What is the Hydroponic Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)?

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) is said to be the most straightforward hydroponic system to adopt, and its fundamental operations are simple to follow even for rookies. It has long been used by businesses and hobbyists.

But what exactly is it? For those of you who are new to hydroponics and want to find out more about NFT, you’re in luck. We will be sharing in this article how the NFT is assembled and equipment you would need to operate the system and the whole procedure.

With its simple procedure, it is no wonder why many opt for this system. Additionally, increasing the scale of production for a profit-making business is relatively easy too, providing flexibility in growing crops.

NFT Hydroponics – how does it work?

A nutrient solution is supplied from a container or reservoir to the gulch placed at a lower position. For the gulch, as long as it is placed such that it forms a gradient to let the solution flow downwards, it is fine. Hence, you can either elevate it above the floor on a frame or put them flat on the floor. After the solution flows down the system, the cycle continues where it is sent upwards to the container again. Larger businesses use the run to waste process most of the time, and a brand new batch of the solution is introduced into the system in each cycle, instead of reusing the recycled solution from previous cycles. The used solution will be disposed of. We shall discuss the hydroponic nutrient solutions more in detail below.

Seasoned growers would use another supplementary mat laid out in the gulch which is to ensure that the solution is spread out evenly along the gulch, similar to a layer of a fine film. This is also how this system is called the Nutrient Film Technique. The mat is often called a distributor mat.

NFT systems can take on many different kinds – some use gulch, some use troughs, and some use handmade materials to build a similar structure. DIY systems are worth a try as they are less costly than buying a system. Hence, we will be touching on some DIY systems soon below.

Types of growing medium

The next item to worry about after choosing the kind of NFT system you will be adopting is the choice of growing medium to nurture your green babies. A growing medium is an element you will develop your plants with, which includes soil and clay rocks. As hydroponics does not rely on soil to grow, rock wool bars are favored. There are many brands of agriculture Rockwool such as Grodan that we recommend, and they often come in a variety of sizes with a hole at the top to let you place your plants easily into. Excellent grades of Rockwool will also have little avenues cut from the bottom to allow the nutrients to drain better.

How do I get the best nutrient solutions for my plants?

All hydroponics requires a nutrient solution for the plants. As the name suggests, a nutrient solution provides everything a plant needs to grow in a hydroponic system. It is essentially made up of water with nutrients and enzymes, hence you can make your own nutrient solution if you purchase the nutrients and other ingredients from any gardening shops or horticulture centers, and mix with water. In fact, the majority of the growers mix their own blend of nutrient solutions for their plants, and they also keep their own mix confidential. A lot of hard work goes into it and growers have to keep trying till they get that perfect mix. Different ratios of ingredients in the mix also produce different effects on the plants, especially in terms of their yield. Hence, a lot of time is needed to discover the best mix of nutrients for your plants as different types of plants yield better in different concoctions, so each grower has to do your own exploration and experiment.

After getting the right mix of nutrients in your solution, you have to check if it is at the correct pH level. The simplest way would be to use a CF truncheon and a pH meter to determine the pH level. The majority of mainstream tomato breeds yield the best at a pH level of approximately 6.0 and a CF of approximately 18 to 20. However, you must be cautioned that each type of plant thrives differently in different conditions, so it is advisable for you to buy your own CF truncheon and pH meter to ensure your plants receive the best nutrients possible. Both types of equipment can be purchased online at a low price. 

Do your own research to understand the plants you are growing and customize your concoction of nutrients to harvest the best yield.

Growing with NFT

Since we have now learned more about the fundamentals of NFT and the nutrient solutions required for your plants, you might be wondering what steps are needed when you use NFT to grow your plants.

The plant that you purchase should be produced from a clone or seed. After the seed or clone has been stabilized, you should transfer them to the small Rockwool cubes. The larger Rockwool cubes should be able to contain the tinier cubes used for rooting.

We have compiled a step–by–step guide of NFT for you:

  1. Set up the NFT system as mentioned above – top up the container or reservoir with your blended nutrient solution after confirming that it is within the tolerable pH levels for your plants.
  2. Prepare a spreader/distributor mat of the correct dimensions and add to your gulch. Check that you cover the whole base of the gulch so that the nutrient film can be formed.
  3. Position Rockwool slabs onto the gulch evenly to allow sufficient space for the plants to develop.
  4. Transfer plants in the tinier Rockwool slabs into the bigger slabs already in the system.
  5. Prepare the pump and turn it on so that your plants can start to absorb your blended nutrient solution.
  6. Remember to confirm if the solution is correctly distributed to your plants and that the nutrient is forming a smooth thin layer of film across the spreader/distributor mat on your gulch.

Conclusion

With this fundamental understanding of NFT, you can now start to grow your own plants using NFT. With NFT, you will be able to see a huge yield, as you can fix the input to NFT which can potentially shorten the growth cycle of your plants. This is only a simple guide and there is definitely much more information out there for you to become proficient in the NFT hydroponics.

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