What Is NFT Hydroponics?

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By Alex Harris

NFT stands for nutrient film technique. It is a popular method of hydroponics gardening that requires minimal space and allows for faster plant growth.

Hydroponic growers also tend to enjoy the NFT system due to its simplicity. Anyone can set up an NFT hydroponics system to grow small, quick-growing plants, such as lettuce, herbs, and other leafy crops.

The ease of use and low cost may also appeal to beginners.

If you’re new to hydroponic gardening, learn more about the nutrient film technique, including its pros, cons, and best uses.

You should take a look at: What Hydroponics System Is The Best?

How Does the Nutrient Film Technique Work?

The nutrient film technique (NFT) is a type of hydroponic growing that includes one or more grow trays and a separate water reservoir.

The trays are positioned at an angle to allow a shallow stream of water to flow from one end to the other.

how does the nutrient film technique work

A soilless growing media, such as rockwool or coco coir, is used to hold the seeds inside net pots placed in the grow tray. The plant roots grow inside the tray and typically form a dense mat.

If the seedlings are started in a separate container or tray, they can be transplanted to the NFT system without growing medium. The roots receive enough moisture and nutrients from the system and do not need the growing media for support.

A pump delivers a continuous flow of water at a steady flow rate. The water travels to the shallow end of the tray, where it drains into the water reservoir to be recycled.

Unlike deep water culture (DWC) and several other hydroponic methods, NFT doesn’t drown the roots in water. The shallow flow of water feeds the plants but keeps them from getting too saturated.

What Do You Need for an NFT Hydroponic System?

The following components are needed for the typical NFT hydroponic system:

The grow tray is often a PVC pipe with holes for the net pots, as the NFT method requires a narrow growing channel for the nutrient water.

The net pots are typically plastic containers with openings to allow root growth. Soilless growing media is typically placed in the pot and holds the seed or young plant. However, growing media isn’t necessary for established plants.

The reservoir sits below the grow tray and is connected via tubes and a return channel. A pump sends water to the top of the growing chamber. Some systems also include a second pump connected to an air stone to help with oxygenation.

Quick Pro Tip: Make sure that no light reaches the bare roots of the plants. Light promotes algae growth, which can deprive the roots of oxygen.

Roots that are exposed to light also start to turn green and become tougher, limiting their ability to absorb nutrients.

Advantages of NFT Hydroponics

Compared to other hydroponics methods, NFT provides several advantages:

  • No need for growing media
  • Does not use a timer
  • Often less expensive compared to other hydroponics systems

You can use the NFT system without a growing medium. The plants can grow in net pots without growing medium, which is one less thing that you need to purchase.

NFT systems also provide a continuous flow of water, which eliminates the need for a timer. You simply turn the pump on and let it run.

The typical NFT system includes fewer components compared to other hydroponic systems. It’s one of the more affordable types of hydroponics to set up.

Disadvantages of NFT Hydroponics

The main drawbacks of the NFT system compared to other hydroponics methods include the risk of power failure. Plants that are grown in NFT hydroponic setups dry out quicker if the nutrient solution stops flowing.

The shallow stream of water also provides more space for the roots to grow. The dense root system may partially block the flow of water. Luckily, you can easily check the root growth and remove any plant with a large root mass.

You may also struggle to grow certain types of plants. Leafy vegetables, such as lettuce work best. Other than leafy green vegetables, you may try herbs.

Nutrient Film Technique Versus Ebb and Flow

The NFT method is comparable to the Ebb and Flow system, as both systems use a pump to send nutrient-rich water through the grow tray.

The water drains to the reservoir where it is recycled. However, the Ebb and Flow growing system doesn’t use a continuous flow of water.

The water floods the growing tubes before draining back to the reservoir. After the water flows back to the reservoir, the tray fills with oxygen.

The design of the Ebb and Flow system eliminates the need for a separate pump with an air stone, as the plants receive adequate oxygen. However, these systems require a timer to control the water cycle.

The trays also require more frequent cleaning. The inside of the tray is frequently exposed to water and oxygen during a repeated cycle. Without regular cleaning, the trays tend to attract mold and mildew.

Nutrient Film Technique Versus Aeroponics

An aeroponic system may provide a better alternative for beginners. An all-in-one aeroponics kit includes a small water reservoir and space for several plants.

Unlike the NFT method, the plants are extended high enough above the water to keep the roots from being completely submerged in the water. The design adds an air chamber above the water to promote oxygenation.

Summary: So What Is NFT Hydroponics?

The nutrient film technique (NFT) is one of the most popular forms of hydroponics due to its simplicity. You can set up an NFT system with minimal equipment.

Using the NFT hydroponics method includes several risks. Roots may eventually block the NFT channel. If the system malfunctions, the roots can quickly dry out and become overstressed.

In a hot environment, plants can die within a few hours of the pumps shutting off.

Yet, if you can keep your NFT system running, you’re likely to enjoy a wide range of advantages.

NFT hydroponics uses less water and fewer nutrients compared to other hydroponic techniques. The NFT systems use a shallow stream of water, which allows for the efficient consumption of water and nutrients.

Using an NFT system also allows you to easily inspect the roots, as you can check the plants between watering cycles.

The bottom line is that NFT hydroponics offers an effective way to grow plants, but you need to check the equipment frequently to avoid any malfunctions.