Soil quality and space considerations are driving many gardeners to consider soilless gardening systems. Soil-less systems such as hydroponics and aquaponics are plant growing systems that use water rather than soil. With hydroponic gardening, a medium such as Perlite is used to serve as a root bed, then plants’ roots are fed a mixture of water and nutrients in a water reservoir. Aquaponics combines farming fish and growing plants in a closed loop system based on water rather than soil. The two systems both use water and have other similarities and some differences.
Getting Started With Water Based Growing Systems
People who are considering using water based rather than soil based farming techniques need to do some research. Water based growing systems need to be properly constructed and maintained. Without the correct amount of water and nutrients delivered on the correct schedule, plants will not grow correctly. Plants must have planters, growing medium such as Perlite, and a water and nutrient delivery reservoir system. They must also get the right amount of light. Correct temperature is also important.
Soilless gardening relies on good design and mechanical components which must be installed correctly and maintained periodically. These water-based systems are more expensive to set up than a conventional garden, But they yield better results over time. Once a system has been installed and it is time to grow plants, considering Agron for advice and products to feed the plants would be a good move. This company specializes in soilless gardening equipment and supplies and they can help new gardeners get started the right way.
This supply company can give aqua farmers information on water and nutrient mixes, pH testing, feeding schedules, and all the basics for hydroponic gardening. There are different nutrient formulas available for different types of plants as well as feeding charts designed by plant type. Water pumps, timers, heaters, and grow lights must be installed and used correctly at the right times.
Hydroponic Gardening VS Aquaponic Gardening
Growers can choose one of two water-based gardening techniques or systems, hydroponics or aquaponics. They have similarities and differences. Each kind of water-based gardening has advantages and disadvantages to consider. The main difference between the two methods of gardening is that hydroponics uses formulated nutrient systems and aquaponics uses fish to provide nutrients. They also differ in difficulty level, finance, set up, and necessary materials.
Growers often combine the two kinds of farming dedicating part of the space to hydroponics and part to aquaponics. Kind of like hedging their bets and getting the benefits of both growing methods. Common features include:
1. Both water-based systems grow crops with no soil and are good for the environment because they use fewer resources.
2. Water is the plant nutrient delivery system for both kinds of soilless gardening.
3. The nutrients are artificially delivered to both kinds of crops since they do not have soil to provide nutrients.
4. These systems both are more stable and can produce higher produce yields than soil-based crops.
5. Since the crops are grown in a more controlled environment, there will be less pest damage.
6. Both systems of water-based crops take less nutrients and water than conventional growing methods. The crops are fed what they need with less wasted resources.
Hydroponic Garden Operation
A hydroponic garden is the easier one to set up and is more consistent because of the degree of control. The costs will depend on the size of the garden set up, the management, and where the nutrient mixtures are purchased. Costs are easier to estimate and control than with aquaponic gardening.
The hydroponic system has fewer elements and is easier to learn to manage successfully. Once the lighting, nutrient levels, water delivery, and growing media needs are perfected, the system is easy to operate. Hydroponics also offers more control over plant nutrient delivery and pH levels so the system can be made more sterile.
Hydroponic growing systems have a few disadvantages. These include the time and commitment it takes to set up the growing operation and run it. There is some automation involved, but the grower needs to supervise the garden on a regular basis. Getting the needed knowledge and experience takes some time but is needed. Getting the nutrient mixtures right, draining and flushing the system, keeping the correct pH level, and maintaining the correct grow light level takes knowledge and experience.
Though hydroponically grown vegetables may be more healthy than those bought at the supermarket, they can not be counted as organically grown. Research is continuing into organic nutrient sourcing. Since this system relies heavily on electricity, caution is needed to keep electricity and water separate. And, power failure can be serious. When the system needs to be flushed, the salty solution must be carefully disposed of to not hurt the environment.
Aquaponic Garden Operation
When an aquaponic water-based growing system is used, fish waste is the nutrient source rather than purchased nutrient blends. The fish food is less expensive. This system is a closed loop system which can be an advantage. An aquaponic system with a bio-filter will grow plants faster than the hydroponic system. Organic plant enthusiasts may prefer this system because it is organic using the fish waste for nutrients. Bacteria and worms are put to use breaking down the ammonia and solid waste produced by the fish. The fish can also be harvested for family food.
The fish feed the plants and the plants clean the water for the fish as the system cycles water back and forth between the animal tank and the plants. The aquaponic system does not need to be periodically flushed and holds its equilibrium on its own. This system also has less chance of plant root rot. Once the system is right, it will hold equilibrium on its own as it mimics the natural relationship between fish and plants.
Some of the best fish for these systems include trout, tilapia, and catfish. All fish need the correct temperature, pH levels, aeration, and stocking density to thrive and add to the system. The fish need regular feedings of the correct food. When fish get sick, they need medical attention. Aquaponic systems are great for people who like caring for fish and having them as part of their diet. But, if people do not like eating or caring for fish, this would not be the right system.
The disadvantages of the aquaponic system include a more complicated set up and need for more space. Cycling time takes longer because of the closed loop system. This system takes longer to set up and should run without fish for a few weeks, then plants need to be planted and fish added. It takes time for the correct microbial population levels to be reached. It may take up to a year to get this growing system perfected and producing at optimum levels.
In addition, an aquaponic system has more places for things to go wrong. Fish can die and need to be removed and replaced. Power pumps can fail and need replacing. The system needs to be closely monitored to catch problems when they first occur. An aquaponic system costs more to build and activate and the electric costs may be more. Once the system is running smoothly, the costs even out. The addition of fish to the system makes it harder to get the right water chemistry and the fish cost money.
And So, Which System is Best?
The best soilless growing system depends on the needs and goals of the grower. Both systems follow similar principles and basic system designs, with the main difference being the addition of fish tanks. If total yield is the main consideration, aquaponics might be the winner. Growers who are just starting or have limited space might prefer the hydroponic system. Both systems offer the advantage of the crop yields quickly compensating for the startup costs.
People who want a smaller space commitment and don’t want to care for the fish might prefer the hydroponic system. This system is less expensive, quicker to set up, and gives produce faster. Hydroponic gardens are also good for those who are detail oriented and want more control of the growing process. This is also a good system for people new to water-based gardening and want a quick and less-costly option. People who only want plants will also prefer the hydroponic growing system.
People with the time and the space may come out better with the aquaponic system over time. Not having to dump and cycle water may be an important advantage to the grower. Aquaponics has the advantage of not having to purchase fertilizer or other plant foods. Fish food is less expensive. Some growers like the natural fish-plant relationship of the aquaponic system. It mimics a natural ecosystem and requires less maintenance when properly set up.
Some growers start with the easier hydroponic system and as they gain experience, they add an aquaponic system as well. A combination of the two systems may be the ideal choice for more experienced growers with enough space. Both systems allow a grower to produce plants for their own use and for sale without worrying about soil quality or availability. They also do not need to worry about unpredictable weather conditions that ruin outdoor, soil-based crops.