Aquaponics vs Hydroponics: Great Options for Your Greenhouse

Aquaponics and hydroponics are two popular and effective methods of growing plants in a greenhouse. With both systems, you can produce a significant amount of food even in a small greenhouse. Neither method requires soil, and both benefit from the temperature and humidity controls greenhouses offer. Which is best for you? In this article, we’ll dig into the aquaponics vs hydroponics debate, giving you the pros, cons, benefits, and costs of these two popular gardening systems.

Aquaponics vs Hydroponics: The Basics

Aquaponics is a sustainable way of growing plants and fish together in a closed-loop system. The fish produce waste, which beneficial bacteria then convert into nutrients. The plants then use the nutrients to grow, filtering the water in the process, and the clean water returns to the fish tank. This system is highly efficient and requires less water compared to other gardening methods. Additionally, aquaponics does not require the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides, making it an eco-friendly option. This process requires electricity to power the pump.

On the other hand, hydroponics is a method of growing plants in a nutrient-rich solution without soil. The plants are grown in a controlled environment, and the nutrients are directly supplied to the plant roots. You can set up hydroponics systems in a variety of ways, including using a nutrient film technique, deep water culture, or aeroponics. Hydroponics allows for faster plant growth and higher yields compared to traditional farming methods. However, it requires a constant supply of electricity to maintain the artificial environment, and you have to provide the nutrients for the plants.

Fundamentals of Aquaponics

System Components

Aquaponics combines aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil) in a symbiotic environment. The system consists of three main components: the fish tank, the grow bed, and the water pump. You’ll also need an aeration system.

The fish tank is where the fish are raised and their waste products are collected.  Grow beds are containers filled with gravel, foam, clay pellets or similar media, where the plants are grown, and the water pump circulates the water between the two components.

Cycling Process

The cycling process is an essential part of the aquaponics system. Waste products produced by the fish are broken down by bacteria into nitrates, which the plants absorb as nutrients. The plants, in turn, filter the water, which circulates back to the fish tank.

This cycling process is what makes aquaponics a sustainable and efficient system. It eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers, reduces water usage, and produces both fish and vegetables in a single system.


Aquaponics has many benefits over traditional farming methods. One of the most significant benefits is that it is a closed-loop system that requires very little water. The water is constantly recycled, and there is no need for irrigation.

Another benefit is that aquaponics eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, making it a more environmentally friendly option. Additionally, aquaponics produces both fish and vegetables, providing a sustainable source of protein and fresh produce.

A third great benefit is that the significant volume of water serves as a heat sink. It stores heat as the sun shines in and releases it later.

Overall, aquaponics is a sustainable and efficient farming method that provides many benefits over traditional methods. With its closed-loop system and natural nutrient cycle, aquaponics is an excellent option for those looking to grow their own food in a sustainable way.

Fundamentals of Hydroponics

System Types

There are two main types of hydroponic systems: active and passive. Active hydroponic systems use pumps to deliver nutrient solutions to the plants, while passive systems rely on the plant’s roots to absorb the nutrients from a static solution.

Active systems deliver nutrients three different ways: drip, ebb and flow, and nutrient film technique (NFT). In a drip system, the nutrient solution is dripped onto the plants’ roots, while an ebb and flow system floods and drains the plants’ roots periodically. NFT systems use a thin film of nutrient solution flowing over the roots.

Nutrient Solutions

In hydroponics, plants grow in a soilless medium and utilize nutrient solutions that provide all the necessary elements for growth. These solutions are typically a mixture of water and mineral salts. They must be carefully balanced to provide the ideal levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other essential nutrients required for healthy plant growth.


Hydroponic systems have several advantages over traditional soil-based agriculture. First, they use significantly less water than soil-based systems, making them more environmentally friendly. Second, you can set them up in areas with poor soil quality, making it possible to grow crops in urban environments or in areas with limited access to arable land.

Furthermore, hydroponic systems can produce larger yields than traditional soil-based systems. They also allow for precise control over nutrient levels, pH, and other factors that affect plant growth, resulting in healthier plants and higher-quality produce.

Overall, hydroponics is a promising alternative to traditional agriculture, offering a sustainable and efficient way to grow crops in a variety of environments.

Aquaponics vs Hydroponics: Comparative Analysis


Both aquaponics and hydroponics offer high levels of efficiency in terms of water usage and crop yields. However, aquaponics has the added benefit of producing fish as well as plants, creating a symbiotic relationship that can increase overall efficiency. In hydroponics, the plants rely on nutrient solutions, which can become depleted over time and require frequent replenishment. In contrast, aquaponics systems continuously recycle nutrients from the fish waste, reducing the need for external inputs.

Cost Comparison: Aquaponics vs Hydroponics

Hydroponics systems are generally less expensive to set up, as they require fewer components and do not involve the added expense of fish. However, ongoing costs may be higher due to the need for regular nutrient solution replacements. Aquaponics systems require more initial investment, but the long-term cost may be lower due to the continuous recycling of nutrients, but you still have to feed the fish.


