26

Nutrient Film Technique Hydroponic Systems

Nutrient Film Technology System

While all hydroponic systems offer intriguing new ways to grow plants indoors that our farming ancestors couldn’t have even dreamed about, Nutrient Film Technique hydroponics systems are the only ones that depends on a constantly flowing stream of nutrients to feed plants, with only the tips of their roots dangling down into the liquid as if just dipping their toes in.

In NFT the plant roots are suspended above a stream of continuously flowing nutrient solution that provides them with all the water, nutrients, and oxygen they need to sustain rapid, healthy plant growth.Vertical Nutrient Film Technique System

This provides the ideal situation of having a constant shallow stream of nutrient solution passing over the very tips of the roots while the upper part is left exposed to the humid environment created inside the growing chamber, which provides the roots with an abundant supply of oxygen. As previously discussed in my other blogs, the more aeration of the root zone of a plant, the faster and healthier it will grow.

NFT provides the maximum amount of oxygen to the roots, in a moist environment, while still providing the nutrients the plants need. Nutrient Film Technique is a versatile and familiar hydroponic system that include components the same as Ebb and Flow but different in configuration. This system is excellent for smaller plants like herbs, lettuce, beans and strawberries, to name a few.

How Does a Nutrient Film Technique Hydroponic System Work?

There are various ways to design a nutrient film technique system; however, most all of them use a tubing system to run a very shallow nutrient solution over the tips of the roots of the plants. The bare roots of the plants will absorb the nutrients in the solutions when they come into contact with the water and utilize the air space to absorb oxygen. It’s actually better to have flat bottomed channels for these units as it gives more area for the roots to “dip their toes in” but PVC piping is cheaper and easier to come by.

The NFT system is similar to the Ebb and Flow technique in that they both use water pumps to deliver the nutrients to your plants. However, unlike the Ebb and Flow system, the NFT system is a constantly flowing one. I have noticed that some units offer timers but I would recommend against using these as the entire concept of NFT is based on continually flowing nutrients that maintain the moist atmosphere in the closed system for optimal root growth.

In Nutrient Film Technique hydroponics, the chamber that the roots grow in takes the form of a tube-like (or flat bottomed) channel that’s set at a slight incline so the nutrient solution will flow through it. Often, multiple, short run channels will be stacked, one above the other in an A-Frame type of setting with the nutrients of the top channel flowing into the next lower one and down and down into each channel and then finally back into the reservoir. I don’t recommend long channels as the plants at the beginning of the channel tend to get more nutrients than those at the end. Plus, who has the space for 30′ long channels in their homes?

The plants are put in holes in the top of the growing channel in net pots with hydroton in them, so the roots are suspended above the nutrient solution inside the chamber while the crown extends above. Since the water is pumped up from the reservoir into the top of the highest channel and then flows down throughout the system before draining back into the reservoir, NFT is a closed system that recycles the nutrient solution, allowing you to conserve water and nutrients.

NFT and Aquaponics?

NFT can also be combined with Aquaponics.  Simply swap out the reservoir and replace with a fish tank!  Follow the instructions in my Aquaponics blog for size of tank and type of fish.

DIY NFT

How NFT works

What you need to build a nutrient film technique system (NFT)

  1. A reservoir to contain the nutrient solution
  2. Nutrient pump
  3. Air pump
  4. Air stone(s)
  5. Tubes to distribute water from the nutrient pump to the NFT growing tubes
  6. Channel for the plants to grow in
  7. Net pots to contain plants and growing media to start seedlings in
  8. Return system (tubing, channel) to guide the used nutrient solution back to the reservoir

Some NFT growers omit the air pumps and airstones and just rely on the moving water to provide enough aeration for the roots but I prefer to give the maximum amount of oxygen to the nutrient solution as possible. The pump and airstone can be purchased very inexpensively in any pet store and will ensure optimal growth.

