Aquaponics vs Hydroponics | What's the difference?

Updated: 14 hours ago

What's the difference between Aquaponics and Hydroponics? Quite simply, aquaponics are when plants are grown with fish, and hydroponics are plants grown with just water.

This is my new aquaponics system started 4th Jan 21

Both systems work well in producing plants. But a permaculture apartment needs something small and easy to maintain. Therefore, aquaponics is the preferred method because it uses mother nature as the manager.

For instance, the plants clean the fish tank water and you'll never need to replace the water. You'll also never need to add fertiliser because the fish will fertilise the plants for you.

Hydroponics, on the other hand, is high maintenance. You'll need to: completely optimise the nutrients solution, take disease preventative measures, and check for toxin build-up at least every few days.

Aquaponics vs hydroponics technique

Aquaponics Technique: With aquaponics, the only thing you need to ensure for the system to survive, is to make sure fish poop doesn't build up too much otherwise the fish will die.

This will only happen if, for example, you have a large fish tank, with lots of fish and just a few plants growing in the water. Those few plants couldn't possibly filter all the waste from the amount of fish waste being produced. You can also buy ammonia and ph test kits to keep an eye on the fish waste. The ph should be between 6-7 and you'll need to check the nitrate levels monthly.

Hydroponics Technique: Hydroponics on the other hand require constant manual input of chemical nutrients that need to be perfectly balanced.

You need to replace the entire reservoir of water every 2- 3 weeks (sometimes less depending on the size of your system) otherwise the plants will die.

You'll need to check the electrical conductivity level daily or at least every few days. The ph needs to be 5-6.

Long Term Benefits

With aquaponics the system matures over time, the nature of the fish and plants growing together is a copy of what happens in the natural environment.

A study by the Crop Diversification Centre in Alberta, Canada (Savidov, 2005), has shown that in six months, the natural filtration technique becomes fully complete, and you'll see better results in aquaponics compared to hydroponics.

With Hydroponics the results stay the same as it is largely depending on your involvement.

Short Term Benefits

Aquaponics needs a month before it gets going. It takes about a month to establish the bacteria which are necessary to convert the fish waste into soluble food for the plants. This process is known as cycling. I do this by simply having the fish tank in place for a month before adding plants.

Hydroponics can be started immediately. All you need is the nutrient solution and the system set up to get going.


Hydroponics need store-bought nutrients to be added regularly. The nutrients that aren't used by the plants cause toxic build up so you'll need to change the entire water reservoir.

In aquaponics, you create a natural ecosystem where the nutrients are provided by the fish waste and there is never a build-up of toxic food waste. You'll feed the fish as normal depending on the type of fish you have.


Hydroponics is a man made managing system and so it needs to be kept fairly sterile. Every 2 - 4 weeks the entire water reservoir needs to be changed to prevent the build-up of toxins or bad bacteria. The common killer in a Hydroponics system is a fungus called pythium, which leads to root rot.

Aquaponics on the other hand is managed by nature, it is full of life that balances each other so well that the water never needs to be changed.


Both systems work, however, hydroponics is man managed, sterile, and is optimal under exact conditions. While Aquaponics is a naturally balanced, mother nature managed system.

I find Aquaponics easier to set up i.e. you just need a fish tank and a tray of plants sitting on top. But, in a hydroponics system, you need to buy the nutrient solution, pumps, pipes etc.

For a Permaculture Apartment like mine I'd go for the aquaponics, what do you prefer? Let me know in the comments. Subscribe for more content and updates.

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