What Is Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) In Hydroponics?

What Is Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) In Hydroponics?

The Nutrient Film Technique is a hydroponic growing method used to cultivate plants without soil. Instead of soil, plants are grown in a continuous, thin film of nutrient-rich water that flows over their roots. NFT is particularly well-suited for growing fast-growing, shallow-rooted plants like lettuce, herbs, and certain vegetables. In this article, we’ll review the main components of an NFT system, the benefits of this versatile hydroponics system, and how small scale growers create their own NFT setup.

(Featured Image: NFT Hydroponic Grow Op by Elmwood Farms)

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How NFT Hydroponic Systems Work

  1. System Setup: NFT systems are typically constructed with a series of sloping channels or gutters made of materials like PVC, plastic, or metal. These channels are usually mounted on a slight incline to allow gravity to aid in the flow of the nutrient solution. The channels may be arranged horizontally or stacked vertically, depending on the available space and specific requirements.
  2. Nutrient Solution Reservoir: The system includes a nutrient solution reservoir, which is a container that holds a mixture of water and essential nutrients needed for plant growth. This solution is carefully balanced to provide the necessary macronutrients (such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) and micronutrients (like iron, calcium, and magnesium).
  3. Pump and Delivery System: A water pump is used to circulate the nutrient solution from a small hole in the reservoir to the top of the sloping channels. The pump ensures a continuous flow of the nutrient solution.
  4. Drip Line or Film: At the top of each channel, a drip line or a thin film-forming device evenly distributes the nutrient solution across the width of the channel. This creates a shallow, continuous film of water that flows down the channel, enveloping the roots of plants.
  5. Plant Placement: Seedlings or young plants are placed in small containers or planting cups that are positioned within or above the channels. The plant roots dangle down into the thin film of flowing nutrient solution.
  6. Nutrient Uptake: As the nutrient-rich solution flows over the plant roots, the roots take up water and nutrients directly from the film. This allows the plants to absorb the necessary elements for growth, including water, oxygen, and nutrients, without the need for soil.
  7. Gravity Drainage: The nutrient solution continues to flow down the sloping channels by the force of gravity. As the solution flows past the plant roots, it becomes shallower and eventually reaches the end of the channel.
  8. Collection and Recirculation: At the end of the channel, the excess nutrient solution is collected in a trough or gutter and returned to the nutrient solution reservoir. This recycling process minimizes waste and conserves water and nutrients.
  9. Monitoring and Maintenance: Growers must monitor the pH and nutrient levels of the solution regularly to ensure that the plants receive the correct balance of nutrients. They also need to maintain the system, ensuring that it remains free of clogs or obstructions that could disrupt the nutrient flow.

The Nutrient Film Technique offers several advantages, including efficient nutrient use, good oxygenation of roots, space-saving design, and precise control over plant nutrition. However, it requires careful attention to detail and maintenance to ensure optimal plant growth and productivity.

What You Need To Build An NFT System

Setting up an NFT hydroponic system for growing plants involves several steps. NFT is a popular hydroponic method that uses a thin film of nutrient solution to continuously flow over the plant roots. Here’s a general guide on how to set up an NFT hydroponic system:

Materials and Tools Needed:

  • NFT flat-bottomed channel or gutters (can also use a round tube such as PVC pipe)
  • Reservoir for nutrient solution
  • Submersible water pump (we love this submersible pump by Vivosun)
  • Tubing (for water and nutrient solution)
  • Net pots (we use these net pots from Bootstrap Farmer for all of our hydroponic setups – they are SO durable!)
  • Growing medium (hemp mats make a great growing medium that is easy to use and can be cut to size)
  • pH and EC meters
  • Timer or controller for the water pump
  • Plants or seeds
  • Nutrient solution (we exclusively use Fox Farm hydroponic nutrients, and recommend Grow Big for any veggies!)

Step-By-Step Guide For Setting Up An NFT System

  1. Design and Layout:

    • Plan the layout of your NFT system. You’ll need a sloped or tilted surface to allow the nutrient solution to flow gently over the roots.
    • Ensure that you have access to an electrical outlet for the water pump.
  2. Assemble NFT Channels:

    • Assemble the NFT channels or gutters to meet your needs. Small growers may only need a few channels, whereas commercial growers may need several rows of growing channels to meet the needs of their commercial operations.
    • Place the channels on the tilted surface, making sure they have a slight slope (1/20 to 1/30 gradient) to allow the nutrient solution to flow smoothly.
  3. Reservoir Setup:

    • Set up a reservoir to hold the nutrient solution. It should be placed below the NFT channels so that the solution can flow by gravity.
    • Install a submersible water pump in the reservoir.
  4. Tubing Installation:

    • Connect tubing from the water pump to the top of the NFT channels.
    • Ensure that the tubing provides a consistent flow of nutrient solution to the channels.
  5. Plant Placement:

    • Place net pots or grow cups in holes or slots on the NFT channels.
    • Fill these containers with your chosen growing medium.
    • Plant seeds or seedlings in the growing medium.
  6. Nutrient Solution:

    • Prepare a suitable nutrient solution according to the requirements of the plants you are growing.
    • Pour the nutrient solution into the reservoir.
  7. Water Pump Control:

    • Set up a timer or controller to regulate the water pump’s on/off cycle. The pump should periodically lift the nutrient solution from the reservoir and gently flow it through the NFT channels, providing oxygen and nutrients to the plant roots.
  8. Monitoring and Maintenance:

    • Regularly monitor the pH and electrical conductivity (EC) of the nutrient solution and make adjustments as needed to maintain optimal conditions for plant growth.
    • Inspect the system for clogs or leaks and address them promptly.
    • Keep an eye on plant health and growth, providing appropriate lighting and environmental conditions.
  9. Harvest and Enjoy:

    • When your plants have matured, harvest your produce and enjoy the benefits of your NFT hydroponic system.
    • Some plants, like many different types of lettuces, can be harvested more than once. This is known as the ‘cut and come again’ method.

**Remember that the success of your NFT hydroponic system depends on maintaining proper nutrient levels, pH, and environmental conditions, so be prepared to make adjustments as needed throughout the growing cycle.

A nutrient film technique (NFT) hydroponic setup in a greenhouse grow facility.

NFT Tubing Setup

Benefits Of NFT Hydroponic Systems

There are many benefits of NFT growing, including:

  1. Efficient Nutrient and Water Use: NFT systems are highly efficient in delivering nutrients to plants. Since the nutrient solution flows over the roots in a thin film, it uses less water with this type of system. This efficiency makes NFT a sustainable choice, as it reduces the overall consumption of water and nutrients compared to traditional soil-based gardening.
  2. Optimal Oxygenation: NFT systems provide excellent aeration to plant roots. As the roots are exposed to air in the thin film of nutrient solution, they receive a constant supply of oxygen. This oxygenation is crucial for root health and overall plant growth. Healthy roots are better equipped to take up nutrients and support robust plant development.
  3. Space-Efficient Design: NFT systems can be designed in a space-saving manner, making them suitable for both small-scale and large-scale hydroponic operations. The channels or gutters used in NFT can be stacked vertically or arranged in compact configurations, allowing for efficient use of available space.
  4. Precise Control Over Nutrients: Growers have precise control over the composition and concentration of the nutrient solution in NFT systems. This level of control enables them to tailor the dissolved nutrients to the specific needs of the plants at various growth stages in the crop cycle. It also allows for adjustments in response to changing environmental conditions.
  5. Rapid Growth and High Yields: Plants grown in NFT systems are often fast-growing plants with high yields. The consistent access to nutrients and optimal oxygen levels results in healthy, vigorous plants. This makes NFT a preferred method for commercial production of crops like lettuce, herbs, and other leafy greens.
  6. Reduced Risk of Soil-Borne Diseases: Since NFT is a soilless cultivation method, it eliminates the risk of soil-borne pests and diseases that can affect traditional soil-based gardening. This reduces the need for pesticides and other chemical treatments, making NFT systems environmentally friendly.
  7. Year-Round Cultivation: NFT systems can be set up indoors or in controlled environments, allowing for year-round cultivation regardless of external weather conditions. This makes it possible to produce crops consistently and meet market demand even during the off-season.
  8. Ease of Harvesting and Maintenance: Harvesting is relatively easy in NFT systems, as plants are typically grown at waist height or above, reducing the need for home growers to bend or kneel. Additionally, NFT systems are relatively simple to maintain, with fewer moving parts compared to other types of hydroponic systems.

Overall, the Nutrient Film Technique offers several advantages that make it an attractive choice for hydroponic growers seeking efficient, space-saving, and high-yield plant cultivation methods. However, it does require careful monitoring and maintenance to ensure uninterrupted nutrient flow and plant health.

Learn More About Hydroponic Gardening

NFT is just one hydroponic technique that can be adopted for gardening at home with smaller plants. If you are interested in gardening with larger plants or heavy crops, a DWC system (deep water culture) may be a better option to suit your needs. You can learn more about DWC systems through these comprehensive guides:

There are many benefits to hydroponic gardening, including the ability to create the ideal environment for indoor gardens and grow rooms. An NFT hydroponics system can be adapted easily to meet different growing needs and fit the size of your grow space. If you are interested in learning more about different hydroponic systems, check out these guides:

A close up image of PVC pipes used for nutrient film technique hydroponic gardening with lettuce.

PVC Pipe Nutrient Film Technique Setup