Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) is a popular type of hydroponic system that is widely used by commercial growers and hobbyists alike. This technique has proven to be highly efficient, producing healthy plants with high yields while using minimal resources.
In this article, I will delve into the Nutrient Film Technique in hydroponics, exploring how it works, the advantages and disadvantages, and how to set up an NFT system.
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What is the Nutrient Film Technique?
The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) is a hydroponic system that involves a constant flow of a thin film of nutrient-rich water solution over the roots of plants. In this system, plants are grown in channels or gullies that are slightly sloped to allow the water to flow continuously.
I have tested and seen that the NFT system is highly efficient because it minimizes water and nutrient wastage, and it is relatively easy to set up and maintain. Additionally, the constant flow of water over the roots of the plants ensures that they receive a steady supply of oxygen, which is essential for their growth and development.
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One of the significant advantages of NFT is that it allows for high-density planting, making it ideal for commercial growers who need to maximize their yields. The system is also highly scalable, making it possible to set up small-scale home gardens or large-scale commercial operations.
While NFT has many advantages, it also has some drawbacks. The system is highly dependent on electricity to operate, and any power outages can have severe consequences for the plants. Additionally, the shallow film of water in the channels can easily evaporate, leading to fluctuations in the nutrient concentration, which can affect plant growth.
How Does the NFT System Work?
The NFT system is highly efficient because it minimizes water and nutrient wastage, and it provides a continuous supply of nutrients and oxygen to the plants. Here is a sample scheme of its work:
Seeds or seedlings are planted in net cups or small pots filled with a growing medium, such as Rockwool or perlite. The growing medium is used to support the plants and provide a stable environment for the roots to grow in. It also helps to anchor the plants in place, preventing them from being dislodged by the flow of water.
Net cups or small pots are used to hold the growing medium and plants in place, and they are typically spaced evenly in the channels or gullies.
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The channels or gullies are typically made of PVC or similar material, and they are slightly sloped to allow the water to flow continuously. The slope of the channels is usually around 1:30, which means that for every 30 units of length, the channel drops by 1 unit of height. This slope ensures that the water flows smoothly and evenly over the roots of the plants.
The nutrient solution is typically made up of a mixture of water and fertilizers or other nutrients. The exact composition of the nutrient solution will depend on the plants being grown and their stage of growth.
The nutrient solution is stored in a reservoir, which is typically located beneath the channels or gullies. A pump is used to circulate the nutrient solution through the channels, providing a steady flow of nutrients to the plants.
The plants absorb the nutrients they need from the thin film of water flowing over their roots, and any excess solution is drained back into the reservoir to be recirculated. The roots of the plants must be suspended in the thin film of water to ensure that they can access the nutrients they need. If the roots are submerged in the water, they can become waterlogged and starve for oxygen.
The constant flow of water over the roots of the plants ensures that they receive a steady supply of oxygen, which is essential for their growth and development. Without a steady supply of oxygen, the roots can become waterlogged, leading to root rot and other problems.
The NFT system is designed to provide a constant flow of oxygen-rich water to the roots of the plants, ensuring that they remain healthy and productive.
pH and EC control
The pH and electrical conductivity (EC) of the nutrient solution must be closely monitored and adjusted to ensure that the plants are receiving the correct balance of nutrients. The pH of the nutrient solution should be between 5.5 and 6.5 for most plants, although some plants may require a different pH level.
From my experience, the EC of the nutrient solution should also be carefully monitored to ensure that it is not too high or too low. An EC meter can be used to measure the conductivity of the nutrient solution, and adjustments can be made by adding or diluting the nutrient solution as needed.
The plants are typically harvested when they reach maturity, which can vary depending on the type of plant being grown. Once the plants are harvested, the channels or gullies are typically cleaned and sterilized before the next planting cycle begins.
The nutrient solution in the reservoir should also be drained and replaced periodically to ensure that it remains fresh and free of contaminants.
Advantages of Using the NFT Hydroponic System
1. Water and nutrient efficiency.
The NFT system is highly water-efficient because the nutrient solution is recirculated continuously, and only a thin film of water is used to feed the plants. This makes it an ideal system for areas with water shortages. Additionally, the nutrient solution is precisely measured and controlled, ensuring that the plants receive the exact nutrients they need to thrive, reducing fertilizer wastage.
2. Higher yields.
In my opinion, the system allows for high-density planting, making it possible to grow more plants in a smaller area. This, combined with the precise control of nutrient and water delivery, results in higher yields per square foot than traditional soil-based farming. Additionally, the controlled environment of hydroponic systems means that plants are less likely to be affected by pests and diseases, leading to higher yields.
