Hydroponic, aquaponic, aeroponic… what’s the difference?

By | April 3, 2018

For growers and consumers alike, there’s some confusion around these different soil-less methods of cultivation. Despite similar sounding names, there are some pretty substantial differences between these three methods. This brief guide will outline the differences including some important pros and cons, helping you understand the choices your making and how these methods contribute to a more sustainable food system.

1. Hydroponics:

The method most people are more familiar with. Plants are grown in a soil-less substrate, usually mineral wool, and receive nutrients through a water solution. This allows specific management of nutrient ratios, which requires attentive monitoring.

Hydroponic production cannot be certified organic according to the Canadian Organic Standards because the government regulations only approve products that are grown in soil. This is due to the fact that the fertilizer used to provide nutrients are not organic in origin, a minor detail, but helpful to allow you to make informed choices. If a local greenhouse (like Shirley’s Greenhouse, for example) isn’t certified organic, it doesn’t mean that they’re not following best practices, it simply means no hydroponic system can be certified. Hydroponic systems are capable of sustaining crops that require a high nutrient supply such as tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplant.

2. Aquaponics:

This system is similar to hydroponics, as both systems use water to deliver nutrients in place of soil. The difference between hydroponics and aquaponics is that aquaponic systems are also home to fish, which contribute to the farm ecosystem by providing nutrients to the water. This method of production relies on the symbiotic relationship that naturally exists between fish and plants. Larger aquaponic systems provide an opportunity for the fish to also be harvested.

Tricklin’ Water Produce is an urban aquaponic producer that uses grow towers. Grow towers allow producers to maximize on vertical space in an often space-restricted urban environment. Aquaponic systems can sustain crops requiring medium to light nutrient supply, often best suited to salad and herbs.

3. Aeroponics:

You may have noticed some of your lettuce labeled as aeroponic from Lohr-A-Lee Indoor Gardens. Aeroponic production is very efficient, maximizing on water and nutrient inputs. Aeroponic systems grow plants suspended in air, supplying the roots with nutrients and water via a fine mist. This also provides the roots with optimal oxygenation and access to carbon dioxide. It’s a highly sustainable means of production and for light feeding crops, such as lettuces and herbs, it’s a great alternative to conventional methods.

All three of the methods described above allow for vertical cultivation to maximize space and minimize nutrient losses from the soil via leaching. These methods also allow producers to keep an attentive eye on more delicate crops such as lettuce and herbs, which can spoil in the field if the conditions are less than ideal.

Interested in trying some produce that’s been produced by one (or all) of these methods? Intrigued by the diversity of production methods present in modern agricultural practice? Consider getting a YYC Growers Harvest Box! This is a great way to support all the different types of local producers and be introduced to the results – delicious, nutrient dense produce of all kinds!

Click here to learn more and sign-up today.

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