Clarity Definitions System

The Difference in Hydroponics and Aquaponics

Do you want to know the difference in hydroponics and aquaponics? Well, today’s episode is all about clarifying the difference in a simple, straightforward way.

You’re listening to Fish Grow Plants—A podcast all about practicing and sharing the love of aquaponics; hosted by Logan Schoolcraft.

Hello, and welcome to Fish Grow Plants! In today’s episode we are going to talk about the difference in hydroponics and aquaponics.

Have you ever had one of those experiences where you actually said something like, “huh, I didn’t know that” or “I guess I just learned something today.”?

For me, this happened last week. Seriously—I guess I have a lot to learn!

Anyway, I was in this random conversation about Crayola. Not knowing any better, I was trying to tout the wonderfulness of crayons and basic coloring tools I remembered as a kid. And just for clarification, I’m no artist, and I have no experience in any real kind of art.

So there I was, trying to argue the wonders of crayons and basic coloring tools to someone who actually knew there was a difference and that it did in fact matter!


What I was trying to say, was why doesn’t everyone just use crayons and colored pencils when they want to make a nice brightly colored picture? A crayon is a crayon and colored pencil is a colored pencil, right?



To summarize this story, I learned that colored pencils are nothing more than glorified crayons—yes! I had always thought they were like a colored graphite, just like a pencil.


Guess I didn’t know that!

And, to add to it, there is a big difference in brands. Just like anything else you buy—food, cars, clothing, etc. The trick is to be aware of your purpose and know what you want, need, and which combination of colors and brands you are confident can produce the results you want!

Guess I learned something last week after all!

Big deal you say. Who cares about colored pencils and crayons—aren’t we hear to talk about aquaponics?


But what I wanted to build first was an analogy to set up how I am going to frame the difference in hydroponics and aquaponics for you.

To me, the similarities and differences are quite clear, but I after my ah-ha moment with the crayons, I realized that other people might not clearly understand the distinction between hydroponics and aquaponics.

So let’s give it try.

Hydroponics and aquaponics are similar in how they grow plants, that is, the way the nutrients, the fertilizer, is accessed by the plants. Said differently, the water path to the plants roots is the major similarity between hydroponics and aquaponics. It’s not identical, but it is very similar.

To think of it differently, imagine you had two systems side by side—one hydroponic, one aquaponic—and they are both using the same nutrient delivery method, such as deep-water culture (DWC), ebb and flow, thin film technique, etc.

And since this is an example, pretend the source of the nutrients has been plumbed through a wall, so all you can see is the plants and their container.

I think you might be hard pressed to find out which system is which without knowing more information or really getting nosey about what’s going on in each.

Regardless of the approach, process, or equipment, this is the basic similarity shared between both methods—that of growing plants without soil. They are both a soilless growing method.

But what about the differences, you ask?

Well, those would show up most clearly in our example if you were to walk through that dividing wall.

On the other side, you would see two drastically different operations.

One would be very quiet, neat, and organized with chemicals, pumps, and equipment only, while the other would be a little noisier and more active with fish and air bubbles moving about. The former simply staying balanced as programmed and the latter maintaining the life, health, and safety of the fish.

This is the basic difference in hydroponics and aquaponics—that of the source of the nutrients used to grow plants. One is very exacting and precise with chemicals trying to provide exactly what the plants need and nothing more or less. The other is trying to create what the plants need by processing the waste from fish with bacteria, which is a much less exacting practice.

Hydroponics had the advantages of being very easy and straightforward, following a very specific recipe or formula for the nutrient solution. This also allows the user to tweak solutions for a single crop; thus maximizing yield.

The disadvantages are that it builds up residues in the system and must be drained, disinfected, and/or restarted periodically—and unless you can create your own chemical fertilizer, you are at the mercy of the suppliers selling to you.

Aquaponics has the advantages of being more stable long-term, in that there are no resets or draining of the system for sterilization, and it’s cool as all get out; kids from ages 2 to 92 and beyond can see the attraction aquaponics has.

The disadvantages are that it’s more complex than hydroponics because living organisms usually don’t behave as well as chemicals, and it takes a while before the system is as robust and fruitful as a hydroponic system.

So, can you guess what I’m going to leave you with today?

If you guessed a series of questions to ask yourself the difference between aquaponics and hydroponics, then you’d be right!

To keep it simple, there are only two questions you need to ask:

  • One, is the system I see a soilless growing method (if not, then it’s neither hydroponics nor aquaponics)?
  • And, two, what is the source of the nutrients in the water? (if it’s chemicals, then you are looking at hydroponic system; if it’s fish or living creatures, you’re looking at an aquaponic system)

That’s all there is to it.

Well, I could give you a lot more, but I want to make sure the basic difference between hydroponics and aquaponics is crystal clear.

So now, hopefully, you can say, “I guess I learned something today!”


Questions! Let me have them! Do you need clarification, more information, or maybe you just have a tangent thought—send all your thoughts my way. See the website for episode details, or just fire off an email to [email protected] and I’ll get back to you.


So, was this episode good, bad, ugly, or other? Let me know! Comment, email, smoke-signals it doesn’t matter! I love to hear from you. Your feedback is immense, and I am always grateful for it. Likewise, thank you for taking the time to listen and share your thoughts. Have a wonderful day.

This has been another episode of Fish Grow Plants—the podcast all about practicing and sharing the love of aquaponics; hosted by Logan Schoolcraft.