Difference Between Hydroponics and Aquaponics Part 1

The difference between Hydroponics and Aquaponics isn’t much when you think about the organic vegetables grown by both systems. Unless altered by management, they both turn out quality produce in a soil-less environment. In my humble opinion they are also the best methods to grow Thriving Veggies indoors such as an empty garage, an extra room in your house, or even a greenhouse in the backyard.  The main difference is that Aquaponics introduces fish stock that play a significant role in the production of clean natural nutrients for the plants. The Hydroponics systems have their own charm too. It just depends on what type of system works best for your environment, so it’s a good idea to analyze  each one before you put money and time into it.

We’ll go over these systems and keep you up to date on their pro’s and con’s in our series, Part 1,Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Hydroponics Systems

Difference Between Hydroponics and AquaponicsHydroponics systems offer many benefits of their own. Like the Aquaponics method, soil is not needed which minimizes instances of pesticides and chemicals commonly found in soil-based gardens. The success of a hydroponics system will hinge on proper care of its plumbing layout, the nutrients applied regularly,  and the plants in its grow beds. As such, it’s very important to know how to properly maintain a hydroponics system and what methods are available to choose from. The key is finding a hydroponics setup that is in line with the type of  plants grown, and the year round weather in it’s location. 

What is a Hydroponics System?

 Hydroponics systems are more efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally-friendly than traditional soil farming methods. Most hydroponics systems in North America are constructed in greenhouses. It is in these controlled environments that they mostly grow lettuce types, tomatoes, and herbs such as basil and oregano.

Like the aquaponics techniques, hydroponic growing methods include continually immersing the roots of plants in oxygenated and nutrient-rich water. This is why the resultant vegetable plants are superior in growth rates and vitamins than those grown in soil based gardens.

There are many different hydroponics techniques.  Below are the  7 most common  hydroponics systems used today.

1. Aeroponics

ecogrower drip hydroponic systemThe theory behind aeroponics systems are pretty straightforward as they produce healthy plants for growers that use them. At the same, they are the most complex of all the hydroponics system types, and can be somewhat difficult to manage.

There are several design layouts and a variety of materials that can be used. The grow media used is little or even none at all. This helps plants to grow quickly due to the increased oxygen and the minimal medium that the plants are growing in. Other advantages are that the harvest of plants, particularly roots crops, is generally easier to do and there is less water usage compared to the other system types.

On the downside they are somewhat more costly to construct. Also the tiny outlets of the sprinkler heads do clog up from time to time due to the collection of mineral compounds in the nutrient mixture.

Since the plant roots are dangling by design in the grow bed, they are susceptible to drying out and perishing if the water gets cut off for any reason like a power outage. Also, in an aeroponic system, the nutrient levels have no margin for error in order to benefit the health of the plants.

The concept of an Aeroponic System

Since the system is designed so that plant roots receive generous amounts of oxygen, the vegetation grows faster then it would otherwise. In some cases, small hanging basket-like containers house the plants. Other uses small foam plugs of peat wrap around the plant stems. In both instances, the roots are dangling inside the grow chamber where they are showered with the solution of nutrients from sprinkler heads with a fine mist. This happens in automated cycle segments that keep the roots damp and free from drying up while providing nutrients for plant health.

The application of fine mist helps the plant stems to grow thicker, creating a larger surface area to absorb the oxygen and nutrients than other systems that spray streams of water that aren’t as effective. This is the main benefit of an Aeroponic system over the other hydroponic types.

The chambers that the plants reside in need to be almost air tight. Tight enough to prevent water spillage and keep pests out, yet open enough to let oxygen in. This creates an environment of humidity that also helps to keep the roots moist. The function of this system is to keep a balance of the 3 essentials, oxygen, moisture, and nutrients.

Pros and Cons of Aeroponics

Pros:
• Excellent root system aeration and oxygenation
• Faster growth than other systems
• Water conservation

Cons:
• Must clean root chambers periodically
• The system must function precisely
• Watering and nutrient timing is critical

Three Types of Aeroponics Systems

A. Fogponics

Fogponics In A Nutshell

aero hydroponic systemThe Fogponics method is essentially an enhancement to the Aeroponic system. Also known as Aeroponics 2.0, it utilizes a fog-like mist of water and nutrients that is vaporized into a closed system. This gives plant roots a perpetual shower that helps to absorb nutrition that has been atomized into tiny particulates. Since it is a closed system, the nutrients and water are captured so they can’t be lost to evaporation.

