Are you having a hard time choosing between hydroponics and aeroponics? If you’re a farmer or homesteader trying to weigh what system is more cost-effective and will give you a higher yield and bigger income, this comprehensive side-by-side comparison of hydroponics vs. aeroponics is for you!
Today, we’ll be sharing valuable insights about:
- the advantages and disadvantages of aeroponic farming vs hydroponic system
- their similarities and differences in terms of yield, cost, maintenance, and other factors
- and the best choice for beginners in the hydroponic farming world
Technically, aeroponics is one of the special types of hydroponics. However, there are distinct differences between these high-tech and game-changing farming systems.
Knowing their similarities and the features that set them apart will help you make the right decision. So, get to know more about these systems in this intense hydro vs aeroponics battle for cost-effectivity and futuristic farming approach.
What Is the Difference Between Hydroponics and Aeroponic Farming?
Aeroponics and hydroponics both don’t require soil but both need nutrient solutions to feed the plants and mechanisms like pumps to deliver that solution to the crop’s roots.
However, in hydroponics, you need to submerge your crops in the water either full time or intermittently.
On the other hand, aeroponic plants grow not by placing them into the water but by giving nutrients to the roots through a mist.
If we’d look into the meaning of these words, we’ll see the obvious difference between the two. The Ancient Greek word “hydros” means water, while “ponos” means work or labor. Thus the word hydroponic means labor of water.
On the other hand, the word “aer” from aeroponics means air. Therefore, aeroponics means “labor of air.”
Hydroponics vs. Aeroponics’ History and Invention
Hydroponic history can be traced back to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and Floating Gardens of China.
In the 1600s, Belgian Jan van Helmont discovered that plants obtain substances from water for growth. And in 1699, John Woodward from the Royal Society of England created the first man-made hydroponics nutrient solution.
But it wasn’t until 1860 when Julius von Sachs, the professor of Botany at the University of Wurzburg, published the first nutrient solution formula that successfully grows plants.
The study revealed that plants need macroelements or macronutrients such as nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), sulfur (S), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg) to grow.
But plants need air, so the face challenge is how to enable the roots to breathe while absorbing water and nutrients.
They came up with an air pump as the solution to oxygenate the roots. But sometimes, the aeration provided by an air pump is insufficient or uneven, especially in large grow tanks.
If you’d put the pump or air stone in the middle, the plants on the side can receive little air to nothing. So, researchers created new techniques like the ebb and flow while others tried spraying water on the roots.
In 1911, Russian exobiologist Vladimir Artsikhovski studied air plant cultures, and by 1983, aeroponic kits were already available on the market.
Plant Growth of Aeroponics vs Hydroponics
According to NASA, plants grow up to three times faster in aeroponic growing systems than in soil.
And when we talk about hydroponics, hydroponically grown plants grow 30 to 50% faster than soil.
So, it’s clear that these two systems are way ahead and better than growing in soil.
But if we’d pit hydroponics against aeroponics, the latter would likely emerge as a winner.
An experiment on sunflowers revealed that the plants grow faster on hydroponics at first. This is probably because hydroponically grown plants can establish their roots more quickly.
On the contrary, aeroponic plants’ growth is slow at their early stages because they spend more of their energy growing their root system. But after a few weeks, they can already compete with hydroponically grown plants after establishing their roots.
And here’s the twist! After six weeks, the aeroponic plants are approximately 30% bigger than hydroponically grown crops. Sunflowers are naturally fast-growing, but hydroponic sunflowers can grow up to 30 cm tall or 12 inches, while aeroponics average 10 cm or 16 inches.
However, a study on Indian ginseng or Withania somnifera has a different outcome. After six weeks, the aeroponic plant’s growth rate dropped slightly more than the hydroponics, and the crops from these two systems eventually leveled out.
Nutrient Absorption of Hydroponics vs. Aeroponics
Higher nutrient absorption in plants means less nutrient waste and more savings in the long run, so this aspect is worth considering.
And in terms of macronutrients in lettuce plants, here’s the result of the study, which explains why aeroponics is better than hydroponics.
Macronutrients – Nutrient Absorption with Hydroponics vs Aeroponics
- Nitrogen – 2.13% with hydroponics, 3.29% with aeroponics
- Phosphorus – 0.82% with hydroponics, 1.25% with aeroponics
- Potassium – 1.81% with hydroponics, 2.46% with aeroponics
- Calcium – 0.32% with hydroponics, 0.43% with aeroponics
- Magnesium – 0.40% with hydroponics, 0.44% with aeroponics
Hydroponics vs. Aeroponics Yield Comparison
Aeroponics has consistently won, and we don’t want to break the bubble. But bigger plants don’t necessarily mean more extensive produce, especially when talking about tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.