3. Faster growth.
Plants grown using the Nutrient Film Technique system typically grow faster and produce more significant yields than those grown in soil. This is because the plants have easy access to all the nutrients they need, and the continuous flow of water ensures they receive a steady supply of oxygen.
4. Space efficiency.
The system is highly space-efficient because it allows for vertical stacking of channels or gullies, maximizing the use of available space. This makes it an ideal system for urban farming, where space is limited.
5. Reduced labor and maintenance.
The continuous flow of water and recirculation of the nutrient solution means that there is little need for manual watering or fertilization. Additionally, the controlled environment of hydroponic systems means that there is less need for weeding, pesticide application, and other labor-intensive tasks associated with traditional farming.
6. Reduced environmental impact.
The Nutrient Film Technique system is a highly sustainable method of farming because it requires less water and fertilizer than traditional soil-based farming. Additionally, hydroponic systems produce less runoff and reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides, making it a more environmentally friendly option.
Downsides of Nutrient Film Technique
While NFT hydroponics offers several advantages, it also has some disadvantages to consider:
- Electricity dependency. It relies heavily on electricity to run the water pump, and any power outages can have severe consequences for the plants. Growers using this system must have backup generators or batteries in place to ensure continuous operation.
- Risk of nutrient imbalance. The NFT system is highly sensitive to nutrient imbalances, and any fluctuations in the nutrient solution’s pH or electrical conductivity (EC) can cause significant problems for the plants. It is essential to carefully monitor and adjust the nutrient solution regularly to prevent nutrient deficiencies or toxicities.
- Evaporation and temperature fluctuations: This hydroponics system relies on a thin film of water flowing over the roots of the plants. In dry or hot conditions, this water can evaporate quickly, leading to fluctuations in nutrient concentration and plant growth. Growers using this system may need to use cooling systems or cover the channels to minimize evaporation.
- Root clogging. The roots of the plants are suspended in the nutrient solution, which can cause them to become clogged or tangled over time. This can reduce the flow of water and nutrients to the plants, affecting their growth and productivity.
- Susceptibility to power outages. In addition to the electricity dependency, the Nutrient Film Technique hydroponic systems can also be highly susceptible to power outages. Without a continuous flow of water and nutrients, the plants can suffer from wilting and nutrient deficiencies or toxicities.
- Initial investment: The initial cost of setting up can be relatively high compared to traditional soil-based farming or other hydroponic systems. This may be a significant barrier for small-scale growers or hobbyists who have limited resources.
Which Plants Are Suitable for The NFT System?
In my opinion, here are some of the most common plants that are suitable for the NFT system:
- It is one of the most commonly grown plants in the NFT system. It grows quickly and has a shallow root system, making it well-suited to the shallow stream of water in the channels.
- It requires a steady supply of nutrients and water to thrive, making it an ideal crop for hydroponic systems.
- It requires high humidity and warm temperatures to grow, and the controlled environment of hydroponic systems makes it easier to provide these conditions.
- It requires a lot of water and nutrients to grow, and the constant flow of water in the NFT system is ideal for providing these conditions.
- Some fruiting plants can also be grown successfully in the NFT system. However, they require a more complex nutrient solution than leafy greens and herbs, and the pH and EC must be carefully controlled to ensure optimal growth.
- They have a shallow root system and require high humidity, making them well-suited to the controlled environment of hydroponic systems.
- Bok Choy. It is a leafy green that grows well in the NFT system. It requires a lot of water and nutrients to grow, making it an ideal crop for hydroponic systems.
- Swiss Chard. It has a deep root system, so growers must ensure that the channels are deep enough to accommodate its growth.
Types of NFT Systems
There are several different types of Nutrient Film Techniques, each with its own unique features and advantages.
They consist of long channels or gullies that are slightly sloped to allow the nutrient solution to flow over the roots of the plants. Gully NFT systems typically use PVC or similar materials to construct the channels or gullies.
The channels are usually around 2–3 feet wide and 6–8 inches deep, and they are spaced evenly to allow for high-density planting. The nutrient solution is pumped through the channels, and any excess solution is drained back into the reservoir to be recirculated. Gully NFT systems are highly efficient and are suitable for growing a wide variety of crops.
PVC Pipe NFT
PVC Pipe NFT systems use PVC pipes instead of gullies to grow plants. The pipes are usually around 4–6 inches in diameter and are suspended at an angle to allow the nutrient solution to flow through them.
The plants are grown in net cups or small pots that are inserted into holes drilled into the top of the pipes. The nutrient solution is pumped through the pipes, and any excess solution is drained back into the reservoir. PVC Pipe NFT systems are ideal for small-scale growers and hobbyists because they are easy to set up and maintain.
