What’s the Difference between Hydroponics and Aquaponics?

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What's the Difference between Hydroponics and Aquaponics - example of healthy plantsCanadians are faced with a serious dilemma when it comes to growing vegetables. A short growing season has always been the culprit until the technology of hydroponics and aquaponics came to the rescue. Let’s examine what’s the difference between the hydroponics and aquaponics systems used today.

As a vegetable gardener who is only too familiar with our short Canadian growing season, I began to search for ways to grow fresh produce year-round.

The necessity of growing vegetables year-round became even more of a priority to me when our young grandson was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes just over a year ago.

This spring the lockdown due to COVID-19 emphasized the importance of becoming as self-sufficient as possible as our ancestors were.

While having to order my groceries online didn’t bother me so much, not being able to get everything I wanted, did make an impact. It brought home how dependent we all are on the system that supplies the necessities of life.

Fresh vegetables and fruits are vital in any healthy meal plan and I needed to establish a year-round supply that is not dependent upon imports to the supermarket or a shelf going bare.

I discovered that both hydroponics and aquaponics systems can be accomplished in a small space which means I don’t need to build a separate building, I can set up a system right in my own house.

In this article, we will cover what hydroponics and aquaponics are and the difference between them.

So let’s just dive right in and figure which method we want to try in addition to my regular vegetable garden.

What is Hydroponics


What's the Difference between Hydroponics and Aquaponics - hydroponic plants in tubes

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil by adding mineral nutrient solutions to the water.

This seemed strange to me at first because I was completely unaware of soil-less growing methods.

I grew up on a farm and only knew about cultivating large fields with big machines to grow vegetables.

I have had a vegetable garden in my backyard for over 30 years but have finally understood there are other ways to grow vegetables that can even allow me to extend my growing season and even grow year-round if I desire.

Hydroponics is quite an intricate system that creates better yields than the traditional ways of growing in soil.

For plants to grow and flourish they require two things:

  • nutrients and minerals
  • water

It makes sense that if the nutrients can be delivered in the water then the soil would not be required.

A hydroponic system delivers a nutrient-rich, aquatic solution directly to the root zone providing the plants with the resources they require for optimal growth.

A hydroponic system requires much less space than traditional growing methods and is becoming increasingly popular for this reason.

Check out “Getting Started in Hydroponics“, a fabulous giant ebook that is simply the best way to get you started in hydroponics without breaking the bank.


The ability to grow plants indoors makes this a favourable method in cooler climates that have a significantly shorter growing season.

It’s also a great system if you have a low supply of water.

What is Aquaponics

What's the Difference between Hydroponics and Aquaponics - hydroponic system

Aquaponics is a system of growing plants without soil while simultaneously raising fish, snails, or prawns in a small tank.

The excrement of the fish is used to supply the nutrients to the plants making this a very eco-friendly and sustainable system.

The benefit of aquaponics is that you will get both a harvest of fresh vegetables but also a harvest of fish which is an excellent source of protein.

Because of the continuous recycling between fish and plants, there is a significant waste reduction.

Another benefit would be that because the plants filter the fish water you use less water as you only need to replace water lost through evaporation.

The fact that this system can supply both vegetables and protein makes it an extremely efficient system for those looking to become more self-sufficient.

It’s also a great system if you live in a place where you have a limited supply of water.

It is also a fantastic way to supply your vegetable needs year-round wherever you live.


Hydroponics and aquaponics systems are both highly efficient, soilless plant growth systems.

They both optimize the redistribution of nutrients and oxygen in the water they use.

The similarities between the two systems include:

  • soil-free agriculture systems
  • oxygen saturated water
  • expedited plant growth
  • completely saturated root systems
  • nutrient-rich water
  • efficient and eco-friendly
  • offers a method of year-round growing to colder climates


While there are several similarities between the two systems there are also key differences we need to take a look at before we can make a decision on which system is right for us.


  • the use of chemical nutrients
  • bacterial growth is inhibited
  • maintained at lower temperatures which inhibits the growth of bacteria
  • hydroponic systems are faster to set up
  • less cost-efficient because of the necessity to purchase chemicals
  • hydroponic systems should be unloaded periodically due to the build-up of toxic chemicals
  • hydroponic systems are less productive
  • more difficult to manage


  • a combination of fish and plants is used in a closed system
  • organic fish waste is used as nutrients for the plants
  • bacterial growth is employed in the production of nutrients from the fish waste
  • maintained at a temperature that induces the growth of necessary bacteria
  • because it is a sustainable ecosystem it takes longer to get established
  • more cost-efficient because of utilizing organic matter for nutrients
  • less replacement of water is necessary
  • very high productivity
  • easy to maintain


What are My Preference and Why

Both of these systems are certainly a viable option I do prefer one method over the other.

