With the recent global climatic changes, traditional farming methods have proven futile to providing sustainable food supply in the ever increasing population. It’s in this regard that new technologies have been employed in agriculture to give rise to what is popularly known as urban farming.
Individuals all over the world can now grow crops and rear fish in a small setup which generates higher returns thanks to both hydroponics and aquaponics technologies. This post aims to help the reader to understand these two modern farming techniques by analyzing the pros and cons of hydroponics Vs Aquaponics gardening methods.
Hydroponics is a modern method of growing crops purely in a water solution that is filled with the essential nutrients without using soil as a growing medium. The farmer uses inert media to support the plants and the most commonly grown crops through hydroponics are; vegetables, fruits, flowers, and foliage plants.
The idea behind using growth medium is to eliminate disease causing organism that are found in the soil. Hydroponics is also economical as it uses less labor since there is no weeding required once the crops are planted.
The idea of hydroponics was discovered long time ago during the Roman Empire although it was never used in large scale until recently where it has gained a lot of popularity as an alternative gardening method.
There are a number of growing mediums used in hydroponics gardening which include; wood fiber, brick shards, clay, vermiculite, and pebbles. Hydroponics gardening can be practiced indoors or outdoors and they are easy to maintain.
Advantages of Hydroponics
Hydroponic has widely been used in greenhouse farming to grow tomatoes and vegetables. The below are the proven pros of hydroponics farming technique.
- There is no soil required. Therefore, this practiced can be done even in urban areas with limited space.
- Absence of soil eliminates weeds and any disease-causing organisms that are found in soil farming.
- Less labour requirements since there is no weeding expenses incurred.
- Very economical in terms of water efficiency as it only uses 20% of the water required to carry out a traditional cultivation.
- Pests and disease control is easy since the crops are monitored regularly and grown in a controlled environment.
Disadvantages of hydroponics
Despite this method making it possible to have sustainable food supply throughout the year, it comes with a few cons such as;
- High initial cost is incurred when setting up the system.
- Technical expertise is a-must-have when practicing hydroponics gardening.
- There is a recurrent cost incurred when refilling the depleted nutrients water medium at certain intervals when there is chemical imbalance.
- The system needs to be monitored regularly. Electrical Conductivity (EC) of the solution should be on daily basis to ensure optimum nutrient levels are maintained.
- The system requires energy to run and this can increase production cost as a result of power expenditure. The system requires aeration and pumping of the solution which is mostly done intervals of 4-6 hours.
- Fungal disease risks such as root rot disease also known as Pythium is a real threat to hydroponics gardening. Such diseases can affect the entire crop plantation that is why the systems require close supervision.
- The amount of plants grown in a hydroponics system is less compared to an open field which is not limited to one type of plant.
- The system water needs to be re-emptied at regular intervals due to nutrient imbalances and frequent disposal of such effluent can lead to environmental risks.
Aquaponics gardening is an integrated system which involves a combination of hydroponics (soilless growing of plants) and rearing of fish (aquaculture) in a natural eco-system. Both fish and plants survive in aquaponics systems through a symbiotic relationship.
The idea behind aquaponics gardening was invented to provide an alternative use of waste that is generated in aquaculture. As it happens in a natural eco-system, aquaponics rely on nitrogen-fixing bacteria and other worms to breakdown the waste products from the fish into nitrates which are in turn absorbed by the plants.
On the other hand, the plants purify the system water once they absorb the nutrients making it fit for recycling back into the system. Unlike the traditional method of gardening which requires a lot of water, aquaponics uses only 2% of such water to keep the system running until both fish and plants matures.
Setting up an ideal aquaponics system takes a period of about 1-3 months since you will be required to develop a colony of nitrifying bacteria a process popularly known as cycling. This process is very essential as the ammonia generated from the fish waste cannot be converted into nitrates until the cycling process is complete.
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Since aquaponics garden provides a home for both hydroponics and aquaculture, the system requires high level of attention in order to attain optimal levels. An ideal aquaponics garden should comprise of 12” deep grow beds all filled with appropriate inert media.
The main aim of aquaponics garden is to have a balanced natural state within the entire eco-system. Therefore, the gardener must ensure that anything that gets into the system is safe and can’t harm the other species.
The following are the known pros and cons of this integrated farming system.
Advantages of Aquaponics
- High level of water conservation since the purified water can be recycled back into the system. The main water loss is through transpiration and evaporation which have very minimal impact.
- Minimum waste disposal since the fish wastes are broken down into nitrates by bacteria and worms. The nitrates nutrients are absorbed by the plants and in the process, system water is also purified.
- Risk of diseases exposure is reduced in aquaponics due to the natural eco-system that exists. Fish, plants, and worms all exists to provide a symbiotic relationship.
- Aquaponics systems are easy to maintain since the gardener is not required to check (EC) electrical conductivity in daily basis as it is the case with hydroponics.
- Aquaponics generates high productivity and faster maturity compared to other traditional methods. One can grow a variety of crops in a single system thus, increasing total yields.
- Both fish and crops enjoy organic growth in aquaponics due to the natural eco-system setup unlike hydroponics where plants grow under a sterile man-made environment.
Disadvantages of Aquaponics
- The Start-up cost is high when installing the system
- There is a higher risk in case of any mechanical failure. While hydroponics has about 5-6 hours of flood-drain cycle, any mechanical damage in aquaponics can lead to serious loss since repair can only be done within 30-45 minutes.
- High energy requirement as the system requires power to keep running the electric circuits and aerators compared to hydroponics.
- The system takes time to mature as the cycling process must be complete for optimum performance. This is not the case with hydroponics as they can easily be set up and utilized immediately.
Both hydroponics and aquaponics have provided an alternative to traditional farming methods by not only becoming cost effective, but also in terms of sustainable food supply throughout the year.
The choice any farmer of whether to practice hydroponics or aquaponics will be based on the above pros and cons. Each system is productive but you should always consider the one which works perfectly for you.