The Nutrient Film Technique system (NFT) is considerably popular with gardeners because of its relatively simple design. And for some people, the NFT system is the easiest type of hydroponics. So, what are the nutrient film technique’s advantages and disadvantages?
Like any system, the nutrient film technique system has pros and cons, and here are the nutrient film technique’s advantages and disadvantages:
- Nutrient Film Technique Saves Water
- Nutrient Film Technique System Uses Fewer Materials
- Easy for Vertical Farming
- Help Avoids Salt Build Up
- Adaptable to Different Spaces and Plant Requirements
- NFT System is Efficient
- Constant Flow of Water
- Constant Flow Reduces Fungal Risk
- NFT System Can be Energy Efficient and Environmentally Friendly
- Low Cost and Maintenance Requirements
- Relatively Cheap
- Easy to Examine Roots For a Sign of Disease
- Easy to Disinfect Roots And Setup
- Nutrient Film Technique May Not be Beginner-Friendly
- NFT Can Be Fragile
- Plant Roots Can Clog The Channels
- Water Temperature Fluctuations
- Sensitive Pump failure
- NFT is Often Considered An Active System
- Possibilities of Plants to Grow
Read on to find out in detail what is the nutrient film technique system, how it works, and all the nutrient film technique advantages and disadvantages.
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What is Nutrient Film Technique
The Nutrient Film Technique system, also known as the NFT system, uses a pump to deliver fertilized water to the grow tray and a drain pipe to recycle the unused nutrient solution. It is comparable to the ebb and flow system, which utilizes a pump to transfer nutrients in a continuous, constant flow. However, the difference with the NFT system is that the solution flows directly over the roots.
Also, the nutrient film technique is the most popular hydroponic system used today. For example, plenty and Bowery, two of the largest hydroponic farms in the United States, mainly use nutrient film techniques to grow spinach, lettuce, and other leafy greens.
The Nutrient Film Technique system is also considered active because it contains moving parts. In contrast, passive systems like wick systems have moving parts, and the simplest type of hydroponic systems use a cotton wick to move the water. The wick system is usually used for teaching purposes or as a simple do-it-yourself method for home gardeners.
The NFT systems are well suited for and generally used for growing smaller quick-growing plants like different types of lettuce. Also, some commercial growers produce various kinds of herbs and baby greens using N.F.T. systems and growing lettuce.
Generally, gardeners use NFT systems to grow plants without much support, such as lettuce, herbs, and baby greens.
How Does Nutrient Film Technique Work?
The Nutrient Film Technique system uses the most basic hydroponics method to produce a consistently outstanding harvest. A shallow stream (film) of water full of balanced nutrients is recirculated continuously through a channel or a series of canals. Then, you immerse the roots of the plants directly in the nutrient solution, equipped with a continuous dose of all the nutrients they need to flourish.
It is relatively simple to operate a hydroponic N.F.T. system. First, the nutrient solution is pumped up from the reservoir, usually to a manifold that connects the larger tubing to several smaller ones. Each of these smaller tubes runs a nutrient solution from one side of each growing channel to the other, passing by each plant and moistening the roots on the bottom of the channel. The nutrient solution moves from one side to the other because the channel is sloped lightly to flow downhill.
While you can design an N.F.T. system in various ways, they all have the same characteristic in common: a very shallow nutrient (film) solution cascading down through the tubing. And your plants’ roots reach and absorb the nutrients.
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Always remember that the nutrient film technique is active because it requires moving parts to work. However, they are similar to the ebb and flow in that the systems use a pump to deliver fertilized water directly to the plant’s roots and a drain pipe to recycle the unused nutrient solution.
The main difference is that, with the NFT system, the nutrient solution continuously flows through the roots rather than being filled and completely drained.
A well-designed NFT system uses the proper channel slope, flow rate, and length. Although practically any gardener can set up an NFT system, you should carefully consider the size and shape of the trays or gutters, the pump size and location, the nutrient regimen, and the specific crop.
Here is Everything You Need to Build an NFT System
- Reservoir, a container to hold the nutrient solution
- Submersible Pump
- Tubing for the submersible pump to distribute water from the pump to the N.F.T. growing tubes.