The yield varies in various cases.
Aeroponics is generally more productive than hydroponic systems like Deep Water Culture(DWC) and similar techniques like Kratky and Wick systems.
Short-living plants such as lettuce, spinach, and cress also achieved higher yields in aeroponics, and they’re ready for harvest after six weeks only.
Researchers also discovered that tomatoes, beets, and lettuce grow better and produce more in aeroponics than hydroponics. This research is only on a small scale, but they indicate that aeroponics yield more.
Plants You Can Grow in Hydroponic and Aeroponic Farming
You can grow almost anything from leafy greens to vine plants to herbs. One of the most profitable and easy to grow crops is lettuce and microgreens.
Most plants you can grow in hydroponics also thrive in aeroponics. But you must avoid rooty crops that take so much space like potatoes. They take up too many nutrients, so they can come at a high cost even if you can grow them successfully.
Outdoor vs. Indoor Environment
Now let’s move on to the exciting and highly debatable futuristic part. Hydroponic systems can have closed grow tanks, but others can survive in an open environment.
So, you can set up a hydroponic system in your garden or even garage.
On the other hand, aeroponics only works in a closed environment.
But closed environments are better and more beneficial for both because it prevents water evaporation, leading to dry roots and too concentrated nutrient solution.
Water can also stay clean in a closed environment.
On top of that, the roots can enjoy a stable temperature, and there are fewer algae in closed spaces.
Hydroponic v Aeroponic Farming’s Efficiency
Aeroponics and hydroponics are both more efficient than soil gardening. But if we’d compare these two systems in terms of irrigation water savings, hydroponics saves around 80-90% while aeroponic saves 95%.
In terms of fertilizer, hydroponics can save around 55-85% depending on the system, while aeroponics can reduce water usage by up to 85%.
And when we talk about productivity, research on tomatoes showed that hydroponics has 100% to 250% more produce than soil farming.
But aeroponics can still outperform hydro because it can produce 300% more.
Setup Cost of Hydroponics vs. Aeroponics
It may not surprise, but aeroponics needs a bigger investment than hydroponics.
There’s a wide range of hydroponic systems you can choose from, but most of them are cost-effective because they’re DIY-friendly.
And you can build them with just affordable pumps, pH meters, thermometers, EC gauges, and basic plumbing skills.
On the other hand, aeroponics is challenging even for DIY enthusiasts. That’s why most growers use ready-made kits.
You can find cheap aeroponic kits on the market, but know that they can be heavy on the pocket if you want to make a large-scale aeroponic garden.
Hydroponic vs. Aeroponic System’s Pump
Hydroponic and aeroponic farming systems both need a pump. But you need to spray the nutrient solution directly to the roots with the right pressure with aeroponics. You need to get the PSI of pounds per square inch right to ensure your crops receive the right amount of food.
On the other hand, you need to check the GPH or gallons per hour if you’re using hydroponics so your grow tank can provide enough nutrient solutions.
If we compare the two, PSI will surely come out to be more complicated. There are many factors to consider when setting it up because the strength of the pump, the pipe’s size, and the nozzle type you use can affect the pressure you get at the nozzles.
The pipe’s length is also worth considering because the longer it is, the higher its resistance. You need to calculate everything to ensure you get it right for your crops.
Good thing there are PSI calculators online that will help you out with this problem.
Hydroponic vs Aeroponic Farming’s Growing Medium
Growing mediums such as coconut coir and vermiculite help supply nutrients to hydroponic plants while not submerging roots in the solution 24/7. However, it’s of no use for aeroponics.
It will only block the nutrient source from penetrating the roots when spraying.
Hydroponic vs Aeroponic Farming’s Irrigation Cycles
Hydroponic systems such as ebb and flow and drip systems use irrigation cycles to bring nutrients to the crops at regular intervals and give plants time to oxygenate their roots.
But other hydroponic systems, including deep water culture, wick, Kratky, and aeroponics, don’t need irrigation cycles.
Growers use either of the two aeroponic systems instead:
1. LPA or Low-pressure aeroponics
This system delivers nutrients to the plant’s roots through a mist at low pressure with large droplets.
It’s easier to build and less expensive than HPA. It runs for 24 hours, seven days a week, to constantly we the plant’s roots.
However, it’s not as efficient as HPA.
2. HPA or High-pressure aeroponics
As its name suggests, it delivers the mist at a high pressure of around 120 PSI(pounds per square inch). HPA uses finer mist was developed and used by NASA in outer space.
It’s an efficient way to grow crops in space, and it works on earth as well. But it utilizes more specialized equipment, so it requires a higher setup cost.