In the NFT system, there are 2 main components: the grow channel and the reservoir that contains water and nutrients. In the grow channel, there are net pots that contain the growing media (rockwool and hydroton) to hold the plants and allow their roots to dangle down into the channels. The grow channels must be sloped at a ratio of 1:30 or 1:40 to keep the water moving and not pooling. The reservoir size depends on the number of plants that you want to grow. If you want to grow a system of 40-50 plants, you need a reservoir with a minimum 5-gallon capacity.

Here is an excellent video showing this setup. The gentleman is setting up a single layer NFT system but you can see in the background a vertical, multi-channel NFT system. I believe in using vertical spaces to give the maximum amount of produce per square foot.

Pros and Cons of the NFT System

PROS:

  • Low water and nutrient consumption
  • Environmentally friendly – minimize the risk of contaminating localized groundwater
  • Relatively easy to disinfect roots and hardware in comparison with other system types
  • Plant roots can maintain a uniform PH and conductivity thanks to regular feeding (and associated flushing) that prevents localized salt build-up

CONS:

  • If the flow of nutrient solution stops (like due to a power outage), the roots will dry out and become stressed very quickly
  • The channels can become blocked by roots of vigorous-growing plants
  • Pump failure can cause death of crops in a few hours
  • Not suitable to grow plants with large tap-root systems like carrots

Please note that this site is supported by affiliate marketing which means that a small portion will be paid to maintain this site from any purchases made through it. This in no way affects the price of the products on this page.

Nutrient Film Technique Kits

Complete kits are available at Amazon. Note that the larger ones requiring their own reservoir NEVER come with one so you will need to go to your local shop and buy a Rubbermaid (or whatever brand of opaque, food grade plastic bin with a tight-fitting lid) and drill a hole in the top to feed the tubing and wiring for the pumps in. This allows you to buy the reservoir size that you need for the number of plants you plan on growing.

CropKing Desktop NFT Kit

CropKing NFT SystemA complete NFT hydroponic growing system with 6 plant sites designed and manufactured by CropKing. This kit includes a food-grade reservoir, 2 food-grade NFT channels with 3 plant sites in each channel, a pump, 1 inch rock wool cubes, 2 small bags of fertilizers, bibb lettuce seeds, pre-assembled tubing, and instructions.

  • Complete NFT hydroponic kit for growing fresh lettuce, herbs, and other leafy greens
  • 6 plant sites designed to accept 1 inch Grodan rock wool cubes included in the kit
  • Includes detailed instructions to quickly assemble, operate, and grow fresh leafy greens indoors
  • No soil required, only add water at home and fertilizer included with the kit
  • Grow lettuce, herbs, and other leafy greens for the freshest salads and tastiest entrees

CropKing NFT System PartsPros:

  • Flat bottomed channels for optimal root coverage
  • Comes complete with absolutely everything you need.

Cons:

  • No airstone is provided but in a system this small, the return water falling into the reservoir should be enough

Click HERE to see in Amazon.

Darlene’s Opinion: This is the smallest and most compact system I’ve seen. If you don’t want/need a larger system this is the perfect one for you!

4 Main Tube with 36pcs of net Cup Hydroponics System NFT

Vertical A-Frame NFT System

  • Hydroponics system-Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) NFT provides no medium support for roots. Typically, roots sit in a long sloping irrigation channel. Nutrient is introduced at the high end of the channel and allowed to flow over the roots after which it drains into a nutrient reservoir. It is then re-pumped back into the channel to repeat the watering process.
  • You can easily grow your favourite herbs, salad greens, strawberries or other small leafy greens in your home without any muddy mess and need for watering the plants regularly. Hydroponics is the ideal method to grow plants in urban areas. It makes a wonderful hobby that helps you relax and it is fun to your watch plants grow in NFT hydroponic garden
  • Remarks: The water reservoir is not included for the unit. One unit includes, 1, tube frame-1set; 2, Hose-1.5Meter; 3, pump-1pc; 4, Foam cube and net tray for starting seed-1set; 5, Mechanical timer-1pc; 6, Net cup-36pcs