- Grow trays or channels for the plants to grow in (also called a gully/channel)
- Small baskets or starter cubes and growing media to begin seedlings in
- Return system (tubing, channels) to manage the used nutrient solution back to the reservoir.
- Starter cubes, or small baskets and growing media to begin seedlings
The nutrient film technique system uses shallow tubes that are slightly angled so that the pump propels the nutrient solution to the higher part of the system. The nutrient solution slowly moves by gravity to the lower portion.
A tube system with holes bored for the plants is utilized instead of trays because this method is easier to angle for proper flow over the roots.
Most gardeners plant directly through the holes; however, it is okay to use net pots. In addition, most gardeners don’t use any planting medium, such as potting soil with the nutrient film system. Instead, the roots fall through the net directly into the nutrient solution.
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The nutrient solution does not thoroughly soak the roots. The film prevents the entire root from submerging, so the upper part of the roots remains dry.
When applying the nutrient film technique, it is essential not to grow heavy plants that need a lot of support because the roots are not in a medium that can support the weight of a heavy plant. Instead, it is necessary to use a self-standing trellis to support plants with heavy fruits such as tomatoes.
The NFT system works by providing a slow, steady stream of nutrient-rich water directly to the plants’ roots. And the water circulates by using a mixture of pumping and gravity draining.
To create a film of nutrient solution, you can use a pump to deliver nutrients from a reservoir to the tray or gutter placed at the highest point in the system.
Nutrient Film Technique Advantages And Disadvantages
Like any hydroponics system, the NFT system also has pros and cons. And here are the main nutrient film techniques’ advantages and disadvantages.
The Advantages of NFT Systems
The hydroponic system has various advantages, and the Nutrient Film Technique system has some added benefits.
1- Nutrient Film Technique Saves Water
An NFT system is a recirculating method, which means the reservoir’s water is captured and reused.
Since it collects and reuses water, you will need significantly less than systems that use new water every time.
2- Nutrient Film Technique System Uses Fewer Materials
Most hydroponic systems require you to use a growing medium to support your plant’s stem and roots. However, NFT systems don’t usually require a growing medium, making it less expensive to set up and maintain.
Also, because the NFT system uses very little water, you will not consume your nutrient solution as fast, which will help you save money on it.
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3- Easy for Vertical Farming
Because of weight or size, not all hydroponic systems are suited for vertical farming. Fortunately, NFT systems are deep enough to contain plant roots, and water is also sufficiently thin to build upward quickly.
Consequently, saving space and growing more per square foot is easy with an NFT system.
4- Help Avoids Salt Build Up
Most nutrient solutions use salt-based minerals, and the unabsorbed nutrients will be left behind and built up in the long run. So, as the salt builds up, it can interfere with the nutrient solution causing obstacles for your plants.
However, NFT systems constantly run water through the system, so the salt cannot accumulate in any one spot for too long.
5- Adaptable to Different Spaces and Plant Requirements
NFT systems are effortlessly customizable to any shape or style of garden, meaning the sky’s the limit for room and lighting configurations.
6- NFT System is Efficient
Other advantages of NFT systems include their efficiency of nutrient delivery, continuously available nutrition, and automated circulation and aeration of the nutrient solution.
The idea behind an NFT system is that you can supply your plant’s roots with a continuous flow of nutrient solution through a set of trays or gutters.
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7- Constant Flow of Water
The continuous flow of water in the system helps prevent solids’ buildup on the roots and ensures that nutrient-rich water is always available for the plant, increasing its growth and health.
8- Constant Flow Reduces Fungal Risk
The continuous movement of water helps decrease the risk of fungal growth and keeps your plants healthy.
9- NFT System Can be Energy Efficient and Environmentally Friendly
Some people find the NFT system to be energy efficient and environmentally friendly. However, it all depends on how your NFT system is set up.
An NFT system is environmentally friendly and minimizes the risk of contamination, meaning you can quickly inspect roots for a sign of disease
10- Low Cost and Maintenance Requirements
Gardeners use the nutrient film technique because it is relatively low cost and has fewer maintenance requirements than other methods.
An NFT system repeatedly recycles rich nutrient solutions, which means there is little to no wastage.
11- Relatively Cheap
NFT is easy to build and maintain. You can reasonably make an excellent nutrient film technique system.
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12- Easy to Examine Roots For a Sign of Disease
The absence of a medium makes it easy to investigate roots for signs of disease and feed adequacy.