Channel NFT systems are similar to gully NFT systems, but the channels are wider and shallower. The nutrient solution flows over the roots of the plants, and any excess solution is drained back into the reservoir.
Channel NFT systems are ideal for growing leafy greens and herbs because they provide a shallow stream of water that is well-suited to these crops’ shallow root systems. The channels are typically around 2–3 feet wide and 2–3 inches deep, and they are spaced evenly to allow for high-density planting.
These systems use a series of stacked channels or gullies to maximize the use of available space. This system is ideal for urban farming or growers with limited space because it allows for high-density planting without taking up too much floor space.
The nutrient solution is pumped through the channels, and any excess solution is drained back into the reservoir. Multi-level NFT systems can be customized to suit growers’ specific needs, with different numbers of levels and channel configurations available.
It uses a series of vertically stacked gullies or channels to grow plants. This system is highly space-efficient and is ideal for urban farming or growers with limited space. The nutrient solution is pumped through the channels, and any excess solution is drained back into the reservoir. Vertical NFT systems can be customized to suit growers’ specific needs, with different numbers of levels and channel configurations available.
Aeroponic NFT systems use a combination of NFT and aeroponic technologies to grow plants. In this system, the plants are suspended in the air, and a mist of nutrient solution is sprayed over the roots. The nutrient solution is recirculated through the system, and any excess solution is collected in a reservoir.
Aeroponic NFT systems are highly efficient and can produce higher yields than traditional NFT systems, but they are also more complex and require careful monitoring and maintenance.
How to Set Up an NFT System?
From my experience, it follows here’s a basic guide to setting up an NFT system:
It is the container that holds the nutrient solution for the NFT system. It can be made of any material that is non-toxic and can hold liquid, such as plastic or fiberglass. The size of the reservoir will depend on the size of the NFT system and the number of plants being grown.
The reservoir should be placed in a convenient location that is stable and level. A lid should be used to prevent evaporation and contamination of the nutrient solution.
They are used to hold the plants and allow the nutrient solution to flow over their roots. The channels are typically made of PVC or ABS plastic and should be installed at a slight angle to ensure that the nutrient solution flows evenly.
The channels should be supported by a sturdy frame or stand, and any joints or connections should be sealed with a waterproof adhesive to prevent leaks.
It is necessary to provide oxygen to the nutrient solution and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Choose an air pump that is appropriate for the size of the system, and ensure that it is placed near the reservoir. The air pump should be kept above the water level to prevent any water from entering the pump and causing damage.
They are used to diffuse the oxygen into the nutrient solution. They are typically made of porous materials, such as ceramic or silica, and should be placed at the bottom of the reservoir. The number of air stones required will depend on the size of the system and the volume of nutrient solution being used.
It is used to connect the air pump to the air stones. Choose tubing that is appropriate for the size of the system and the distance between the air pump and air stones. The tubing should be long enough to reach from the air pump to the air stones and should be secured in place with clips or ties.
The water pump is responsible for circulating the nutrient solution through the NFT channels. Choose a water pump that is appropriate for the size of the system and the volume of nutrient solution being used. The pump should be placed in the reservoir and fully submerged to prevent overheating.
It is the mixture of water and nutrients that the plants will use for growth. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for mixing the solution and ensure that the pH and electrical conductivity (EC) are within the desired range for the plants being grown.
The nutrient solution should be regularly monitored and adjusted to ensure that the plants are receiving the proper balance of nutrients.
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BONUS: Tips for Using Nutrient Film Technique System
- Monitor the pH and EC of the nutrient solution. The pH should be within the desired range for the plants being grown, typically between 5.5 and 6.5 for most crops. The electrical conductivity should be carefully monitored and adjusted to ensure that the plants are receiving the proper balance of nutrients.
- Ensure proper oxygenation of the nutrient solution. Oxygen is essential for plant growth, and the nutrient solution must be properly oxygenated to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Use an air pump and air stones to ensure that the nutrient solution is properly oxygenated.
- Ensure proper spacing of plants. Avoid overcrowding the channels and ensure that there is enough space between plants for them to grow properly.
- Monitor and maintain the system regularly. This includes checking the pH and EC of the nutrient solution, monitoring the water and nutrient levels, and ensuring that all components of the system are functioning properly. Regular cleaning and maintenance of the system will also help to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and ensure healthy plant growth.
- Start with a small system and scale up. If you are new to hydroponic gardening or the NFT system, it is a good idea to start with a small system and scale up as you gain experience. This will allow you to learn the intricacies of the system and ensure that you can maintain healthy plant growth before scaling up to a larger system.