Chris Talks NFT - Nutrient Film Technique
Hi it's Chris from Aqua Gardening, stay tuned to learn all about NFT gardening with me.
How does NFT work and what are the benefits?
So NFT is the shortened name for nutrient film technique it works by having the roots of a plant saturated in a nutrient-rich solution water with fertilizer inside and they also have access to the air above the roots as well as the water they're sitting inside - so you get the best of the best of exactly what the plants need directly to the roots to help them grow very very fast.
NFT is usually commonly done in channels not big surfaces but relatively small channels like the ones in front of me and that helps space the plants in the right spacings and get the right depth that the plants roots need to grow inside of and yeah NFT is a hydroponic technique so being hydroponic it is a lot faster than growing with soil.
What is needed to build an NFT system system?
Generally you need a tank which holds the water or the fertilizer solution, you need the channels themselves which uh you know look something like this with a hole in the top for the plant to sit inside, you need a pump, some tubing to get the water into the channel and then drainage to get the water out of the channel.
So the there'sa few key things I guess Channel, tank, pump, irrigation, and the nutrient maybe some it up in five easy things.
What maintenance is required for these systems and how frequently?
To maintain a NFT system the good news is most of the time you're just going to be harvesting leaves off. But depending on where you're located there can be
some pests that come and visit, so you might want to have some protection from the elements or from just the butterflies the and the Moths that fly in.
Putting pest management aside if everything's going well maintaining a NFT system is checking on the water level that it doesn't run dry out of water. It's checking on the plants are growing fast, it's checking that things don't get blocked up by like roots growing too quickly into the outlet could block it up. It's easy to check that with these things you can just lift off the cap and have a look at how the roots are going and then from time to time which could be every two to four weeks or more you want to replace the nutrient solution. The remaining water goes on your garden and start afresh with fresh nutrient solution or fertilizer mixed with water.
So generally if everything's going well you'll be harvesting products from your NFT every single day because the leaves of the plants grow so quickly you can have fresh salad every daydepending on how large your system is.
What can you grow in NFT systems?
NFT systems can be used to grow so many different plants. Usually they're used for more commercial crops - with the larger ones say this sort of width done for tomatoes. Can if you imagine a big long channel the tomato plant can have its roots going all the way out and submerged in the water flowing past to the outlet here and down to the tank?
So from the largest would be large tomatoes down to like broccoli the Brassica type family of plants, the leafy greens and also cherry tomatoes can be done in this size as well very successfully and then strawberries are quite common in NFT, down to lettuce and herbs which can be done in a combination of these sizes and almost all herbs that I know about can be done in NFT as well as our leafy greens salad greens just lend themselves to working well with NFT.
What are the cons of NFT? or Things to look at when you're building a system?
So the Cons with a lot of hydroponic systems are the upfront costs are always something to consider. So even though you won't need to change these quality parts which are made in Australia, made from the HDPE plastic which doesn't degrade in UV now to change these parts for like decades however the upfront cost is is there to consider.
There's a little bit of ongoing fertilizer cost as you would with a soil garden, you have to add more nutrients to the the garden every season or from time to time. You also have to check that there's always water circulating the system so in power cuts you could have a bit of a problem because if the water doesn't sit in the channel, you've got it draining perfectly you can have the plants wilting very quickly when they don't get enough water to their roots. So there's a few contingencies you can make to make sure that a power cut doesn't affect your plants then and you also want to make sure you go and visit the system regularly because things grow so fast, that you want to harvest them off before the pests get them or before it overgrows itself and gets too hard to do your gardening.
There's a lot of people think of NFT as using round PVC pipes inside of a pattern like this going down a vertical wall and it makes it really easy to put these onto the wall that's quite easy it's easy to find the pipes and end caps in your hardware store. So it's easy to source all these parts and an aquarium submersible pump will pump the water up to the top. However they don't work great and I've wrote a few points on here.
Some things like usually it's too deep for some plants for their roots to get to the bottom of the pipe. It's very hard to clean in the inside of pipes after the plant's grown or after you've got some dead roots or some growing media stuck in the bottom, it's hard to get it out. You'll find that if you keep recirculating the same fertilizer through often, the plants at the bottom of the system will get a little bit less fertilizer ones at the top so the ones at the top will grow the best by the time it gets to the end of this long snaky pipe the plants won't be growing so well.
NFT typically looks like they're set up like this (excuse my drawing) but the same tank we're circulating with a submersible pump around to the both inlets of the NFT or all of the inlets of the NFT channels, straight down to the end which could be a few meters long up to a few meters long generally and then draining straight back to the tank, mixing again and going back around the circuit.
The root sitting on the flat base channel can make sure the nutrient-rich solution gets delivered straight to the roots as well as the air in the top they can absorb the air and the nutrient as they go whereas if it's in like a round pipe you'll find that sometimes the roots will just sit in the water submerged and they won't grow as well so.
Do you have any other NFT tips?
Yeah there is a few contingencies you can have in NFT systems. Some things that won't make the plants grow as fast but it can work quite well is having a little bit of a riser on your drain so that there's always water in the bottom of the channel, so if you did have a power out there'd always be a lot of water for the plants to absorb before they get down to before it's all gone.
You can also have taps to control how much water goes to each channel in case your pump has to pump a long way so you can change the flow that goes in because sometimes too much flow is not so good and too little flow means that some of the plants down the channel might not be getting water. There's also an opportunity to use a backup power supply to keep the water going to the system as well and that might involve a DC pump connected to a battery like a car battery, which is on a trickle charge with a cut over like a 12 volt DC backup system. So as the AC power regular power goes off it flicks to the DC and the second pump can pump into the system and start flowing water through and that way you won't have to worry about running out of water in the channels for the plants.
Should I get a kit or DIY NFT?
Depending on your level of do-it-yourselfness you can either buy a NFT kit off the shelf ready to go - where a lot of the issues of getting the right flow of water into the into the system choosing the right amount of fertilizer that goes into the system finding the growing media and the net pots that fit the system that's all taken care of- but if you do like tinkering or building your own things there are many different lengths you can get the NFT in.
You can cut them to size it's simple as on the flat Inlet caps you can drill holes in here to let the water come inside or you can have the water coming in from the top there's many different options for setting up NFT channels.
If you're not sure about how to set up an NFT system and you want something bigger than the NFT kits on offer feel free to book a consult with the team here at Aqua Gardening and with our knowledge we can take you through many different options that have worked for customers have worked for us in the past and give you all the like a quote and the how-to and the tips on how to make it work perfectly.
If you're interested or have any more questions about NFT feel free to hit us up on the regular chat channels and get in touch that way or check out our website for NFT kits and the parts and pieces that you might need to build your own one