How to Make an NFT Hydroponic System9 min read

Want faster harvests and healthier plants? NFT hydroponics delivers. This water-based growing method leaves traditional soil-based gardening in the dust. By continuously supplying roots with oxygenated, nutrient-rich water, NFT systems promote rapid growth and robust plant health – all with less risk of soil-borne diseases.

Forget struggling with unpredictable soil conditions or battling pests and diseases.  With NFT hydroponics, you control the exact nutrients and environment your plants receive. This precision leads to healthier, more vigorous plants that reach their full potential much faster than their soil-grown counterparts.

Get ready to enjoy your homegrown bounty sooner. Whether you’re craving fresh leafy greens, juicy herbs, or even plump tomatoes, an NFT hydroponic system can accelerate your harvest timetable. Experience the satisfaction of growing your own food with incredible speed and efficiency. 


What is NFT Hydroponics? 

Okay, let’s ditch the technical jargon for a moment. Forget about soil – NFT hydroponics is all about growing plants with their roots hanging out in a super-charged, flowing stream of water.  Picture it like a little plant spa!

NFT stands for Nutrient Film Technique.  The “nutrient film” is a thin layer of water packed with all the good stuff your plants crave.  This nutrient-rich water constantly circulates through channels where your plants are nestled.  Their roots get a continuous supply of food, water, and even air – it’s the perfect environment for them to flourish.


  • Water-wise: NFT systems are like water-saving superheroes. They reuse the nutrient solution, so you won’t be wasting buckets of water like with traditional gardening.

  • Space Savers: Think vertical! NFT systems let you grow upwards, so you can cram more happy plants into smaller spaces.

  • Speedy Growers: Get ready for those harvest scissors! Plants in NFT systems often grow way faster because they’re basically on a superfood drip all the time.

  • Healthy Roots, Happy Plants: Because roots aren’t stuck in soggy soil, they’re less likely to get sick, meaning healthier, stronger plants overall.


Gather Your Gear:  Materials & Tools for Your NFT System 

Building your own NFT hydroponic setup might sound fancy, but don’t worry, you won’t need a spaceship engineering degree. Here’s the basic gear you’ll need:


  • Channels or Pipes:  PVC pipes are a popular choice, but you can get creative with rain gutters or specialized grow channels. The important part is that they create a path for the nutrient water to flow.

  • Reservoir: Think of this as the home base for your nutrient solution. A simple plastic tub or storage container will do the trick.

  • Water Pump: This is the heart of your system, pumping the nutrient water up to your plants. Look for a submersible pump suitable for your reservoir size.

  • Tubing/Hoses:  These are the water highways connecting your pump to the growing channels.

  • Net Pots: These little baskets hold your plants and let their roots dip into the nutrient flow.

  • Grow Media: Forget soil! You’ll need something to support your plants in the net pots – rockwool cubes or clay pebbles are common choices.

  • Hydroponic Nutrients:  This is the special plant food, formulated for water-based growing.


  • Drill or Hole Saw: You’ll need this to make holes in your channels for the net pots.

  • PVC Cutters (if using PVC): Makes cutting your pipes to size a breeze.

  • Measuring Tape:  Planning is key! Measure to make sure everything fits.

  • Level: Getting the right angle for water flow is important.

  • pH Meter and EC Meter: These little gadgets help you keep your nutrient solution perfectly balanced for happy plants.

Note: This is a basic list. You may need additional connectors, supports, etc., depending on the exact design of your system.


Building Your NFT Hydroponics System – A Detailed Guide

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty! While there’s room for customization, here’s a detailed breakdown to give you a solid starting point:

  1. Design and Channel Prep:

    • Size: For a beginner setup, consider channels around 4 feet long. This gives you space for several plants without being overwhelming.

    • Net Pot Spacing:  Leafy greens like lettuce can be spaced around 6-8 inches apart, while larger plants like tomatoes might need 12-18 inches.

    • Hole Size:  Match your hole saw or drill bit to the size of your net pots. Common net pot sizes are 2 inches or 3 inches in diameter.

  1. Build the Support Structure:

    • Angle: Aim for a 1-2% slope in your channels. This means for every 4 feet of length, the high end should be about 0.5 – 1 inch higher than the low end where the water returns to the reservoir.

    • Sturdiness:  Whether you use wood, PVC, or metal, make sure your stand can securely hold the channels and a full reservoir of water.

  1. Set Up the Water System:

    • Reservoir Size: A 10-gallon plastic tote works well for a small system. Larger systems will need a bigger reservoir.

    • Pump Power: Look for a submersible pump rated in gallons per hour (GPH). For a small setup, a pump that moves 100-200 GPH should be sufficient.

    • Tubing:  Flexible tubing (1/2 inch diameter is common) makes connecting everything easier.

  1. Prep Your Plants:

    • Start Small: If you’re new to hydroponics, seedlings are a good bet. Lettuce, herbs, and other leafy greens are NFT superstars.

    • Grow Media:  Rinse rockwool cubes or clay pebbles before use to remove dust. Gently tuck them around the plant’s roots in the net pot to provide support.

  1. Mix Nutrients & Test:

    • Follow Instructions:  Hydroponic nutrients come with specific dosing. Start with a slightly weaker solution for young plants.

    • Test: Use your pH and EC meters to fine-tune your nutrient solution. Optimal ranges vary by plant type, so do a little research on what your chosen plants prefer.