Since this method does not require soil, fogponics provides a sustainable source for growing plants indoors including a substantial variety of vegetables. Though many gardeners are still unaware of fogponics, growers will be able to produce improved growth for their plants using precise nutrient/water mixtures.

Another advantage fogponics offers comes from its weightless fog mist that promotes the tiny hairs that spring out of the main roots. The expanded surface area this creates helps increase the intake of oxygen that also promotes more growth of the plants.

How Fogponics Works

In a Fogponics system, containers such as buckets or plastic crates with a lids function as a growth chamber. The plants are housed in cups inserted into holes in the container lid with the roots dangling in air below. a device called an electric fogger has access to the container through another hole on the side. This fogger oscillates at 2 million times per second atomizing the water and nutrients in tiny droplets so they can be easily absorbed by the roots that hang in mid air inside the container.

A pump is needed to activate the electric fogger. A high pressure pond-type pump is preferred in order to generate the kind of 80-100 psi that’s necessary to create a fog-like mist. The optimum size of mist droplets have been determined to be 50 microns give or take.

Another version of this system uses an advanced devices called Ultrasonic Foggers. This mechanism atomizes the water/nutrients to a level of only 3-5 microns in volume. This tiny mist becomes a fog so thick that it can crowd out oxygen and literally suffocate the roots. To avoid this the root chamber needs to be adequately cooled and aerated. Still, there is risk of low oxygen levels so this system is usually applied to plants in their early growth cycle.

Pros and Cons of the Fogponics System

Growers can count on increased harvests with reduced energy usage if the manage the system properly. A Fogponics layout is fairly easy to build and will not take up a lot of space. It’s a great asset to gardeners that need to grow vegetables indoors due to yearly weather conditions.

There can be a few downfalls to be aware of though. Foggers can break down since they are running most of the time. If that happens and you don’t repair them in time, the plants will dry out causing serious damage. Also the mist sprayers can get plugged up so some maintenance is required. It’s a good idea to implement a timer so that foggers aren’t running continuously, and a backup power supply is a good thing to have on hand.

B. High Pressure Systems

Some growers refer to High Pressure systems as true aeroponic systems. High pressure in ranges of 60 to 90 psi causes the water to be atomized into tiny droplets in the range of 30-60 microns in size. This enables the broadcast of fine spray throughout the container that is housing the dangling roots of the growing plants.

The take away here is that the accuracy of moisture delivery provides improved absorption of nutrients that in turn increases root strength. By comparison to other growth methods ,the timed intervals of the the mist spraying conserves up to 75% of the water and its nutrients solution.

Because the roots are dangling in mid air, they are exposed to more oxygen than would happen in conventional soil based gardening. This promotes faster plant growth and shortens growth cycles by nearly 30% saving energy usage for growers.

Since HPA (high pressure aeroponics) is an indoor growth system, it comes with the perks of having light, controlled temperature, and spacial management.

The Downfalls

There is a bit of a learning process in building this type of system. Knowledge is needed for determining the type size of components such as misters, foggers, containers and reservoirs etc.

There is maintenance required that might put off any newbies looking into this grow system. Accuracy is necessary for sprayers and the specific time intervals recommended.

There is also the possibility of roots being exposed to bacteria disease if you are not managing the system properly. You can get around this if you implement backups such as automated timers, temperature controls, etc.

C. Low pressure Aeroponics

Low pressure systems, AKA soakaponics, use equipment that is simple and low in cost. The pressure can drop significantly with each sprinkler that’s added so a strong pump is needed. A standard fountain pump will suffice. They also need enough sprinklers so that the spray overlaps and covers the root zones completely.

2. DIY Deep Water Culture System

deep water culture vegetablesDeep water culture hydroponic farming is one of the simplest methods of hydroponics available. Oftentimes called “the reservoir method,” plants are suspended in a way that lets their roots rest in oxygenated and nutrient-rich water. Air pumps are used to oxygenate the upper tray by pumping in air bubbles into the nutrient solution. This form of aeration that provides the oxygen prevents the roots from suffocation.

