What is the Hydroponic Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)?

It seems that everyone is now moving away from soil and turning to hydroponics instead. Many hydroponic growers have started to take on the nutrient film technique system (NFT system) as it is relatively easier to use while still providing you with the same amount of yield. Hydroponic growers who use the NFT system are usually growing smaller plants that take a shorter time to grow. An example would be lettuce. However, commercial growers also use the NFT to grow other things such as baby herbs. But if you are a novice hydroponics grower, you may still not have a clear idea of what NFT is. Allow us to explain. 

What exactly is the NFT system? 

This system comes in the form of different designs. However, most of these designs come in the form of a shallow nutrient solution flowing downward through some tubing. The exposed plant roots will then take in the nutrients as the water flows past them. Like the Ebb and Flow technique, the NFT system also makes use of water pumps to help transport nutrients to the plants. The difference then is that the Ebb and Flow structure has a flood and drain system while the NFT system moves in a continuous flow. 

People also tend to choose the NFT system to the Kratky or the Wicking method despite the latter being much easier to build and run. This is because the NFT is able to provide the plants with the best conditions. The NFT system has two parts, which include the grow tray and the reservoir (used to hold the nutrient solution). 

The grow tray has net pots that consist of the growing media which the plants grow in and obtain nutrients from. Then the roots of the plant will grow densely down the channel while the leaves stick out at the top. A pump is used to transport water to the grow tray and a drainpipe is included that helps to recycle any unused water and nutrients. This is done by angling the grow tray so that the water will flow downwards towards the nutrient tube. All these unused nutrients and water will flow into another channel and recirculated within the system. With the roots hanging down and directly in the flow of the channel, they can absorb the nutrients that they need. The reason for having only a thin film of nutrients is that it ensures that the plant is not completely covered by the water. This allows the plant to absorb water while the top still exposed to air and keeps dry.

If you are interested in building an NFT system you would need:

  • A reservoir to hold the nutrient solution
  • Tubes for water distribution from the nutrient pump to the NFT growing tubes
  • Nutrient pump
  • Channel for plant growth
  • Net pots 
  • Returning system 

As mentioned earlier, the NFT system is used to grow crops that take a short period of time to grow and are small in size. However, in the event you decide that you wish to grow crops of a slightly larger size such as tomatoes, a self-standing trellis system is required in order to ensure that the plants have proper support. Then again, the NFT system is not applicable to heavy plants.

Advantages of NFT

Why hydroponic growers are inclined to use NFT is because it has certain advantages. The NFT system allows you to be able to check your roots for any signs of disease or to check if there is feed adequacy as a result of a medium being unavailable. It is very easy to check as the roots are exposed and you can see it clearly. It is also very easy to disinfect these roots as compared to other systems. The roots are also able to sustain an equal pH level and conductivity as a result of regular feeding. This helps to prevent the localized build-up of salts.   The use of the NFT system also requires very little water and does not consume much of your nutrient solution. Using an NFT system also helps protect the environment. This environmentally friendly system reduces the risk of contributing to the contamination of local underground water. With this system, you can also avoid having to think about supply, disposal, and costs. Additionally, the process of fixing and hardware of this system is easier than others. 

Disadvantages of NFT

However, all good things have their disadvantages. The main disadvantage of using an NFT system is that if the continuous flow of nutrients stops for whatever reason, the roots will become dry very quickly. The channels of the system can also become a hindrance when it gets blocked by the roots of plants that grow very rapidly. Another reason relating to roots would be that this system is not able to grow crops that have large taproot systems.  If a pump were to fail within the system and you did not notice it quickly, you would end up losing all your crops as they would die out in a matter of hours. This is especially so if the environment they are in is one that is very hot. In comparison to run-to-waste systems, NFT systems would not run well if they were to use any saline water. This is because when the solution is being recirculated within the system, the salinity of the water will drop. 

All in all, the NFT system is a super easy step up that you can make by yourself. It is also very simple to use. This is highly recommended if you are interested in growing crops that take a short time to yield! You can grow many different things such as strawberries, lettuce, herbs, and kale to name a few. If you want, the possibility of growing edible flowers is also open to you with the use of the NFT system as well. This is best when you are looking for fast results with the intention of using the seeds to replant and start again. This allows you to have your very own small garden with continuous production. 



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