Pros:

  • Vertical unit so it takes up less square feet for the number of plants compared to a flat unit
  • Comes with foam cube and net tray for starting plants

Cons:

  • Needs a reservoir
  • You will have to buy your own nutrients but that is pretty standard in a unit of this size where they don’t know exactly what you will be growing.
  • Needs an airstone
  • Comes with net pots but you will still need hydroton to fill around the foam cubes

Click HERE to see in Amazon.

Darlene’s Opinion: I like this unit. Since it is vertical, it takes up less space than other that will grow as many plants but are horizontal.

CropKing NFT 4-6 Hydroponic Leafy Greens Growing System

An introductory system designed to ease growers into using the nutrient film technique to grow hydroponic plants. Suitable for leafy crops such as lettuce and herbs, this system arrives with everything you need to get started, except a reservoir. Removable top covers make cleaning a breeze. All of our channels are made of a food-grade PVC to ensure that all plants are grown without the fear of imparting harmful chemicals.

CropKing Large NFT System

  • Food-grade NFT channels with 1″ square holes designed to accept 1″ rockwool cubes or other growing media
  • Removable top covers make cleaning simple and a total 36 plant spaces 8″ on center provides adequate space for growing your favorite leafy crops
  • Steel square stand provides ample support for the entire kit in any location
  • Pump, plumbing, stand, glue, tools, and instructions provide everything you need to get started out of the box
  • No reservoir is provided to keep shipping low and allow growers the freedom to use less or more water

Pros:

  • Flat bottomed channels which provide more root coverage
  • Sturdy construction and excellent design

Cons:

  • Needs a reservoir
  • You will need to buy rockwool cubes but these cost about $10 at Amazon for a sheet.
  • I would most definitely recommend an airstone or two with a horizontal unit like this.
  • Takes up more space than a vertical unit

Click HERE to see in Amazon.

Darlene’s Opinion: Although I really favour vertical set-ups due to the savings in space, if you have the room for this one it is the better unit. The flat bottoms on the channels make all the difference in root growth and the fact that you can take the channels apart make them much easier to clean.

Bits and Bobs

Here are the cheap bits and bobs that may not come with some of the systems above.

 

Air pump and airstonesHomasy Upgraded Aquarium Air Pump, Easy to Use Quiet High Energy Saving Oxygen Pump for Fresh & Saltwater with 2 Air Outlets/Stones/Tubes, 1 Check Valve & Adjustable Air Valve & 3-Way Connector

Click HERE to see in Amazon.

 

 

 

Rockwook CubesRockwool Grow Cubes (1.5 Inches) – Growing Medium Starter Sheets (30 Per Pack)

Click HERE to see in Amazon.

 

 

 

Growing Tray and Dome3-Set Strong Plant Growing Trays with Humidity Domes for Seed Starting, Germination and Seedling Propagation, Holds 144 Cells in Total

Click HERE to see in Amazon.

 

 

 

Htdroton PelletsHydroton 10L Original Clay Pebbles

Click HERE to see in Amazon.

 

 

 

Conclusion

Nutrient Film Technique systems are easy to care for or to build yourself and give optimal growing conditions for your smaller plants. If you wish to use fish tanks instead of reservoirs, they can even be used as aquaponic units! They are versatile and easy to look after. When you consider the cost of food at the supermarket and the amount of energy it takes to ship it there, growing food in your own home is both practical, more delicious and rewarding while reducing our carbon imprint on the planet.

Please feel free to comment and/or ask any questions below! Also, share this with any friends that you think might like it and follow for upcoming posts. I would love to hear from you!.

Please follow and like us:
error0

Darlene Thompson

After having lived in Canada's most northerly territory of Nunavut where outdoor gardening is nigh impossible, I started down my adventure of indoor gardening. I hope you find the various methods as exciting as I do!