Both aquaponics and hydroponics are sustainable methods of growing crops, as they use less water than traditional soil-based agriculture and require less space than traditional gardening. However, aquaponics has the added benefit of producing fish, which is a cost-efficient source of protein. Additionally, the waste produced by the fish fertilizes the plants, reducing the need for external inputs.

Crop Variety

Both aquaponics and hydroponics are good for growing a wide variety of crops, including leafy greens, herbs, and vegetables. However, hydroponics may be better for crops that have precise nutrient requirements, such as strawberries.  Before you make your decision, you need to learn more about the best plants for aquaponics, and the best plants for hydroponics. While there is a good bit of overlap, the differences may carry a lot of weight in your decision.

Aquaponics vs Hydroponics: Challenges and Limitations

Technical Complexity

Both aquaponics and hydroponics require a certain level of technical knowledge and expertise to set up and maintain. In hydroponics, you need to be able to manage water pH levels, nutrient concentrations, and temperature to ensure optimal plant growth. In aquaponics, you need to not only manage those same factors but also maintain a healthy balance between fish and plants.

Additionally, aquaponics requires a more complex system design, including a fish tank, biofilter, and water pump. This complexity can make aquaponics more challenging to set up and maintain than hydroponics.

Disease Management

One of the biggest challenges in both aquaponics and hydroponics is disease management. In hydroponics,  the plants are more susceptible to diseases caused by fungi, bacteria, and viruses. In aquaponics, both the fish and the plants can be susceptible to diseases.

To prevent and manage diseases, it is important to maintain a clean and sterile environment, monitor water quality, and quarantine infected plants or fish. This can require a significant amount of time and effort, and even with the best management practices, disease outbreaks can still occur.

Overall, while aquaponics and hydroponics offer many benefits, they also come with their own set of challenges and limitations. By understanding these factors and implementing effective management strategies, you can successfully grow healthy plants and fish in either system.

Aquaponics vs Hydroponics: Choosing the Right System

When deciding between aquaponics and hydroponics, there are several factors to consider that will help you choose the right system for your needs. Here are three important factors to keep in mind:

Space Considerations

If you have limited space, hydroponics may be the better option for you. Hydroponic systems can fit in small spaces, such as on a balcony or in a small room. Aquaponic systems, on the other hand, require more space because they include both a fish tank and a grow bed, but they can still fit in a small backyard greenhouse.

Water Availability

Both aquaponics and hydroponics require a reliable source of water. However, aquaponics uses less water than hydroponics because the water is recirculated between the fish tank and the grow bed. In hydroponics, water is constantly flowing through the system, which can result in more water usage. If you live in an area with limited water resources, aquaponics may be the more sustainable option for you.

Personal Preferences

Ultimately, the decision between aquaponics and hydroponics may come down to personal preferences. Some people enjoy the added challenge of producing greater nutrient density through both fish and plants in an aquaponic system, while others may not like messing with fish. They may prefer the simplicity of a hydroponic system. Consider your own interests and goals when choosing between the two systems.

In summary, when choosing between aquaponics and hydroponics, consider your space limitations, water availability, and personal preferences. By weighing these factors, you can choose the system that is right for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main differences between aquaponics and hydroponics systems?

Aquaponics and hydroponics are both soil-less methods of growing plants, but they differ in how they provide nutrients to the plants. Aquaponics uses fish waste to provide nutrients to plants, whereas hydroponics uses a nutrient solution. Additionally, aquaponics systems include fish, which are an important component of the ecosystem.

Can you list the pros and cons of aquaponics vs hydroponics?

Aquaponics has several advantages over hydroponics, including the ability to produce both plants and fish in the same system, reduced water usage, and the ability to produce organic produce. However, aquaponics can also be more complex and expensive to set up and maintain compared to hydroponics.

What types of plants are best suited for aquaponics vs hydroponics?

Both aquaponics and hydroponics can grow a wide variety of plants, but certain plants may prefer one system over the other. For example, plants that prefer a higher pH may do better in hydroponics, while plants that prefer a lower pH may do better in aquaponics.

How do fish contribute to the aquaponics ecosystem and what species are commonly used?

Fish are an important component of the aquaponics ecosystem, as their waste provides nutrients to the plants. Commonly used fish species in aquaponics include tilapia, trout, and catfish, among others.

What are the common challenges and limitations when operating an aquaponics system?

Common challenges when operating an aquaponics system include maintaining proper water quality, ensuring adequate oxygen levels for fish, and preventing disease outbreaks. Additionally, aquaponics systems can be more complex and require more maintenance compared to hydroponics.

What about growth rate of plants in an aquaponics vs hydroponics comparison?

The growth rate of plants in aquaponics and hydroponics can be similar, but it ultimately depends on the specific system and plants being grown. Aquaponics may have a slight advantage due to the additional nutrients provided by the fish waste.

Avatar photo

Gary Stevens

My initial goal to control the quality, health, and safety of my food led me to discover the wonders of greenhouse gardening and to share those wonders with the widest possible audience. I'll never stop learning about this fascinating topic, and I'm thrilled to be able to share it with others.

More to Explore