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Aquaponics and hydroponics both have amazing potential to improve yields and quality levels over traditional soil-based gardening. Both systems utilize water to deliver nutrient inputs to the garden’s root system. Even so, there are critical differences to consider when deciding which system is right for your garden.
Hydroponics as a practice is much simpler to master and to operate. Aquaponics offers easier organic certification and additional food in the form of fish, but adds extra levels of complexity, cost and responsibility to the overall effort.
Fundamentals of Hydroponics
In a hydroponics system, plants are grown with bare roots on soil-free media such as coconut coir, gravel or similar materials. The roots are submerged in a nutrient bath that continually, or with the use of timer intermittently, flows across the root system of each plant. Nutrients are provided to the plant by adding them to the nutrient bath. The nutrient solution is frequently monitored and must be changed when there is an accumulation of nutrients that need to be disposed of.
There is a wide range of technology with the specifics of hydroponic systems. There are different approaches to providing the nutrients to the roots, types of lighting systems, and many other details that have been solved for today’s end user. Most systems are automatic. Usually, only some monitoring and occasional adjustment of the nutrient solution are needed to grow a crop from start to finish.
Fundamentals of Aquaponics
Aquaponics systems share much of their technology and hardware with hydroponics systems. The main similarity to hydroponic gardening is in the delivery of nutrient inputs through a water bath. In hydroponics, the nutrients are added by the human operator of the system, and often managed automatically by the system. Aquaponic systems replace the external input of the human with waste generated by fish in a pool or a tank nearby.
The by-products in the fish waste provide excellent nutrition for plants. The water the fish live in is periodically pumped over the garden, where the fish waste is converted and consumed as nutrients. The water is oxygenated and cleansed of harmful ingredients for the fish, and returns to the tank or pool.
Which System Makes Sense?
The final choice depends heavily on the existing site, use of the produce, construction expenses, and complexity. Aquaponics as a high-yield gardening method has enormous potential. Realizing that potential can be a major project, involving the installation of a large body of water such as a tank or pool for the fish. The tank is going to require environmental controls such as water replacement and circulation, heating, oxygenation, and filtration. Fish need to eat, and feeding the fish is a regular chore with an aquaponics system.
Hydroponics offers a simpler approach, the ability to be in production rapidly, and ease of maintenance. Operated automatically, there is no concern over the condition of live animals and planning for their upkeep in addition to managing the crop. For most growers, and anyone looking for a minimum of labor and upkeep, hydroponics offers the clearest path to success.