26 Comments

  1. Oh! This is nice to know. I’m always intrigued at how far we have come since the inception of farming and how technology has helped in revamping the process of engaging in it. This nutrient film technique seems very interesting to know of but I would love to know if this can work on an aquaponic too. If yes, then I will incorporate it since that is what I make use of but them, I will still suggest this to my cousin who engages in hydroponics. Thanks

    • Hiya Ro!

      YES, this can be incorporated into aquaponics.  I put that in the conclusion but I think I should have highlighted it better.  Simply swap out the nutrient reservoir for a fish tank and Voila!

      Thank you for asking and remember – I want pictures!!!  LOL

  2. If our ancestors knew how we grow plants today, I’m sure they would be shocked in awe, but maybe also disgust from the amount of pesticides we use! I like the idea of constant nutrition sources for these plants as people tend to simply forget to water their plants even, but with this, it allows the utmost amount of growth. The video and drawing sketch is very informative – thanks for sharing!

    • I certainly agree, Adam.  The beauty of indoor hydroponics is that it is protected from the outdoors so very rarely needs pesticides.  You can even turn this system into an aquaponics NFT system and you would have no artificial nutrients and no pesticides as they would kill the fish.

  3. Wow, this nutrientfil technique is really awesome. My mum loves growing plants indoor and she has also tried out growing plants and also ponding together. This are really systems you have recommended here. I am going to purchase the NFT hydroponic growing system. That will most definitely be a good pick for my mums plants. Thank you for this awesomely written post.

    • Thank you so much, Henderson!  I hope your Mom likes it – I know I love my hydroponics!

  4. This way of growing plants and food seems to have taken the world by storm. I have seen so much coverage about this type of farming on TV lately. It is amazing what one can do in bulk and indoors with the right systems in place.

    You say that carrots can’t be grown in this way. I suppose that this includes onions and potatoes too?

    • Hi Michael,

      Yes, if you look at the size of the growing tubes there is no way that root vegetables would make it.  These systems are for veggies with top growth.

  5. Thanks for this informative post, I realized that when using NFT it is important to pay attention to both the rate of the nutrients solution flowing through the channel, and at the angle at which the channel is closed and they are few variables that come into play when determining the best flow rate. Thanks for letting me understand I have to let the system run for a while before adding plants to make sure i have the correct slope.

    • Yes, you have that exactly correct.  If you notice in the video, the gentleman there says to do the same thing.  Test it out first before you have any plants in it so that you can fix any problems with leaks or flow rate before putting tender seedlings in.

  6. Thanks for this article. This is another cool concept for growing plants that I never knew about. Are there any plants in nature that grow this way, like plants that live near a river or something? I think I remember seeing some plants when I was out hiking near a river and their Roots kind of dangled into the water.
    I like the one with the four tubes and the 36 pieces. I like how it kind of looks around and then I guess the water pumps back up and flows back down. Also what do you do about lighting if you have one indoors? Like the desktop one which I also like because it’s compact.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if there are plants in nature that grow this way but I, personally, haven’t seen them.  Would love to, though!

      The one with the 4 tubes is my favourite, too.  For growing all year round or if you had it in your basement, you would definitely need lights.  I will be doing further blogs on lighting but let me save you the suspense.  Don’t bother with flourescent lights, even if they are “grow lights” as they just do not give the full spectrum of light that the plants need.  LED lights are much better and also sold at Amazon.  Check out the video in the blog and you will see the lighting set up that the gentleman uses there (LEDs all the way, Babe!).  Three is a higher up-front cost with LEDs but they are much easier on the electric bill than metal halides or other bulbs used by serious growers.

