Hydroponics is one of the revolutionary planting methods that doesn’t require soil as a growing media. These soilless systems help plants grow by removing the barrier between the plant and its nutrients, providing the roots with direct access to water, oxygen, and nutrients it needs to grow. The system itself might take a bit more effort to set up rather than the regular planting straight onto the soil method, but the no soil aspect of this method means that it eliminates the need for harmful pesticides or chemicals.
Each type of hydroponics system works differently. But each uses a nutrient-rich solution with a water base to supply the plants with nutrients while its roots are supported by substances such as peat moss, clay pellets, coconut coir, sand, gravel, and sawdust. Depending on space availability and type of plants, there are six types of hydroponics systems to choose from.
Definition of NFT
One system that is quite beneficial for leafy plants is the NFT system. The NFT system stands for Nutrient Film Technique. This system uses a long sloped tray that allows a very shallow stream of water that contains nutrients needed for plant growth to recirculate past the plant roots. The shallow stream of water is where this technique gets its name. The “film” of water will continuously flow through the closed canals where the plant is and supply the roots with nutrients without the risk of the water drowning the roots.
This system uses a separate container or reservoir to place the nutrient solution. Then using a pump, the solution flowed into the sloped canals that allow the excess nutrients to flow back into the reservoir. The process will start over again, providing the plant with nutrients.
Benefits of farming with NFT
The NFT system works best with plants with small roots and doesn’t need a lot of support like leafy greens, lettuce, bok choy, and spinach. It can still be used for fruiting plants like tomatoes and cucumbers, it just requires more support structure to set up. But overall, this technique is very beneficial for commercial use or home growers due to its low cost and maintenance requirements. Here are the many other benefits of growing with an NFT system.
- Water efficient. As the water is pumped and drained back into the reservoir, this system requires less water than the other.
- Require less growing media. It is recommended to use a net pot with this system. The net pot allows some support to the plant while at the same time allowing the roots to be exposed to the flowing nutrients. With the use of a net pot and the type of plants with small roots, there are very little growing media needed.
- Easy to see root quality and health. With the setup of sloped canals, monitoring the health of the roots becomes easy. Because the roots don’t submerge in the nutrient solution, it also becomes easy to disinfect the roots and set up.
- Modular and expandable. It means that the system can be altered to allow for the growth of a large number at the same time.
How to grow crops with NFT
To start with, planting with an NFT system means setting up the system. It requires preparing the reservoir, the canals, and the water and air pump. The reservoir doesn’t have to be too big or deep. But make sure that the material of the reservoir is safe for gardening, especially if the reservoir is made of plastic and is being used outdoors under the sunlight.
The canals are usually available at hydroponics supply stores, but if it’s hard to find, then using PVC pipes with holes cut out of them is a popular alternative. However, the downside of using PVC pipes is that the round shape of the pipes makes it hard for the nutrient solution to hit the roots evenly and can cause growth problems. Another alternative is using a rain gutter pipe. This pipe has a flat bottom that allows the water to pass through the root evenly. Whichever one it is, try to ensure that it is long enough. A long canal ensures that each plant gets the same amount of nutrition and oxygen. Having a canal that is too short can mean that the plant near the water pump gets more oxygen and nutrients than the plant near the reservoir.
Now, setting up the system will require a frame to place the canals over the reservoir at a slope. The slope should be low enough for the water to flow through, but not too low that the water just passes through without it being absorbed by the plants. In this system, the seedling for the plants needs to be more established before it can be placed in the canals. This means planting the seed into a net pot with a little bit of growing media. After the roots grow down the side of the net pot, they then can be placed in holes of the canals.
Next is setting up the pump and air pump. Both pumps in this system are important in supplying the plant with nutrient solution and oxygen. The air pump, along with the air stone, will aerate the nutrient solution providing the plant with more oxygen. Make sure to keep an eye on the water pump to ensure a continuous supply of water to the plant. The downside of this system is that if the water pumps stop working, the plant will die within hours from the lack of water and nutrients.
After the system is up and running, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the fruit of your labor. Using this system may take a little bit more labor than the usual method of planting. But the biggest advantage of hydroponic planting is that it can be used all year round without much of an effect from weather and climates. Happy planting!
Written by: Safaanah