It’s very easy to think that because all these cultivation methods end with the suffix “-ponics” that aeroponics, hydroponics, and aquaponics are not much different from each other. Well, these types of indoor gardening are very different from each other, and it all boils down to how nutrients are introduced to the root system of plants.
In aeroponics, the roots are exposed to nutrients in pure air. There is no medium around the roots. No soil, no composite materials, and definitely no water. All nutrients in very measured liquid form is misted or sprayed to the roots of the plants.
Hydroponics, on the other hand, involves very specific and measured exposure to a very calculated mixture of nutrients. This is given to the roots using a wide range of artificial and non-artificial materials like Styrofoam, certain types of plastic, even PVC. The key is to hold the roots in some kind of standardized medium to maximize its absorption of very minutely calculated nutrient solutions.
Generally, aquaponics systems include fish. The idea is for the fish to feed on some of the plants and produce waste. This waste is then carefully passed through biochemical filters or biological filters that turn the fish waste into natural fertilizer, which is then recirculated through the water to grow plants.
Ideally speaking, an aquaponics system is a closed system. You grow fish and plants at the same time, and they feed off each other.
Of course, this isn’t completely sealed off because there is wasted energy due to inefficiency. There is going to be input of energy as well as nutrients to keep the system going.
Still, the idea behind aquaponics is to close the biofeedback loop as much as possible so you have a very efficient ecosystem where food is generated on both ends. You end up harvesting fish while at the same time growing a wide range of plants that can not only be fed to fish, but can also be sold.
The Pros of Aeroponics
The great thing about aeroponics is that it’s a really fast and extensive growing system. It’s also very efficient in that the water that you use is so measured that you save quite a bit on water costs.
The disadvantage of aeroponics is that it requires a tremendous amount of technology. We’re talking all sorts of switches and controls.
If there is any kind of malfunction in the control system, your whole indoor garden is at risk. You can basically kill all your plants throughout the system because of a bad centralized control panel.
Of course, the workaround to this is to localize controls in sections by using a modular aquaponics system. You can reduce the risk of system failure to specific modules. This way, if one part of your system doesn’t work or malfunctions, it doesn’t jeopardize the rest of the plants that you’re trying to grow.
Advantages of a Hydroponic System
Hydroponics has been around for a long time. It is actually the indoor standard. In fact, it’s the well-accepted standard for indoor gardening. It can accommodate large scale growing, and it is pretty much the most “battle tested” of indoor plant cultivation systems.
The downside to hydroponics is that it requires a tremendous amount of chemical inputs. This also requires energy to get to the plants.
There’s a tremendous amount of calculation and fine tuning to make the system work. It is a very sensitive system. If the PH or water temperature, or some other critical factor is off, then your harvest might be less than optimal, assuming you have a harvest at all.
The Advantages of Aquaponics
The aquaponics system is a great way to grow both fish and plant crops. It also uses a water medium so cleaning both growing sections is very easy. It also allows for a fairly controlled flow of nutrients.
The great thing about this system is that the water filtration process is built in, so you don’t have to take waste out of the system. Instead, it is used as fertilizer.
The Downside to Aquaponics
The downside of aquaponics is that it has to be designed right. It can get quite expensive. Also, if you live in a part of the country where it gets really cold, your aquaponics system might experience some downtime. If not, you might have to spend quite a bit of money on heating costs.
Comparisons with Conventional Farming (Geoponics)
Because these three innovative methods are soilless, controlling the amounts of nutrients that the plants receive can be precise and much more efficient. They are not dependent on the quality of soil like crops are in traditional farmlands. Plants consume less water since their roots feed directly from the solution. Hydroponics, for example, use an average of 10% of the water needed in conventional planting.
Furthermore, most of the water is recycled within the system. It results in considerable water conservation and cost savings from irrigation. It also vastly reduces the use of fertilizers so that no excess waste ends up flowing into the rivers or contaminating the groundwater that people use.
There’s a vast reduction in the use of harmful insecticides as well since the plants are less prone to disease and pests indoors. They are also not exposed to the harsh elements outside. The ideal temperature range can be maintained within the enclosure, ensuring the most optimal conditions at all times.
The Final Word
Deciding between aeroponics vs. hydroponics vs. aquaponics really boils down to cost factors, infrastructure, types of crops you want to grow, as well as geography.
Depending on where you are in the country, aeroponics, hydroponics or aquaponics (not necessarily in that order) may be out of the question. So, you have to consider all these different factors so you can make a truly informed and effective choice.