How to set up an NFT System (NFT System Guide 2022)

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It is the dream of every homeowner to have a gorgeous garden at home. If you have decided on a soilless garden (hydroponic gardening), the nutrient film technique system (NFT) is a popular option. This NFT system guide will help you set up this simple but effective design.

Setting up an NFT System involves a Grow Tray for plants and nutrients; it’s connected to a Reservoir with a Nutrient Pump and Pipe that connects it to the Channel Shape, the correct degree of Slope, and the Right Length. Flow Rate per minute must be valid for the Tank Capacity and the amount of nutrient solution each plant can hold.

There are various hydroponic systems you can purchase or build. However, there isn’t one that looks more impressive or elaborate as an NFT system. An NFT setup may look complicated, but it is flexible, straightforward, and efficient.

An NFT system is easy to set up and maintain. There are, however, factors to consider to have a successful strategy.

How to set up an NFT System

An NFT system has two main components: the channel or grows tray and the reservoir for the water and nutrients.

• The Grow Tray

The grow tray or channel contains the growing media that holds the plants and extra nutrients from the nutrient solution.

Most growers using the NFT system do not use growing media because the roots get enough nutrients, oxygen, and moisture from the system.

Growers use slightly downward channels or tubes and not flat trays to make it easy to set the grow tray at the correct angle. PVC pipes are often used because they have holes in which to fit the net pots and seedlings.

PVC pipes, however, will not evenly coat the roots of your plants. The plant roots in the middle of the pipe will get more of the nutrient solution, while the plant roots that are almost at the edges of the pipe will only get some of the solutions.

A flat-bottomed channel will allow all roots equal access to the nutrient solution.

• The Reservoir

The grow reservoir should join the grow tray which should be connected to a nutrient pump on the high end and a nutrient return pipe on the low end.

An air stone (inside the reservoir) is connected to an air pump (outside the reservoir) for water oxygenation.

The reservoir contains the nutrient solution because the NFT is a recirculating system.

The size of the reservoir is dependent on the number of plants you plan to grow. A 5-gallon reservoir can develop a system of up to 50 plants.

Take these factors into consideration when setting up your NFT system:

• Channel Shape

The cross-section shape of the channel should allow the nutrient solution to flow to a flat profile.

The width of the channel should be able to accommodate the root mat size of the mature crop you are growing in the channel.

Short-term crops such as herbs and lettuce should grow in channels that are at least 4 inches wide.

Long-term but small plants such as strawberries grow in 6-inch wide channels. Tomatoes and other long-term crops should grow in 8-inch wide channels.

• Channel Slope

The minimum Channel Slope should be 1 in 75 down the channel

• Channel Length

The Length of the Channel interacts with the Slope. A one-in forty Slope should have a maximum length of 49 feet.

If the Slope is flatter, the maximum length should only be 20 feet.

• Flow

The recommended flow rate is up to 2 liters per minute per channel of tomatoes and other large plants. For smaller plants, 0.5 liters per minute per channel is the best.

You will need a higher flow rate if you have steeper slopes.

• Tank Capacity

The capacity of your tank determines the amount of nutrient solution each plant can hold. If every plant in the NFT system contains a smaller volume of the nutrient solution, the system will tend to be unstable.

Smaller plants will need about 0.5 liters per plant, and larger plants will need about 2 liters per plant.

You will need these materials to set up an NFT system:

PVC pipe, 4-inch
PVC end caps, two pieces
Plastic tote, 5 gallons
Net cups, 3-inch
Poly tubing, ½-inch
Water pump
A scrap of wood, 2” x 4”

How to set up an NFT System:

1. Prepare your channel by cutting the 4-inch PVC pipe to the correct size. You
can choose the length of your pipeline up to around 30 feet.

2. Get hold of one of the end caps and drill a ½-inch hole.

3. Cut or drill some 3-inch holes in the top portion of your PVC pipe. The holes should be about 8 inches apart. This is where you will plant your plants.

4. On the bottom of your PVC pipe and opposite the holes you just cut, drill a ½- inch hole.

5. Attach the end caps to both ends of the PVC pipe.

6. Drill 2-inch holes (2 holes) into the lid of your plastic tote. One hole on the right and the other on the left. Position the water pump inside the tote.

7. Cut 6 inches from your scrap of wood. You will need two 6-inch sections. One wood section should be slightly shorter than the other. Cut a V-like groove into each section of wood to keep the PVC pipe in place.

8. Decide where to place your NFT channel. It can be on a bench, table, or plastic tote. Place the PVC pipe on top of the two pieces of wood.

The shorter piece of wood must be on the end of the drain so water will flow to the drain. Make sure, too, that the PVC pipes are secure in the grooves.