Furthermore, this system is more complex, and you will have to regulate the cycle depending on the weather, temperature, crop type, and humidity.
The cycles are shorter and more frequent, averaging 5 seconds every 5 minutes.
On the other end of the spectrum, hydroponics, like the ebb and flow irrigation, varies between 5 and 15 minutes every 2 hours during the day. And it’s once or twice at night, depending on the temperature and humidity.
Plant Health in Hydroponics vs. Aeroponics
Since plants share water and nutrient solutions, there’s a significant risk of spreading diseases like wildfire.
However, aeroponics feeds the plants by spraying the nutrients, eliminating the risk of spreading diseases.
Hydroponics vs. Aeroponics’ Maintenance
Some hydroponic systems don’t rely on electricity, while all aeroponics depends on it. CPA cycles are fast and short, and power outages can be detrimental to the plants. Keeping the aeroponic chamber’s humidity and temperature is challenging, especially in small chambers.
Therefore, aeroponics demands more time for constant checks and monitoring than hydroponics.
It means that hydroponics is less demanding in terms of maintenance. So, if you want an easier life, hydroponics is the way to go.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Hydroponics and Aeroponics
Now, based on the data above, let’s have a quick recap on the strengths and downsides of hydroponics and aeroponics. This side-by-side comparison will help you choose what system works best for you.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hydroponics and Aeroponics
Is aeroponics better than hydroponics?
Although aeroponics and hydroponics have different mechanisms, they’re both sustainable and efficient. But aeroponics offers more advantages in terms of faster plant growth, higher yield, and better nutrient absorption.
Aeroponics is more complex than hydroponics and it is challenging for beginners to build. But ready-made kits are available.
Is aeroponics more expensive than hydroponics?
But, hydroponics can be cheaper and easier to manage and aeroponics is more costly, but it uses fewer resources and produces better yield. It also absorbs more nutrients and uses less water which means more savings for you.
Is aeroponics a type of hydroponics?
Aeroponics is one of many different types of hydroponic farming where the nutrient solution is directly sprayed into the plant roots and extended into the air.
In this type of hydroponics, the roots receive plenty of oxygen air surrounding it, so it accelerates the nutrient absorptions to the roots.
What is the difference between hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics?
Hydroponic systems grow plants by submerging them in the water while aeroponics suspends them in air and provides nutrients to the roots through a mist. Aquaponics, on the other hand, is the unique combination of hydroponic and fish farming using an integrated system.
Does aeroponics use less water than hydroponics?
One of the differences between these two systems is that aeroponics uses 95% less water which means that you can save more water with this system.
However, the water from hydroponics can be reusable and recycled because it will go back to the nutrient solution container. In contrast, aeroponics can’t be reused because it was sprayed.
Are aeroponics cost-effective?
You can make DIY models of aeroponics for less than $100. But if you want a professional setup with temperature and nutrient monitoring systems and a backup power supply, expect to pay a four-figure range.
But even if it requires higher initial investment, it can be cost-effective in the long run.
Is aeroponics better than aquaponics?
In terms of crops, aeroponics produces better yields and aquaponics is more viable on commercial scales.
Why? Because it allows for the growing of plants and fish simultaneously.
Aside from that, this practice comes from the assimilation of aquaculture in which the raised fish gives or sustains the nutrients for plants.
Do aeroponics need fertilizer?
Both systems need complete nutrient solutions to boost the plant’s growth and development and achieve better yield better.
Aside from the Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (NPK) and the other macro and micronutrients, an Aeroponics plant should also have hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen.
Do plants grow faster in hydroponics or aquaponics?
Aquaponics is a profitable way of farming because aside from earning from your crops, you can also grow fish simultaneously.
And compared to hydroponics, aquaponics plants are tested to grow four times faster. That’s why it’s very convenient and helpful for most farmers.
So, Which Is Better: Hydroponics vs. Aeroponics
There are many factors to consider when choosing between hydroponics vs. aeroponics and it all comes down to your needs and priorities.
As we’ve mentioned above, if you’re knowledgeable about hydroponics and you want faster production, higher yield, and a better-looking system and you can afford expensive high-tech kits, aeroponics is the way to go.
It’s high-maintenance and requires you to be tech-savvy. But if you’re ready for the technical aspects of aeroponics and power outages, then you have nothing to worry about.
But if you’re a beginner in the hydroponic world and you need a cost-effective and DIY-able option that works well with both indoor and outdoor spaces, hydroponics may be better for you.
Both systems are futuristic and will continue to evolve in the years to come but what’s your choice between hydroponics vs aeroponics? Share with us your thoughts in the comment section below.
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