Difference between Hydroponics, Aquaponics, and Aeroponics

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Hydroponics, Aquaponics, and Aeroponics are three different methods of farming. You can also use these methods to farm your own vegetables at home!

Each method has unique features that give its advantages and disadvantages throughout the whole farming process.

This article will discuss the differences between hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics to have a better insight into these three methods of farming.

Before discussing their differences, it is crucial to be familiar with the three methods first and how they function.

Three questions are looked at:

1. What is hydroponics?
2. What is Aquaponics?
3. What is Aeroponics?

What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics is the method of growing plants without the presence of soil. The plants are treated in such a way that the roots are directly supplied with nutrient-rich water. The hydroponics system can be designed in many different styles, but the core elements are ultimately similar: water, oxygen, root support, nutrients, and light.

Freshwater is the lifeline of the plants since it substitutes the soil like in the traditional setup. The water is built with filter devices and has a balanced pH level of around 6-6.5 since most plants are compatible with this pH level. It is essential to keep it fresh and use a good quality of water because this is where all the nutrients flow for the plants to grow healthy.

Oxygen is what gives water the life to sustain the plants. Plants need oxygen too, and it is essential to design the hydroponics system wherein open spaces are made so that oxygen can flow freely. You can also install an air pump to oxygenate the container where the plants are placed to grow.

Root support is what keeps the plant in a steady position. The absence of soil makes it difficult for the plants to stand with the water’s precise measure. Therefore, the root support is placed in the hydroponics system to provide a holding line for the plants with exact measures to prevent them from drowning or submerging completely.

Nutrients like magnesium, phosphorous, calcium, and more are what make the plants grow healthy and productive. Plants must meet all these nutrients even if they are grown using water, just like in a traditional setup where the soil must also be healthy and fertilized. In other words, these nutrients are the food of plants and should be present whether in a traditional setup or hydroponics system.

Light is also an essential element when growing plants in an indoor setup. Outdoor hydroponics systems already have natural light from the sun compared to indoor setup. If you are an indoor farmer using a hydroponics system, you better invest in special lighting equipment that suits the type of plants you grow and observe Daily Light IntegralOpens in a new tab. or DLI.

10 Examples of plants that grow with hydroponics

1. Strawberries (pH level: 5.5 to 6.2, 60 days growing period)
2. Lettuce (pH level: 6.0 to 7.0; temperature: 7°C to 21°C; 30 days growing period)
3. Peppers (pH level: 5.5 to 6.0; temperature: 23°C to 27°C; 90 days growing period)
4. Spinach (pH level: 6.0 to 7.0; temperature: 18°C to 20°C; 20 days growing period)
5. Tomatoes (pH level: 5.5 to 6.5; temperature: 18°C to 25°C; 14 days growing period)
6. Radishes (pH level: 6.0 to 7.0; temperature: 10°C to 18°C; 7 days growing period)
7. Cucumbers (pH level: 5.5 to 6.0; temperature: 22°C to 24°C)
8. Beans ( pH level: 6.0; temperature: 21°C to 27°C; 7 days growing period)
9. Basil (pH level: 5.8 to 6.5; temperature 24°C; 10 days growing period)
10. Chives (pH level: 6.0 to 6.5; temperature: 18°C to 21°C, 60 days growing period)

What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics unites two farming methods: aquaculture and hydroponics, and this is the inspiration of the term “aquaponics”.

What makes hydroponics and aquaponics different is the addition of aquaculture in the farming process.

We have already discussed hydroponics and how it functions, and so we will slightly tackle aquaculture. The aquaculture farming method is generally breeding and raising fishes, shellfish, and other aquatic animals until they are ready for harvest.

With this in mind, aquaponics may not be difficult to understand as it merely comprises two farming methods—aquaculture and hydroponics.

You just use the fishes to help you grow the plants because fishes’ activity is the perfect fertilizer for the plants to grow healthy.

Like the natural ecosystem where water, aquatic life, bacteria, nutrients, and plants relate to one another to prosper—the idea of aquaponics is similar to it because it holds power to integrate these individual elements.

Now, aquaponics is merely adding a school of fish in a tank where the plants are grown. This is a sustainable approach as the fish can enhance the water’s nutrients through fish wastes, which become a portion of food for bacteria and converted into fertilizer. In return, plants extract all the nutrients in the water, making it clean and safe for the fish to grow healthy and productive.

This union between plants and fishes allows you to harvest not just one but two amazing foods needed for the human body. This translates to more profit, but it is also expected that more attention in the management is required. This is because you also have to feed and observe the fishes as well aside from the plants, unlike in a hydroponics system where your attention is focused on the plants alone.

12 Examples of plants to grow with a small aquaponics system:

1. Lettuce
2. Kale
3. Spinach
4. Swiss chard
5. Arugula
6. Mint
7. Chives
8. Basil
9. Watercress
10. Pak choi
11. Wheatgrass
12. Radish sprouts

9 Examples of plants to grow with a larger aquaponics system:

1. Tomatoes
2. Peppers
3. Cucumbers
4. Beans
5. Squash
6. Pears
7. Broccoli
8. Cauliflower
9. Cabbage

12 Examples of fish to grow with aquaponics:

1. Tilapia
2. Bluegill
3. Catfish
4. Carp
5. Koi
6. Fancy Goldfish
7. Pacu
8. Angelfish
9. Guppies
10. Tetras
11. Swordfish
12. Mollies

What is Aeroponics?

Aeroponics is largely different from hydroponics and aquaponics because it uses the air and moist environment to grow plants.