    • Water Check: Before adding plants, run your system for a few hours with plain water.  Fix any leaks, adjust the flow rate, and make sure the water reaches the end of the channels.

Remember: There’s lots of flexibility with NFT systems! As you gain experience, you can experiment with different channel lengths, vertical stacking, and more elaborate designs.



Maintaining Your NFT Hydroponics System – A Detailed Look 

  • Nutrient Solution Monitoring:

    • pH:

      • Ideal Range:  Aim for a pH between 5.5 and 6.5 for most hydroponic plants. This slightly acidic environment helps maximize nutrient availability.

      • Adjustment: Use pH up or pH down solutions specifically designed for hydroponics to make corrections. Adjust in small increments and re-test.

    • EC (Electrical Conductivity):

      • Measuring Nutrient Strength:  EC gives an idea of the overall concentration of nutrients in your solution.  Optimal EC ranges vary greatly by plant type and growth stage.

      • Adjustment: When your EC gets too low, you’ll usually top up with a balanced hydroponic nutrient solution.  If it gets too high, you may need to dilute with plain water.

    • Water Levels:

      • Evaporation: Depending on temperature and humidity, some water evaporation is normal.  Top off as needed.

      • Plant Usage: As your plants grow larger, they’ll drink more. Keep an eye on your reservoir level, especially during hot weather.

      • Full Solution Change: Aim to completely empty, clean, and refill your reservoir with fresh nutrient solution every 1-2 weeks.

  • Lighting Requirements:

    • Duration: Most vegetables thrive with 14-18 hours of light per day. A simple timer for your lights makes this easy.

    • Type:

      • Natural Sunlight: If possible, placing your system near a bright window can work. However, supplemental lighting is often needed, especially during shorter winter days.

      • Grow Lights: Invest in LED or fluorescent grow lights designed for plants.  Look for terms like “full spectrum.”

  • Plant Health Vigilance:

    • Observation is Key: Regularly inspect your plants for signs of nutrient deficiency (yellowing, stunted growth), pests (tiny bugs, chewed leaves), or diseases (spots, molds).

    • Root Check: Occasionally lift a plant out of its net pot. Healthy roots should be white or light brown and have a slightly fuzzy appearance.  Slimy, dark, or foul-smelling roots indicate trouble.

 Tips for Success with NFT Hydroponics (Expanded) 

  • Plant Selection:

    • Fast Growers: Leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, and kale excel in NFT systems.

    • Herbs: Basil, mint, chives, and many other herbs flourish in hydroponics.

    • Compact Fruiting Plants:  Bush-type tomatoes, peppers, and even strawberries can produce well in NFT setups.

  • Water Quality:

    • Filtered or Reverse Osmosis: If your tap water has high mineral content or chlorine, consider using filtered or reverse osmosis water for a cleaner start to your nutrient solution.

  • Air Circulation:

    • Prevent Stagnation: A small fan near your system provides gentle airflow around the plant roots, promoting oxygen uptake and helping to prevent issues like root rot.

  • Cleanliness:

    • Prevent Buildup: Regularly clean your reservoir and consider occasionally flushing your channels with plain water to remove any nutrient salt buildup.

 Embrace the Future of Gardening 

NFT hydroponics offers a thrilling way to grow your own food with impressive efficiency and control.  While it might seem a bit technical at first, the basic concepts are easy to grasp, and the rewards are immense. Whether you’re yearning for fresher food, looking for a space-saving gardening solution, or simply drawn to the innovation of it all, NFT hydroponics opens up a world of possibilities.

Ready to dive in?  Start with a small system, experiment with different plants, and don’t be afraid to learn as you grow. Before you know it, you’ll be harvesting delicious, homegrown produce from your very own high-tech hydroponic garden.

Additional Tips:

  • Find a Community:  Connect with other hydroponic enthusiasts online or in your area for support and inspiration.

  • Don’t Give Up:  Like any gardening method, there might be a learning curve.  Keep experimenting and adjusting!

  • Have Fun!  Growing with NFT should be an enjoyable adventure.


FAQ: Your NFT Hydroponics Questions Answered 

  • Is NFT hydroponics difficult for beginners? NFT systems are surprisingly beginner-friendly! As long as you follow the basic guidelines, you can build a simple and successful system. There are plenty of online resources and pre-made kits to help you get started.

  • What are the best plants to grow in an NFT system? Leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, kale), herbs (basil, mint, cilantro), and even some fruiting plants (strawberries, compact tomatoes) thrive in NFT systems. Choose plants that enjoy constant moisture around their roots.

  • Do I need expensive equipment? You can certainly invest in high-end gear, but it’s not necessary to get started. Many NFT systems are built with affordable PVC pipes, simple pumps, and readily available hydroponic nutrients.

  • How often do I need to change the nutrient solution? While it’s important to top off the water level regularly, a full change of the nutrient solution is usually done every 1-2 weeks. This ensures your plants have a fresh supply of nutrients and helps prevent imbalances.

  • Can I grow organic produce in an NFT system? Yes! There are organic hydroponic nutrients available.  However, obtaining a traditional “organic” certification for hydroponically grown produce can be complex, so check your local regulations.

  • Where can I learn more about NFT hydroponics? There are loads of fantastic resources online! Search for blogs, YouTube channels, and communities dedicated to hydroponic gardening. Your local library or gardening center might also have books or workshops.


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