How the N.F.T Hydroponics System Works
A hydroponics system is a way to provide plants with water and nutrients without using soil. This can be achieved by suspending the roots or plant in a nutrient-rich, shallow liquid. Though hydroponic systems have been around for thousands of years, advancements in technology have made them much easier for anyone to use now.
One of the advancements has given rise to the NFT or Nutrient Film Technique hydroponics system. You can use them indoors or outdoors, making it easier to access fresh food all year round. Not only can you grow a variety of plants, including lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, and peppers, but it also makes it possible to grow other types of plants that don’t work in the soil.
The NFT hydroponics system works by using a nutrient-rich solution recirculated through the system and filtered before it goes back into the reservoir, where it can be reused over again. We will discuss its working in detail later, but before that, let us list all the components that make NFT hydroponics.
NFT Hydroponics System Components
The NFT system is extremely easy to set up and requires only basic tools and supplies.
- A container (or a reservoir) to hold the nutrient solution
- A submersible nutrient pump
- Tubes to transport nutrient solution from the nutrient pump to the growing tubes
- Channels (or gully) to grow plants
- Net pots to hold the plants and retain moisture
- Growing media to begin seedlings
- Tubing or channels (also known as return channel) to distribute the water used back to the reservoir.
Now let’s get an in-depth understanding of how an NFT hydroponics system helps the plants to grow.
NFT Hydroponics System: How does it work?
In general, the NFT hydroponics system comprises two main parts – the grow tube and the reservoir.
A long and flat channel acts as the grow tube. Some holes are drilled on the top side of the channel to place net cups with the seedlings growing in them. These net cups contain a growing medium such as coconut coir, perlite, or Rockwool. However, it is seen that many NFT growers do not use a growing medium.
In the absence of media, it is ensured that the roots of the plants reach the bottom of the channels where they can receive nutrients. The grow tube is placed on a bench or a rack. Then it is inclined at an angle to allow the excess of the solution to run to the return pipe. From here, it is sent back to the reservoir.
The reservoir houses a submersible pump. When the pump starts, the nutrient solution starts flowing from the larger tubing to various smaller tubes. These smaller tubes move the nutrient solution to one side of every growing channel.
After that, a thin layer of nutrient solution passes through the roots of the plants to provide them with the nutrients they need. As the growing channels are inclined, the solution moves from one side to the other, draining back to the reservoir.
The nutrient solution supplied is sufficient to wet the roots. The root mass imbibes the moisture from the roots and wicks up the moisture from the humidity inside the tube. It is enough until the subsequent flow. The surrounding air fulfills their oxygen requirement.
Note that there is no need for an automatic timer in an NFT system as the solution flows continuously. But one must be prepared with a backup in case a power outage happens.
That said, there are various ways of designing an NFT hydroponics system. You may choose any, but the basic functioning stays the same.
Furthermore, there are a few essentials that help in running your NFT system optimally. Let us throw light on them.
What Makes an NFT Hydroponics System a Success?
In an NFT, the slope of the growing tube, the correct flow rate, the channel length, and the tank size make all the difference.
The flow rate is how the nutrient solution is passed through the growing tube to feed the plants.
Experts suggest that an ideal flow rate in an NFT hydroponics system for an individual channel or gully is ¼ gallon or 1 litre per minute. It can be half of this limit when the plants are in the seedling stage and can be increased gradually as the plant grows bigger.
Flow rates higher and lower than the recommended rate are found to cause nutritional deficiencies in the plant. However, these deficiencies could be due to longer growing tubes (grow tubes exceeding 12 meters).
Channel or Grow Tube Length
As a norm, the length should not go beyond 12-15 meters. If it seems impossible, one can eliminate the consequences by installing a second feed line halfway through the first growing tube.
A slope of 1:1000 is recommended for the slopes. However, it is practically difficult to build such a slope as the risk of ponding looms large. Therefore, it should be maintained between 1:30 to 1:40.
Hence, design your NFT in a manner that helps to adjust the slope while the plants are growing. This is found helpful in the later stages of plant growth when the roots become longer. At this stage, they may cause pooling and hinder the normal flow of the nutrient solution.
Tip: It is seen that for a slope of 1:40, the channel length should not be more than 12 m.
In hydro farming, pH fluctuations and oxygen depletion can have adverse effects on the plant’s health. The environmental factors too may play a role in the nutritional requirements of the growing plants.
In addition, a drop in the humidity level from 60 to 80 percent can increase the moisture demand suddenly. One should keep factors in mind while choosing a reservoir.
Tips to receive the most from your NFT system
- Maintain the nutrient solution temperature between 18°C and 20°C.
- Avoid algal growth by blocking any light from reaching the roots.
- Use short trays so that the plants at the end of the channel also receive enough nutrients.
The NFT system is similar to the ebb and flow system. But the difference lies in the constant flow of the nutrients and that only a thin flow of nutrients is allowed through the tube. But the NFT is affordable and provides a higher yield making it perfect for commercial setups. So, go for the hydroponics system, if you think it works for you!