systems have their own pros and cons.

Thomas Angas, the founder of Authority Gardening lives with his wife and two darling pups. He spends his free time writing, hiking and learning how to become a better gardener. He launched Authority Gardening in 2017 to help people all over the world their gardens grow.