Aquaponics vs Hydroponics: What Is the Difference?

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The discussion of aquaponics vs hydroponics has become increasingly popular. As people begin looking into soilless systems for growing crops, there are plenty of advantages to consider.

They may use the same principles, but aquaponics and hydroponics have a few notable differences in setups, costs, and more. Learn about the difference between aquaponics and hydroponics.

Why Are People Using Hydroponics and Aquaponics?

Both methods of growing and cultivating crops have become quite popular for their number of benefits. They allow you to grow plenty of plants without needing a large amount of land. They are ideal for small properties.

You’ll also find the plants you cultivate from aquaponics and hydroponics will be dense in nutrients since their growing method is highly nutritious. This process could lead to more delicious and healthy crops for more flavorful meals without soil use.

Once a healthy ecosystem has been developed, either system can prove to be a less expensive investment than soil-based farming. They can be set up indoors or outdoors and climate and seasons are less of an issue than they are with traditional soil gardens. Because of this, these aquaponics and hydroponics can be used to grow non-native plants.

It’s also important to note that opting to grow plants in water versus soil reduces the impact your garden may have on the environment.

It’s exciting to get into if you want to start a hydroponics garden or upgrade your existing setup. You can easily find several in-depth resources to help you learn how to build your own family-friendly DIY hydroponics garden.

Is Hydroponics and Aquaponics the Same Thing?

Before deciding on a growing process, note that hydroponics and aquaponics look nearly the same. However, hydroponics vs aquaponics are quite different. It’s important to ask, which is better hydroponics or aquaponics, since one is easier to maintain than the other.

Also, your upfront costs will vary significantly depending on the growing system you decide to use. Depending on the setup, both of these can be considered vertical farming. 

What Is Hydroponics?

In theory, hydroponics has been a common way of growing plants for thousands of years. Many people assume you can’t grow crops without access to nutrient-rich soil, but the hydroponics process relies on an intricate system to nourish plants.

In many ways, hydroponics is a far more complicated process than other traditional methods of farming. There are two main things that your crops need to make sure they are healthy:

  • Water
  • Essential nutrients

When you have a hydroponic system, the water delivers all of the nutrients to the plant’s roots without using soil.

You’ll rely on the unique liquid aquatic solution, hydroponic nutrients, that runs through the plants’ root zone to give them what they need to grow.

Some of the most interesting types of hydroponic systems you can create include:

  • Drip Systems
  • Wick Systems
  • Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
  • Ebb and flow system
  • Deep Water Culture (DWT)

What Is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture. With an aquaponics garden, you have the same basis as hydroponics with a couple of differences. With this process, you will grow your plants hydroponically but also be using aquaculture to feed the plants.

Aquaponic systems require a soil-less environment and allow your plants to get their nutrients from aquatic solutions.

The main difference is that you’ll rely on fish in the aquatic environment instead of manually adding fertilizer. This process lets you create an ecosystem that feeds your plants and helps them grow. Overall, aquaponic systems are one of the sufficient methods of eco-farming.

When you introduce fish into your environment, their waste will break down into nutrients and beneficial microbes used by your plants.

The plants will then filter the water, ensuring the plants have a healthy environment to live in. With aquaponics, you’ll have to focus primarily on the symbiotic relationship between wildlife and plant life.

Common fish species in aquaponics are:

  • Tilapia
  • Trout
  • Bass
  • Catfish

A few examples of the aquaponics setups you can create include:

  • Deep Water Culture (DWC)
  • Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
  • Media Bed

Difference Between Aquaponics and Hydroponics

With a clear understanding of hydroponics and aquaponics, there are several unique differences to consider. The best way to explore the difference between aquaponics and hydroponics is to consider their pros and cons.

aquaponics vs hydroponics
Small aquaponic setup

What Are the Advantages of Aquaponics?

Cost-Effective Nutrients

Since your fish’s waste will become the nutrients for your plants, you’ll find this method is quite cost-effective. Instead of investing in nutrient-rich solutions, you will be able to create your own, naturally.

The most expensive part of maintaining an aquaponics setup is to make sure your fish have nutrient-rich food. With a poor diet, your fish won’t provide enriched waste to help feed your plants. It’s important to pick fish with a diet that is easy to maintain. 

It will also be more difficult to maintain fresh and clear water if your plants have to filter out low-quality waste. As with any type of farming, the costs you should expect to put out from aquaponics will also depend on size.

Some of the smaller systems will cost less to maintain than a large-scale developments which could be hundreds of dollars to upkeep. Overall, it’s far less expensive than some of the other methods of maintaining a garden.

Bright Outlook

There seem to be several benefits becoming more prevalent in the aquaponics industry. With its bright outlook, you could begin seeing this growing system in more familiar areas. This will make the necessary supplies easier to buy locally.

Even with an existing hydroponics setup, it’s a good idea to delve into aquaponics for diversity. Eventually, there could be access to USDA federal grants since it’s seen as a great way to grow agriculture’s sustainability.

Better Productivity

One of the most exciting aspects of aquaponics is that you’ll be setting up a fully sustainable growing environment. Once the relationship between your fish and plants has been established, it will require very little intervention.

You’ll find that when immersed in a nutrient-rich environment, your plants will grow substantially larger and healthier. Many farmers suggest that aquaponics may also provide a higher yield than hydroponic systems.

Organic Farming

For families that put a significant advantage on organic growth, this is a phenomenal option. You won’t have to worry about synthetic nutrients in your plants since fish waste will be their primary food source.

The most important thing is the ingredients in your fish food because you’ll want to make sure it’s healthy. With the help of the closed-loop ecosystem you’ll be developing, everything in the environment is organic. There’s no need to rely on pesticides either.

Interestingly enough, though, it could be easier to acquire organic certification with hydroponics. It’s likely because knowledge about aquaponics is newer. Still, certificate acquisition depends on your local issuing authority.

Minimal or No Root Rot Problems

With hydroponic systems, one of the most concerning issues you might encounter is root rot. Also known as Pythium, this disease can cause an assortment of issues in hydroponics. Fortunately, with aquaponics, your plants will develop a resistance to root rot, making it far less common.


One of the best ways to attract new customers is by word of mouth as a commercial farmer. Although hydroponics can be exciting, aquaponics introduce a new element: live fish. To beginners, it can be fascinating to consider an inclusive ecosystem that results in edible plants’ production.

With that said, you can take advantage of the marketable benefits of having an aquaponics system by allowing farm tours. You can let customers look at the ecosystem you have developed, which can be exciting. Another opportunity is to offer services to teach about how to set the system up as well a services to set up aquaponics DIY. 

What Are the Disadvantages of Aquaponics?

Complicated Construction

Aquaponics may seem like a saving grace, but it takes a lot of time, effort, and knowledge to build. You have to create a growth space for your plants and fish tanks, extra plumbing, and more. You’re likely to require far more space with this type of farming than with hydroponics.

Apart from determining how much physical space you need, you’ll also need to consider your fish size. You’ll want to make sure the fish you choose have more than enough space to live comfortably for their entire lifetime. 

It’s also common that aquaponics requires pots that are twice as large as those used in hydroponics.

Difficult Troubleshooting

Since hydroponics have a simpler system, it’s far easier to troubleshoot if any problems arise. With aquaponics, you have far more moving parts that you need to address if there’s an issue. You have to consider the fish health, the water’s nutrient levels, pump failures, and power failures.

It’s also important to consider temperature and interior environment since most of these systems are built inside greenhouses. The increased number of materials and tools needed to make an aquaponics farm work can be more challenging to repair.

Extended Cycling Time

When you first get your setup built, it won’t produce the highest concentration of plants at first. Most systems are recommended to be run without including fish for up to six weeks to allow the pH systems to adjust. Even after you introduce fish, your yields will be substantially lower for the first year.

Higher Startup Costs

This point is relatively apparent because there are far more components to aquaponics than hydroponics. Your initial startup costs will be substantially more since you’ll need plenty of materials.

However, there are ways to cut costs, such as building DIY hydroponic PVC system and modifying less expensive items.

You’ll also have higher extended costs, such as electricity because you have to keep your water pumps running consistently. Depending on where you setup the aquaponic garden, you may also need to install LED grow lights.

Many aquaponic systems will also need backup in a power outage since losing electricity could nullify all of your previous work.

City Ordinances

In some locations, you’ll have to ensure the fish you choose are legal to purchase and grow where you live.

aquaponics vs hydroponics
Growing with hydroponics vs aquaponics

What Are the Advantages of Hydroponics?

Natural Learning Curve

Hydroponics vs aquaponics has a learning curve, primarily if you’ve never focused on this type of farming and gardening. However, hydroponics is far more straightforward to tackle, even as a beginner, than aquaponics.

Everything that you learn can be consistently applied to your plants, even if you decide to add other systems to your existing farm.

It has a far more simplistic design, making it easier to learn over a shorter period. This point is why more people transform their leisure hydroponic gardens into a larger scale commercial venture.

Lower Cycling Time

One of the most significant disadvantages to aquaponics vs hydroponics is how long its cycling time can be. You’ll have to wait up to 12 months to take advantage of full capacity crops. Hydroponics is far more beneficial, allowing you to take advantage of your investment sooner.

On average, hydroponic farmers will find their crops are at full capacity within six weeks of planting. If you want a faster return on your investment, hydroponics is a better option than aquaponics.

Highly Predictable

Learning hydroponics is a one-time venture, so you can guarantee it will feel more predictable than aquaponics. You’ll also find that your garden’s costs will remain consistent, as you’ll need the same amount of supplies.

If you want a financially stable investment that will continually help you yield a substantial crop, this method is ideal. You also won’t have to worry about relying on natural elements, like fish, to keep your plants nutrient-rich.

You will be responsible for purchasing hydroponic nutrients that are always available from manufacturers to maintain healthy growth.

Nutrient Consumption

Hydroponics is a far more hands-on approach than aquaponics because you’re responsible for maintaining healthy nutrient levels. This process allows you to know that your plants are effectively using the nutrients you provide them.

You also have full control over customizing the type and amount of nutrients your crops receive.

Owners will be able to consistently change the water’s pH levels with chemicals, opt for other nutrients, and more. Almost immediately, you’ll be creating a more sterile environment for your plants to grow.

Faster GAP Certification

You’ll have to go through plenty of steps to get your Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification. However, the steps are bound to be far less than if you were to own an aquaponics farm with fish.

Since there are fewer opportunities for the system to be contaminated, it’s more likely you’ll get certified faster. Also, since aquaponics is a relatively new concept, it might be easier to get certified based on public knowledge.

Inspectors need to take far more care when dealing with aquaponics setups because it involves live animals.

Easier Employee Training

A facet directly related to the natural learning curve is that hydroponic systems are more comfortable to teach. This point is particularly crucial for businesses and large scale commercial operations.

Your training process will be very straightforward, as these systems are entirely consistent and less likely to experience issues. A top-tier recommendation is to create a training plan with exact steps your employees can follow. As long as they work with your designed checklist, your hydroponics system can easily be maintained.

What Are the Disadvantages of Hydroponics?

Not Fully Sustainable

Regardless of how you look at it, hydroponics requires a lot of time and effort, which are other disadvantages to consider. Aquaponics, on the other hand, is a stable self-serving system with the addition of fish as the primary source of nutrients.

With a hydroponics setup, you will be responsible for managing the nutrients, purchasing the solutions, and feeding the plants. Unless you power it with solar, you will have energy costs as well.

Extensive Time Commitments

If you’re not able to dedicate a lot of time and effort to hydroponics, it’s not the best option.

When you use soil to grow plants, you can typically let them grow independently for their entire lifespan. With hydroponics and aquaponics, you have to monitor their environment to receive a reasonable yield.

As the grower, you take on the role of Mother Nature and will be required to ensure your plants are getting enough nutrients in the proper ratios.

You’ll also be responsible for regularly testing the pH levels to ensure the plants are thriving.

Higher Startup Costs

To set up the system, hydroponics is less expensive than aquaponics. However, every growing system will have an assortment of costs to consider. Hydroponics can be relatively costly, depending on your system or if you DIY.

This point is particularly true if you intend on creating a commercial growing operation, rather than a personal one.

You’ll have to purchase all of the hydro equipment and the crops you intend on growing. Additional costs could include:

  1. Nutrient-rich solutions
  2. pH balancing chemicals
  3. Grow lights
  4. Growing pots

Unless you find resale or on-sale products, you’re likely to spend a couple of hundred dollars on even the smallest setup. Also, because the yield can be substantially smaller than aquaponics, your investment return could be lower.

Electricity Costs and Hazards

The amount of money you have to put into your hydroponics system will depend on its size, similar to aquaponics. There are many instances where hydroponics can be more expensive, especially since you have to invest in plenty of materials.

You will have to buy your plants and their nutrients, plus growing lights, pumps, pots, and timers.

You’ll also need access to consistent power to run your pumps and other equipment; otherwise, plants could die.

On top of your regular monetary investment, you must also have a backup power source in case of a power failure.

Nutrient Disposal

One of the most important aspects of maintaining your hydroponics setup is to make sure you flush the system. As your plants receive their nutrients, salt can buildup in the water, causing toxic environments for plants. Flushing your system can impact the environment since you’ll have to dispose of toxic elements.

Which Is Better Aquaponics vs Hydroponics?

Deciding which is better hydroponics or aquaponics will depend on plenty of factors. If you want a good yield of plants in a shorter period, hydroponics is your best option. Overall, because you won’t add fish and other components, your initial startup costs will be less than with aquaponics.

Alternatively, aquaponics can be ideal for self-sustaining organic growth. You may yield more crops in a smaller space.

Both growing systems require electricity to operate. Additional ongoing costs include the nutrients for hydroponic systems. For aquaponics, ongoing costs include fish food — which can be expensive if you choose fish that are carnivores. Other ongoing costs may be if you need to purchase new fish.

Regardless, both methods can be a better alternative than traditional soil growing. Also, they have a far smaller impact on your environment. You will be able to grow more in less space with hydroponics and aquaponics than you can with soil.

Aquaponics and hydroponics are two types of growing systems that are often confused with each other. They both use water and plants, but they are actually quite different. Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics. The fish waste provides the nutrients for the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish. Hydroponics is a method of growing plants in water without soil.

Aquaponics is usually a system of aquaculture and hydroponics, in which fish are used as both the fertilizer and the food for the plants. Hydroponics involves growing plants in water, while aquaculture involves raising fish. The two systems are not mutually exclusive; they can be combined without any problems.

Aquaponics is a system of growing plants in water with fish as the fertilizer and food. This system demonstrates a number of benefits over traditional agriculture, but also has some drawbacks. 

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2 thoughts on “Aquaponics vs Hydroponics: What Is the Difference?”

  1. Thanks so much for this information! I was seeking an explanation of the difference between hydroponic and aquaponic growing systems and received more than expected. Very well-written, unbiased article explaining the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of each system. Was able to decide that hydroponics is definitely the system for this hobbyist here!

  2. Thank you…we are trying our best to provide the exact unbiased information to help people make the best decision they can that works for them.

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