I have always been interested in being as self-sufficient as possible.

This past spring with the arrival of COVID-19 it has re-ignited my quest to be as self-sufficient as possible.

For this reason, an aquaponics system is the one that appeals to me the most.

The fact that I am producing a viable source of protein, as well as our vegetables, is something that appeals to me.

I also highly value the fact that I do not need to use any chemicals within an aquaponics system. This is one of the reasons why I prefer to grow my vegetables.

The fewer chemicals we are exposed to the better in my opinion.

I love the fact that I can produce quality, pest-free vegetables, year-round. In Canada that is a HUGE benefit.

Final Thoughts

What’s the difference between hydroponics and aquaponics is something I enjoyed researching.

With our short growing season here I was unable to grow enough vegetables to sustain us throughout the long winters.

Oh sure, I freeze and can some produce for the winter months but there is nothing quite like a fresh salad with dinner. I haven’t figured out how to keep lettuce fresh all winter without wilting and going bad so this would be a real plus for me.

After learning about these two similar systems I have made the choice that I prefer the aquaponics system so I can also provide a protein source for my family.

As this pandemic has made very clear to me, we can’t always assume the supermarkets will have everything we need when we need it.

With my grandson having type 1 diabetes it is that much more important that we have a year-round source of healthy food for him to be able to better manage his diabetes.

I am not in any way a medical practitioner. Please do not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or another healthcare provider. We only share our experiences. We are affiliates, this means that if you purchase something from a link or ad on this site we may receive a small commission. This in no way affects the price you pay. 

Have you thought about starting a hydroponic or aquaponic system for yourself?

Which is your preferred method?

Do you have any helpful tips to pass along?

Share your ideas in the comment section below and remember to check out that fantastic ebook “Getting Started in Hydroponics.

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6 thoughts on “What’s the Difference between Hydroponics and Aquaponics?”

  1. Hi Deborah. Thank you for sharing this informative article. This is interesting to learn the different between Aquaponics and Hydroponics. If for me to choose, I also prefer aquaponics because no chemical need. But I guess both system have to be setup outdoor not indoor right? I’m also wondering does it cause any mosquito problem?

    • Hi Janet. I also prefer Aquaponics because you don’t require any chemicals. We actually set up a system in the laundry room of our house. It worked well but yes the humidity was quite high. For that reason, we have decided to change the location. Haven’t decided on where we will place it yet. Outdoors is a viable option if you live where it doesn’t freeze in winter. We are in Canada and my goal was to grow food year-round so it needs to be indoors for us. As for mosquitoes, it is my understanding that mosquitoes breed in standing water. Since the water in both hydroponics and aquaponics systems will be pumped or moving you should not have an increase in mosquitoes. I do know that our backyard swimming pool has not increased our mosquitoes. I hope this helps. Best wishes to you.

  2. Great article about whats the difference between hydroponics and aquaponics! I was not aware of these systems and I find this very interesting. What are the costs to get setup and keep it maintained?

    • Thanks for dropping by Alyse. You asked very difficult questions to answer because there are so many variables involved. Naturally, costs will vary depending on the size of the system.
      Setup costs for a hydroponics system will be less because you don’t require a large tank full of fish but your maintenance costs will be higher because the chemicals are more costly than fish food.
      An aquaponics system may cost more to set up but you also have an abundance of fish to eat as well as the vegetables you grow and you won’t be eating vegetables laden with chemicals. Also, fish food is less costly than chemicals.
      Depending on the fish they may be able to eat some plants, worms, grubs that can be set up as an auto feeder.
      The cost to purchase a 4’x4’x’4′ tank designed for raising fish would be quite costly. However, most people would cut costs by purchasing a tank used to transport vegetable oil or soap which you can get for about $100.
      Keep in mind, the bigger the system the easier it is to maintain because the larger system changes at a slower pace. For example, look at a goldfish bowl compared to a 20-gallon tank. The tank is easier to maintain, a 200 gallon would be easier yet.
      Overall, for a system designed for a family of 4, you’d be looking at about $1500 which would be a nice aquaponics setup.
      I hope this helps. Best of luck to you.


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