9. Cut the poly tubing to a length where you can connect the pump to the end cap hole. Connect one end of the tube to the end cap.

The other end should be connected to one of the holes of your reservoir lid and attach to your water pump.

10. Cut a small portion of the ½-inch poly tubing. Use the poly tubing to connect the hole on the bottom of your PVC pipe to the hole on your plastic tote’s lid.

11. Place your seedlings on the net cups. Position your net cups into the holes of the
PVC pipe.

12. Add in the nutrient solution.

Your NFT system setup is now complete. Turn on your pump and watch your plants grow!

What is an NFT System?

The nutrient film technique (NFT) system is one of the methods used in hydroponic growing.

NFT is a recirculating hydroponic system because it uses a constant stream of nutrient solution for plant nourishment.

The nutrient film technique is similar to slow-flowing irrigation, where plants get nutrients in the system. Water is slowly pumped into a flat channel allowing the continuous presence of a thin film of nutrients for plants.

The NFT system is not too deep, so the top half of the plants remain dry and absorb oxygen. It is, however, deep enough to allow the roots to be constantly submerged in water.

How an NFT System Works

The main concept of an NFT system revolves around a thin film of liquid that runs through the system. The roots absorb all the nutrients they need when they touch the film.

A balance between the right amount of nutrients, oxygen, and water flow in the system produces impressive yields with less effort.

Here’s how it works:

An NFT system has slightly inclined channels that allow the nutrients to flow into a thin film at the bottom of the channel.

A water pump pushes the nutrient solution to the highest point, and gravity pulls the nutrient solution along.

The solution then naturally flows back to the reservoir without any assistance.

In this system, the roots of the plants are bathed in the film. The plants are still exposed to the air to allow the maximum intake of oxygen. The plants can absorb as much water and nutrients as they require.

The water level flowing through the channel must be at a bare minimum so the roots can still absorb oxygen. The space inside the channel is what makes the system successful.

The most vital technique in setting up an NFT system is to have the correct Length and Slope of the channel, as well as the correct flow rate.

Why would you like to Use the NFT System?

There are many advantages to using the nutrient film technique system in your hydroponics garden:

It has a simple and basic setup.

It is cheap to set up and maintain.

It requires minimal maintenance.

It is suitable even if you have limited space.

You can precisely control the level of nutrients your plants can absorb.

It ensures a continuous flow of nutrients to your plants.

The continuous flow of nutrients keeps the pH Levels stable.

The build-up of minerals and salt is not a problem because of the continuous flow of water.

It does not need any growing medium.

The system reuses water and nutrients, making it environment-friendly and highly efficient.

The plants stay aerated because of the constant flow of water.

More importantly, the NFT system allows you to quickly check on the roots of your plants to make sure they are growing healthy and strong.

What Plants Will Grow Best in an NFT System?

Your NFT system is a hydroponic gardening method so that you can grow almost anything in it. Some plants will, however, grow better than others. It will also be more convenient and efficient to produce particular kinds of plants.

Most growers use the NFT system to grow quick-growing, smaller, and lightweight plants such as leafy green plants, including different types of lettuce, broccoli, spinach, kale, bokchoy, and some varieties of herbs.

These plants can thrive with constant irrigation.

Commercial growers also use the NFT system to grow strawberries and herbs baby greens.

The NFT system is not suitable for larger plants because of their weight and the many roots they will grow. Fruiting plants such as tomatoes, cucumber plants, and peppers are better off with little water supply.

Larger plants are not also suitable to the NFT system because of the absence of growing media except in certain instances where a small piece of Rockwool is present.

If you want to grow tomatoes or other heavy fruits in your NFT system, you will need to build a trellis for support when the plants grow.

Final Thoughts

The above NFT system is only one specific design. You can modify it to build an NFT system appropriate for your growing area.

Some growers have their NFT system flat against a wall instead or in rows of multiple levels with a separate pump for each channel.

Building an NFT system does not take much time and effort but produces excellent results for your plants. Once your seeds are transplanted, you are assured of high yields.

If you are not up to building your own, you can buy a ready-made NFT system. It will cost more, though.

Setting up an NFT system is not only easy but is fun and can give you a sense of pride, too.

Besides, this NFT Guide shows an easy-to-follow procedure on how to set up an NFT system.

Jenny Marie
Tribal Writer

Edited By
Patricia Godwin

Patricia Godwin

Patricia has many years of experience as a content writer on various subjects, but her first love is gardening. She’s never met a plant she didn’t like and, consequently, she writes about every type of plant you can think of. Once an avid gardener with a herb garden, a succulent rockery, and a rose garden – to mention a few. Nowadays, she’s constantly on the move searching for interesting plants to bring to your attention; and explain to you all the details you need to grow, care and maintain these plants.

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