Although traditional agriculture is still the most used and practiced method for agriculture across the globe, modern cultivation and plant cultures are taking the world by storm lately.
In an effort to solve the food supply problems and provide a standardized system, the growing business of hydroponics and aquaponics are being adopted and getting bigger and bigger every day.
Since many people are interested in a culture growing but don’t know where to start or what to choose, we’re going to put aquaponics vs. hydroponics against traditional culture so you can choose.
Traditional Soil Agriculture and the Shift to Hydrocultures
Being traditional doesn’t mean that the practitioner farmers and gardeners lack the technologies or aren’t utilizing human knowledge in chemistry, modern agriculture, or plant genetics.
Regular agriculture depends mainly on treating the soil with nutrients and air circulation, in addition to pest repellents in a semi-controlled environment to grow plants and gather it.
However, the main problem with traditional soil agriculture lies in the soil itself. Although soils are a great natural resource for planting, farming, and general ecosystems, they can also be highly demanding and time-consuming.
With the exclusion of some of the perfect soils that offer an excellent level of fertility, most of the soil structures contain large amounts of sand and clay.
These elements, in addition to the natural habitat of the soil, can form a tough challenge for water and nutrients to reach the plants themselves.
This makes water one of the main problems facing traditional agriculture, as too much water can cause flooding and plant suffocation as it can severely disrupt and cut off the oxygen supply to the plant’s roots. This can cause rotting of the roots rendering the plant irreversibly damaged.
On the other side, too little plant watering can deplete the roots from the moisture they need to function properly. By disrupting the hydration cycle in the plant’s roots, it’ll affect the overall hydration of the plant, which eventually causes plant wilting.
Another major issue when it comes to traditional ways of soil agriculture is the need for a huge amount of space to be able to grow plants and food on an industrial scale to fulfill the modern-day capitalist world demands.
This requires growers and large scale plant producers to have a large stretch of lands to farm and grow enough food. To meet this need, farms have to be built hundreds of miles away from cities, and sometimes even more.
While this issue doesn’t manifest equally for part-time gardeners who enjoy growing plants for pleasure, this can still prove to be highly labor-intensive and time-consuming as the process requires a lot of digging and watering.
That called for an innovative way to avert the cause of these problems and science answered the call with Hydroponic agriculture.
Scientifically speaking, plants’ life cycles and growth depend on a process called Photosynthesis.
In this process, a chemical inside the plant called chlorophyll absorbs sunlight along with minerals, water, and carbon dioxide gas to make its own food, which is glucose sugar.
Since soil isn’t mentioned anywhere in this process, this means that plants can be grown in a passive culture without having to include soil in the process as long as plants get the adequate levels of sunlight, water, minerals, and air circulation they need.
Hydroponics is a form of a passive sub-irrigation culture, which is known as hydroculture. In this method of growing plants, the plants are grown over a chemically inactive medium with pores in it, such as clay pebbles, mineral wool, vermiculite, perlite, or gravel.
These mediums are used to transport a balanced blend of water, salts, nutrients, and trace elements to the roots through the plant’s capillary action from a separate reservoir.
These blends of nutrients minerals and water are sold commercially. All you have to do is to add it to your reservoir and you’re good to go.
The hydroponic model is growing quickly and is currently widely adopted in North America for the production of tomatoes, basil, and lettuce on a large scale.
Hydroculture Advantages over Traditional Agriculture
As you noticed, in a hydroponic system, you don’t need to have soil to grow the plants, which can be highly beneficial when you factor in the number of difficulties, problems, and hindrance that come with soil.
Commercial growers are flocking to growing plants without soil like never before.
Hydroponic agriculture had many positive points over regular agriculture. Let’s have a look at what hydroponics offered.
One of the best things about hydroponics, and example of its main advantages against traditional methods of farming and agriculture is that hydroponics systems require much smaller stretch land in order to grow plants.
In traditional farming, you can go as compact as you want. However, it remains a fact that every single plant you have in the farm will take a physical space. This can hinder any plans for increasing the growth rate.
In hydroponic culture, this can easily be avoided either by placing the pots closer to each other or by applying a vertical growing scheme, which is in fact adopted commercially.
Hydroponic culture consumes about 20% of the land needed by traditional farming to produce the same amount of yield.