  7. Hi, Darlene!  This is by far the most well-described post I’ve seen yet.  Your use of images and video helped me to even further my knowledge.  What a great article!  What are your favorite things to grow this way?  What an innovative way to grow plants when gardening outdoors is impossible!  🙂

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the article!  As I’m sure you noticed from the pictures there isn’t room for a huge root mass inside of the tunnels so your smaller veggies would be perfect for this system:  herbs, salad greens, kale, swiss chard, bush beans, strawberries – anything that doesn’t grow too tall.  If it grows really tall then it a) willl have a correspondingly large root mass that could clog the tunnels and b) topple right over due to lack of support on the top end.  HOWEVER, if you were to build your own with larger pieces of PVC pipe and then put a trellis system on it, then it could easily grow pretty much whatever you want!

      Great question – thank you!

  8. Excellent article and very informative.I really enjoyed the content.Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) is one of the best indoor grow system and it is very interesting.The fact that NFT is environmentally friendly has impressed me a lot. I like indoor growing,hopefully to learn more from your next articles.Wish you all the best Darlene.

    Baraka

    • Thank you so much Baraka!  NFT is just one of many hydroponic methods.  I might suggest that you check out the other methods on the site.

      Thank you for your comments!

  9. These are really fun and fantastic ways for grow my veggies indoor. I have always wanted to have a little garden around my home, for my home-grown greens. But with these, i can achieve it in a cleaner and fun way. I admire the fact that this was made possible especially for people who live in areas where you can’t get steady water.

    I like the CropKing Desktop more, with it, i can grow my veggies and they are within my reach.

    Thanks Darlene.

    • Thank you, Mariam!  I love the idea of the KropKing Desktop model for its compact size!  You could put it anywhere and grow your own herbs and greens.  My whole site is dedicated to those who wish to grow indoors due to space (urban areas) or who live in very inclement areas where there are only a few months of growing time.  I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  10. It is indeed striking to discover the growth we have made over the years in the development of farming system and how easy it is to engage in these days. But what is more intriguing in hydroponics is the constant flow of nutrients and as such, it is without any disturbance unless the pumping slows down. I like the idea of the nutrient film technique and I like the CropKing NFT 4-6 Hydroponic Leafy Greens Growing System. It seems more easier and broader.

  11. Thanks for writing this article on Nutrient Film Technique Hydroponic Systems. It was a very interesting topic. I didn’t know they had portable systems now. This is such a great idea. Thank you for giving us the pros and cons of this. That was very helpful. I liked the video, looks easy enough. Is there a way to protect the plants from extreme heat with out having to use a green house? I live in Las Vegas and it’s in the 100’s for weeks on end. 

    • HI Lynne,

      Oh, Wow!  You DO have a problem with heat.  I’m in Canada and have a problem with cold.  That is why my website is dedicated to indoor grow systems so that the temperature can be kept at room temperature all year around.  If you were to put this outside, the water would help to cool it but I would definitely look into some shade cloth or something like that.  And yes, a greenhouse with a cooling system would be best.  Actually, your basement would probably be the best!

      Take care!

  12. Very nice and informative article about great nutrient film technique for hydroponic growing. I have been growing some pretty exotic species as bananas, mangos and high CBD THC free hemp strains by using my DIY hydroponic systems and In my case hydro growing versus oriental soil cultivation, hydro offers far bigger crops, and significantly faster growth. However, I will take a further look at your other articles, this looks interesting and educating stuff. 

    • Thank you very much, Jess.  Yes, definitely check out my other articles.  Hemp is definitely grown using this method but also ebb and flow and deep water culture.  I’ve even heard of those using aquaculture.  I hope you enjoy the selection as they could definitely improve your crop yields.  I do agree that hydro is the way to go for high quality hemp.

  13. Thank you for this very informative blog. I have been reading all of your blogs, but i really believe the CropKing Desktop NFT Kit is perfect for me. I have very limited space and it looks perfect. I can’t wait to get started.

    • I’m so glad that you liked it, Gloria! I wish you well on your growing journey!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *