Aquaponics and Hydroponics are both agricultural technologies that eliminate the need for soil, but produce high yields with minimum input of water and fertilizer. Both are soil-less agricultural systems that allow plants and vegetables to grow by reducing water wastage into the ground; thus, making the two of them very sustainable and cost-effective ways of farming.
Aquaponics is a technology that traces its history as early as the time of the Aztecs when the Indians raised plants on rafts floating on a lake 1,000AD, although the term “aquaponics” was coined in 1970s when the aquaculture industry invented modern methods to improve raising fish that will decrease their dependence on land and water.
The simplest definition of aquaponics is that it combines aquaculture technology and hydroponics, which implies that it is a soil-less form of cultivating fish and plants in one united system. The aquaponic system utilizes the concept of the natural food chain and symbiotic relationship between plants and animals or to be specific, fish and plants. How does this work? Fish will eliminate their waste in the water, and this will be an organic food source for the growing plants. In return, the plants provide a natural filter and food source for the fish species in the aquaponic system.
Other participants in the aquaponic system are the nitrifying bacteria and red worms that convert the ammonia from fish waste into nitrates and then nitrites.
The earliest application of hydroponics was in the greenhouse production of tomatoes and lettuce in the early 1920s. It has now evolved into a system, which completely puts soil out of the picture. The system also requires growing plants directly into a solution that is water-based and packed with all the vital nutrients they need to grow. Pebbles, sand or clay pellets may be added as supporting structures for the plants. The use of water-based system protects plants from toxins accumulating in soil and from disease entities that are present in the ground. It also eliminates the problem of weeds and other pests; thereby, reducing the need for herbicides and pesticides.
In warm climates, most hydroponic systems are placed in green houses or similar structures to provide a way to manage temperature and decrease evaporative water loss. Greenhouses also serve as protection to keep pests and insects from the plants but the artificial lighting that is required to make plants grow indoors makes it costly because of the energy required to maintain the whole system.
Aquaponics vs. Hydroponics
Both of these systems are high yielding and provide a great way to farm with minimum space and technology. Note, however, that there are both advantages and disadvantages that you need to consider for both aquaponics and hydroponics.
On startup speed, hydroponics will have advantage on the lead-time because it only requires addition of nutrients to your plant reservoir and then you are good to go. Aquaponics, on the other hand, will require about a month to set up the ideal ecosystem to develop that natural microbial system with nitrifying bacteria for the cycling process that will take place.
Studies show though that aquaponics is more productive than hydroponics because the organic ecosystem created requires less input into the system. This is due to the cycling process performed within the aquaponics environment. Bacteria within the system are the driving forces of aquaponics and make it a very organic way of farming that leads to earlier maturity of crops and heavier cropping compared to hydroponics.