It is more advanced than hydroponics because it still uses water and liquid nutrients to grow plants effectively and efficiently without sacrificing plants’ goodness.

The Aeroponics system leaves the plant hanging in thin air and nourishes itself through the nutrient-laden mist. In hydroponics, where the plants are held by a soilless growing medium and placed in the nutrient-rich water, the aeroponics system allows the plant to place in the air without the soilless growing medium where they are periodically sprayed with misting devices.

In an aeroponics system, the plants are not stubbornly hanging in the air by any equipment, and instead a pot is placed above stuffed with special foam where the seeds are inserted.

The pot is designed so that the plant can receive light and grow as large as possible while in the air. The special foam holds the plant’s stem and roots to keep them in place while spraying nutrient-laden mist as they grow.

15 Examples of what plants to grow with aeroponics:

1. Lettuce
2. Strawberries
3. Tomatoes
4. Mint
5. Basil
6. Tomatillos
7. Eggplant
8. Watermelon
9. Skullcap
10. Ginger
11. Yerba mansa
12. Red kale
13. Cucumbers
14. Squash
15. Peppers

The significant difference between Hydroponics, Aquaponics, and Aeroponics is the setup that later affects the production, costs, and labor demands.

After analyzing the nature of hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics, we will now turn to their differences. Take note that the three farming methods are good for growing plants anywhere we like and to find better solutions to problems faced by traditional farming.

However, the three farming methods differ in style when growing plants, which we will discuss accordingly.

Hydroponics grow the plant in a soilless environment by using nutrient-rich water.

Also, plants have more time to grow upward because they do not have to grow their roots extensively, searching for food as the water provides all the nutrients they need.

Plants have a higher success rate of growing efficiently in a hydroponics system, but it still depends on your hydroponics system’s design.

What makes hydroponics different from aquaponics is the fish because hydroponics uses formulated solutions to add to the water while aquaponics uses fish wastes as natural fertilizers. Hydroponics and aquaculture also vary in costs, difficulty, materials, and setup.

In aquaponics, where you add a fish to the system, it is expected that the materials, difficulty, and costs will change compared to hydroponics, where no fish is added. This means that hydroponics is less costly than aquaculture, but this advantage does not degrade the aquaponics system.

On the other hand, aquaponics is also a great marketing tool knowing that you also produce live animals aside from plants during harvest season. It may be costly and requires more attention, but it surely produces more than hydroponics can do.

There are various options on what kind of fish you want to put in the aquaponics system, but if you are wise enough, you might want to choose tilapias and catfish to provide additional food for your family and in your local community.

While it may be true that growers should not rely on fish sales, nevertheless it is not a mistake to elevate the production that is not usually experienced in a hydroponics system.

However, this does not put hydroponics and aquaponics in a competition because growers can be flexible with their farming strategies. Some growers combined hydroponics and aquaponics in their respective areas and reap the two farming methods’ benefits.

Aeroponics systems, where plants are grown in a moist environment, surely have different takes on meeting every grower’s demands.

More crops and vegetables can grow in an aeroponics system mainly because of its spacious setup allowing plants to grow freely.

Plants with bigger roots can grow effectively in aeroponics systems that are hard to grow in hydroponics and aquaponics systems due to their space capacity.

The aeroponics system yielded plants 30% larger than the average size. A great example of this is red kale with a 65% increase, bell peppers with a 53% increase, cucumbers with a 7% increase, and squash with 50%.

Another positive side of aeroponics is having a comparable nutritional value with traditional farming.

In hydroponics, fewer expenses are estimated than aquaponics, where the addition of fish translates to more expenses and labor demands.

Aeroponics is not too distant from aquaponics in terms of costs and labor demands since aeroponics’ equipment is undoubtedly expensive and spraying of nutrient-laden mist demands more work than hydroponics setup.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Hydroponics, Aquaponics, and Aeroponics

We will now jump to the advantages and disadvantages of hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics.

Hydroponics 

Advantages:

Less expensive than aquaponics and aeroponics
Water Conservation
Faster Growth
Nutrient Control

Disadvantages:

Smaller yields than aquaponics and aeroponics
Space inefficient
Limited plants to grow

Aquaponics

Advantages:

Fewer chemicals
Productive
More plant options than hydroponics
Faster Growth

Disadvantages:

More expensive than hydroponics
Labor demands
Difficulty in building setup

Aeroponics

Advantages:

More plant options than aquaponics and hydroponics
Space efficient
More plant yield
Faster Growth

Disadvantages:

Expensive
Labor Demands
Equipment Demands

Final Thoughts

You should know by now the different natures of hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics.

Remember that these three farming methods are another way of expanding the possibilities of farming other than traditional farming.

This does not mean we should divert all our attention away from traditional farming because farming in vast lands surely produces more crops than hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics.

Perhaps, the beauty of hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics is the applicability even on a small scale while ensuring a prosperous harvest. It can also be done indoors so that individual and backyard farmers can grow crops inside their facilities.

In the end, it all depends on you and what you want to pursue after considering all options that hydroponics, aquaculture, and aeroponics can provide. You shall also consider the downsides of these three farming methods to avoid getting and learning throughout your farming journey.

Jenni M
Tribal Writer

Edited by
Patricia Godwin

Patricia Godwin

Patricia has many years of experience as a content writer on various subjects, but her first love is gardening. She’s never met a plant she didn’t like and, consequently, she writes about every type of plant you can think of. Once an avid gardener with a herb garden, a succulent rockery, and a rose garden – to mention a few. Nowadays, she’s constantly on the move searching for interesting plants to bring to your attention; and explain to you all the details you need to grow, care and maintain these plants.

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