If you are into hydroponic gardening, you are probably familiar with different types of systems like DWC or Ebb and Flow. However, if you want to keep an active system that ensures the highest yields, then a NFT hydroponic system is an obvious choice.
NFT stands for Nutrient Film Technique and uses a thin film of water in the channel where plants are suspended in drilled holes to bring the nutrients to the roots. Due to just the thin film of water flowing through a larger channel, the roots also have enough oxygen supplied for proper growth.
Join us as we elaborate on the essence of NFT hydroponics and all the items you’ll need!
How Do NFT Hydroponic Systems Work?
The NFT system is considered an active hydroponic system which means that it uses some moving parts to keep it operating.. The water with a nutrient solution is constantly flowing through the channels, thanks to gravity and the system’s setup.
So, the nutrient reservoir is placed on the ground with a nutrient mix and a water pump that leads the nutrients to grow channels. It’s optional to use the air pump and an air stone to create bubbles just like in deep water culture hydroponics.
Above the reservoir, you’ll set up the channel with drilled holes for net pots or cups where the plants are placed. Below them, the roots will spread so they can reach the flowing nutrient solution and an air gap between the nutrient film and the top of the roots ensures oxygenation.
The water pump leads the nutrient solution from the reservoir below into the channels. As the water travels through the system, it will feed the roots with nutrients and circle back into the reservoir.
Still, the trick to setting up this unique system is to set the channels a bit inclined. Because of this, gravity will do its job and the excess nutrient solution will reach the reservoir again. The process is constantly repeated so the plant roots are not submerged in water, but rather constantly sprayed with a thin nutrient film.
The system ensures high yields, especially for some of your lighter plants like leafy greens that don’t need much in the way of support. Because of this, it’s used by commercial growers, but you can make a small version of your NFT system in your garden.
What You’ll Need To Set It Up
To build your NFT hydroponic system, you’ll need to know all the necessary components that both commercial growers and regular gardeners use. The system consists of the following items:
- Nutrient reservoir
- Grow channel construction
- Water pump
- Plant pots or baskets
- Air pump and air stone (optional)
Although there’s no need for growing media other than for supportive purposes in this system, you can use floral foam or Rockwool to raise the seedlings. Once you place them in the NFT system, you can either leave the plants in the foam or remove them.
Getting The Reservoir Ready
Preparing the nutrient reservoir is the first step in making a proper NFT system. It’s fairly easy to set up, as you’ll need about 5 gallons of water capacity for this setup. You can grow dozens of plants with the help of a reservoir this size.
Place the reservoir on the ground, and make the right mix of pH and nutrient levels based on the type of plant you are growing. The reservoir should use a water pump to bring the nutrients into the growing channels, and a drainage outlet should be just above it.
Water circulation is ensured this way, and the only thing that’s left to discuss is the need for an air pump and air stone. Overall, these are used in some hydroponic systems like DWC to help create bubbles that reach the roots for oxygenation.
However, it’s not essential to use these in an NFT system. If you enable a thin film of nutrients to flow through the grow tubes, the gap between the film and the top of the roots will do the job.
The roots of your plants will constantly be exposed to enough oxygen. On the other hand, air pumps and stones are mostly used in overflowed NFT systems to compensate for the lack of oxygenation. So, as long as you set it up as a thin nutrient film, there’s no need for these additional elements in a reservoir.
Preparing The Grow Channels
To prepare a growing channel for an NFT system, it’s enough to use a PVC pipe. You should drill the holes for placing plants in baskets or pots, and the trick is to set it up at a slight angle.
This should ensure a very shallow nutrient solution flow, just enough for the nutrients to reach the plant roots. You can also use round tubes other than PVC pipes, and drill the drainage hole on the inclined end of the pipe.
This should ensure the constant water flow and lead the used nutrient solution right back into the reservoir. The PVC pipes offer enough stability for the plants, and you can grow the seedlings in floral foam and place them as such if you want an additional stability level.
Still, it’s crucial not to clog the root systems by placing too much-growing media that would prevent them from spreading to the bottom of the channels for nutrient intake. This is also why many hydroponic farmers don’t use any growing media and plant the seedlings directly into the holes.
The Importance Of A Water Pump In NFT
To ensure that the nutrient solution flows through the system, you’ll need to use a water pump to lead the water from a nutrient tank below. However, unlike the Ebb and Flow hydroponic systems, the nutrient film technique system requires constant nutrient flow.
So, you’ll rely on the water pump to bring the nutrients constantly, without a timer. This can be a bit bothersome in case of a power outage and it can raise your electric bills a bit. Still, It ensures a proper flow of nutrients in a thin film, without clogging the channels.
Growing The Seedlings In NFT
Before placing them in a PVC pipe channel, you’ll need to grow the seedlings for your NFT hydroponic system. The plant’s roots should already be formed before placing them in this system, so they can reach the shallow film of nutrients at the bottom of the channel.
You can use a medium like floral foam or Rockwool for this task. Perhaps it’s best to go with the foam as you can tear it up to fit the small holes for fitting plant baskets or pots.
You just have to be careful not to damage the roots while doing this. As for the seedlings of your new NFT crops, you can start seedlings in a floral foam soaked in a bit of water with nutrients. After the roots start to develop, you can transfer them into net pots, with or without the foam.
Place the net pots into your PVC pipe system after this step, and you can start your NFT hydroponic plants growth.
Which Plants Grow Best In NFT System?
Depending on the size of your PVC pipe channel, you can drill different hole sizes for fitting all sorts of plants. As we mentioned, the system works best for lightweight varieties like leafy greens. Here are some of the best plants to grow with the NFT hydroponic system:
Plants like tomatoes that need their roots to spread as much as possible might not be the best option for this system. Overly spread root systems could clog the NFT channels, and prevent the proper water flow needed for the plants to thrive.
Ultimately, the NFT hydroponic system makes one of the best systems you can use to grow plants hydroponically. NFT hydroponics rely on active nutrient water circulation and make an equally convenient option for commercial growers and for your hydroponic garden.
All you need is to assemble the nutrient film technique channels at a slight angle, and a bit of electricity to keep the pump running. From this point on, it’s minimum effort and maximum satisfaction and yield!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):
What’s the nutrient film technique system?
The NFT setup is a hydroponic system that relies on active water circulation to feed the plant’s roots with nutrients in a shallow film flow. Using a water pump and a nutrient tank, the water containing the nutrient solution reaches the roots of the plants in NFT channels and circulates back through a drain outlet.
What plants grow best in NFT hydroponics?
Leafy greens and other lightweight varieties grow best with the nutrient film technique system. Some plants that thrive in this system are lettuce, strawberries, cauliflower, and broccoli.
Are there limits to NFT growing?
While you can mostly grow any type of plant with a nutrient film technique, there are some limitations. For instance, it’s best not to try growing plants like tomatoes that spread their roots so much that it could clog the channels and prevent nutrient flow.