Deep Water Culture Components Needed

Building this type of system is fairly easy to do using the following components:
1. The tray, or Reservoir that holds the nutrient water solution.
2. An inexpensive air pump-the kind used for home aquariums
3. An air line bendable tube, preferably opaque to resist algae build up.
4. An air stone disc 3-4 inches wide placed on the bottom of container to help introduce more air bubbles into the reservoir.
5. A grow media to raise the plants in (preferably Hydroton which is inert and so won’t mess up the nutrient solution.
6. Net pots to put the plants in. These are a kind of basket with a mess that dangles downward into the water. This allows roots to grow outward in every direction capturing the optimum amount of oxygen from the bubbles.
7. A piece of thin wood or plastic to use as a lid for the tray. You can cut a few holes that the net pots are placed into.

Deep Water Culture Tips

1. Before putting the Hydroton on the plant cup it’s a good idea to put them in a strainer and run water through it. You’ll see a lot of brown stuff that drips out below that would otherwise wind up in your water nutrient solution.

2. Some growers use floating Styrofoam as a lid instead of wood or plastic
The deep water culture water level should be filled up to within an inch below the net pot bottom giving the roots a little space before they dip into the water. The water needs to be managed at this constant level.

3. Instead of airstones you can use a soaker hose to bubble up the tray reservoir. This will broadcast smaller bubbles that aerate the water more efficiently due to .

4. As with any Hydroponic system, the more water you have in the container the more pH stability you’ll have in the solution. So consider what some growers do, building a system using food grade plastic buckets (5 gallon and 3.5 gallon) along with its plastic lid. (more on this below)

5.Another way to introduce more air bubbles to the system is agitation of the water’s surface. It is done by incoming water forced downward from pipes above and splashing the water to create turbulence. This method isn’t common to home growers but works very well with commercial systems that have big tanks as containers and larger volumes of water to aerate in bubbles of needed oxygen.

Recirculating Deep Water Culture DIY

Some growers will use several grow tray containers that all connect to a common reservoir. Each container has a dedicated air fill tube and a overflow line that drains into the common reservoir. The result is water circulated back to the grow trays from the reservoir container.

hydroponic aeroponic bucket systemAs I mentioned above, some people will use plastic 3-5 gallon (bubble) buckets. These are like the orange ones you see at Home Depot but are food grade plastic that are usually black. A Hole is drilled through the lid a size that accommodates the plants net cup, and another one for the air tube coming in from the pump. Of course you can drill several holes to grow more plants in the same bucket if so desired. An airstone is attached to the other end of the tube and set on the bottom of the gallon bucket container.
*Tip*  Keep the air pump above the level of the water level. Otherwise if the power goes off the water will syphon back to the pump and damage it.

DIY Deep Water Culture Bucket System

In this example only one bubble bucket was used and would work well for deep water culture tomatoes since they need lots of space for their roots when fully grown. But most folks want to grow more then just a few vegetables so a group of bubble buckets are put to use.

One bucket serves as a reservoir to circulate nutrient-rich water solution through the other 2 grow buckets in a loop that ends back at the bucket of nutrient water that we’ll call Bucket #1. A 75 gallon per hour submersible pump that powers the water flow sits at the bottom of Bucket #1 that has a solid lid to keep light out. Each of the buckets have inlet and outlet hole fittings to facilitate the 3/4 inch polyethylene pipes that attach from bucket #1 to bucket #2 then bucket #3 and then back to Bucket #1.

Each of the grow buckets have dedicated air pumps used just as they are in our 1st example. However, this layout can be extended up to 8 grow buckets with the proper gallon per hour pump in Bucket #1.

Pros and Cons

 DWC Pros:
• Easy to set up
• Lots of oxygen means fast growth
• Works great for organic hydroponics due to the utilization of no drip or spray emitters
• Requires minimal water

Cons:

• In summertime if the system is exposed to excessive heat the water may get warm. Since the roots of the plants are always in the water they may be exposed to damaging bacteria. In this case the deep water culture vs ebb and flow, DWC is at a disadvantage since Ebb & Flow systems don’t have roots sitting in the water all day long.
• Water temperature must be regulated
• Air pumps must be constantly maintained/monitored


Hope You are enjoying Our Hydroponic Systems in This Post. We’ll continue to Hydroponics System #3 in our 2nd part of this series – The Difference Between Hydroponics and Aquaponics Part 2