Although hydroponics is a wonderful growing method that solved many problems regarding traditional agriculture, it still faces a lot of challenges.
Requires Careful Monitoring of Expensive Content
One of the main obstacles that hurdle the hydroponics road lies within its nutrient mixture that the plants feed on. This artificial mixture of water, mineral, and salts is highly expensive and highly potent.
This calls for a huge deal of concern when it comes to the hydroponic reservoir content and water medium.
This mixture needs to be monitored regularly to measure the total of its dissolved solid content and pH levels. Any inaccurate levels in these measures can cause a system failure and fatal business losses.
Needs to Be Periodically Disposed
The second problem that faces hydroponic growing is its water cycle. You need to get rid of the water in the hydroponic system regularly.
The reason behind that is the continuous accumulation of salts, chemicals, and biowastes produced by the plants, which can be extremely toxic to them. This also creates the problem of finding the correct sites to safely discharge this water.
This problem is also shared with mainland fisheries, as the fish tanks also become riddled with fish toxic byproducts, such as ammonia. This requires the fisheries operators to discharge between 10 to 20% of the total volume of the fish tank daily.
In an effort to find a practical solution to these problems, aquaponic systems came out as a highly beneficial alternative to traditional hydroponics.
Aquaponics is composed of two parts “aqua” from “aquaculture”, and “ponics” from “hydroponics”. Aquaculture is the act of raising marine creatures such as fish in a controlled environment, which is usually for commercial reasons.
While fish consider the ammonia they produce toxic wastes, by the effect of nitrifying bacteria, ammonia can be converted into nitrates, which is utilized by plants as nutrients.
The combination of the two systems resulted in a symbiotic relationship that’s utilized in aquaponics producing a complete ecosystem that offers a wide array of competitive features compared to hydroponics.
Hydroponics vs. Aquaponics
Let’s have a closer look at the advantages and drawbacks that both systems offer.
Aquaponics is initially a more expensive growing method. However, once fully established aquaponic culture becomes more self-dependant and cost-effective, making it a perfect choice for long term investors.
On the other side, it’s much cheaper to build hydroponic culture but it’ll continue to demand expensive man-made nutrients and chemicals to maintain its productivity.
Saving water is one of the biggest advantages in aquaponic compared to hydroponics. Aquaponics saves 95% of the water it uses, as you never replace the water.
While water is regularly discharged in hydroponic systems to remove toxins and wastes, aquaponic culture requires only topping off water to compensate for the evaporated water.
Ease of Monitoring
Hydroponic systems require daily monitoring of the water for waste levels, ammonia level, and pH control.
One the other side, aquaponics starts with a complex system that gets easier with time. A fully stabilized aquaponic system can be checked weekly.
Likeliness of Errors
Aquaponic systems are more complex to build. The addition and connection of fish into your current ecosystem requires split plumbing and bigger spaces.
Consequently, more things can go wrong while building an aquaponic culture. It’s much easier and simpler to grow a hydroponic culture into full capacity in 6 weeks, compared to 50 weeks in aquaponics.
This means that aquaponics has 8 times the chances for system failure compared to hydroponics. However, once fully established, aquaponics becomes a much more stable system.
Many customers prefer the aquaponically produced food as they consider it a more organic product, despite having a similar composition to hydroponically grown products. This gives aquaponics a slight advantage from a commercial standpoint.
Although it takes longer to achieve, it’s proven that having a fully established aquaponic culture yields a closely similar product to hydroponics.
However, hydroponics produces a higher yield in a shorter cycle time compared to aquaponic cultures.
For backyard garters and growers, it’s obviously more fun to have a full ecosystem composed of fish and plants.
Although it makes it a tough challenge to maintain, it’s more rewarding than simple hydroponics. Besides, you get to have a healthy meal of homegrown fish every now and then.
While both techniques represent the future, they both prove to be extremely beneficial and eco-friendly compared to traditional agriculture. However, the road to choosing the best technique isn’t a straightforward one.
Aquaponics shows to have an overall edge despite being slightly more expensive and complicated in the beginning.
Since you can shift to aquaponics gradually, the best approach would be to start with the simpler hydroponic cultures, and then gradually turn to an aquaponics system once you get the hang of it.