Plant roots can preserve a uniform PH and conductivity thanks to constant feeding and associated flushing, preventing localized salt build-up.
13- Easy to Disinfect Roots And Setup
Easy to disinfect roots and setup and easy to see root quality and healthy consistent flow prevents salt buildup.
Disadvantages of NFT Systems
Even though the Nutrient Film Technique system has its positive sides, it also has a few disadvantages. Here are a few cons of NFT Systems.
14- Nutrient Film Technique May Not be Beginner-Friendly
NFT is a standard hydroponics growing technique adapted to aquaponics. This method becomes popular because of its relatively easy setup; however, there are some issues gardeners may face, as with any system.
Compared to soil gardening, the nutrient film technique is considerably more complex.
15- NFT Can Be Fragile
Power cuts or power surge issues could quickly damage your entire crop. You must always keep a close eye on an NFT system and have a backup plan.
If the flow of nutrients stops, the roots will dry out and become stressed quickly, and a pump failure can cause the death of crops in a few hours, particularly in hot weather.
Not suitable to grow plants with extensive tap-root methods like carrots because the channels can become obstructed by the roots of vigorous-growing plants.
16- Plant Roots Can Clog The Channels
Roots hanging in the water are excellent for the plants’ health. But, as the plants grow, bigger roots can block the channels, blocking the water from reaching the rest of the plants, which may potentially cause nutrient deficiency for the plants.
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17- Water Temperature Fluctuations
The water pumped through the channels can quickly cool down or heat because the film of water running through the NFT channels is very thin, making it subject to temperature fluctuations.
18- Sensitive Pump failure
An NFT system is very sensitive to pump failure and power outages because the roots will quickly dry out when the flow of nutrient solution is interrupted.
If the pump fails, the plants cannot access the water and wilt or die rapidly. To prevent this type of situation, try to regularly check your pumps and filters and install a water sensor to notify you if your plants are getting too dry.
19- NFT is Often Considered An Active System
NFT is often considered an active system because it contains moving parts. When using an NFT, it is essential not to grow small plants that don’t require much support because the roots are not in a medium that can support the weight of a heavy plant.
It is also essential to use a self-standing trellis to support plants with heavy fruits such as tomatoes.
20- Incompatible With Growing Larger Plants With Large Root Systems
NFT systems are generally used for growing plants that do not require much support and are lightweight, fast-growing plants that can be harvested quickly, such as lettuce, herbs, and baby greens.
Leafy greens and small vegetable plants do well; however, larger plants with large root systems, like carrots, are unsuitable for the NFT system.
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How Much Water Should Be in an NFT System?
One of the questions beginners to the N.F.T. system ask is how much water should be in an N.F.T. System, how fast the water should be flowing and how deep the water should be.
The general recommendation flow rate for an N.F.T. system is 1 liter (0.26 gallon) per minute with an upper limit of 2 liters (0.53 gallon) per minute. And the channel length should not exceed 10-15 meters.
Flow rates much higher or lower can sometimes cause nutrient deficiencies. Also, tubes (channel/gully) longer than 30 to 40 feet (10 to 15 meters) can cause nutrient deficiencies. You can prevent this issue by having a second nutrient feed. And remember that the channel’s slope controls how fast the water goes through the tube or channel.
The general recommendation for a slope when designing an N.F.T. system is typically 1:100. Still, you can also use 1:30 and 1:40. So for every 30 to 40 inches (76.2 to 101.6 cm) of horizontal length, one inch (2.54 cm) of drop (slope) is suggested.
Experts recommend designing your N.F.T. systems to adjust the slope while the plants are still growing because as the root systems get bigger, they may cause it to pool and dam up the water flow. If it is adjustable, you can tilt it more to counterbalance if needed.
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The Nutrient film technique (NFT) system is a highly easy-to-set-up system, operates and ideal for growing fast-growing plants that you can harvest in a few weeks.
You can grow various leaves with an NFT system, bibb and Romaine lettuces, spinach, mustard greens, kales, many oriental vegetables, and herbs.
As you can see the nutrient film technique advantages and disadvantages are numerous. For example, you can use this system for quick results and then plant new seedlings for future harvests to feed your family, your community and enjoy the benefits of hydroponics.