quick and easy ways to try your first hydroponic garden
NFS hydroponic systems : What are they and what do they grow best?
The Nutrient film technique or Nutrient film system, NFS hydroponic systems are the most widely used systems. These systems are perfect for growing all greens, herbs and smaller vegetables and fruits like peppers and strawberries
Commercial farms are using NFT systems to produce an ever increasing percentage of the world’s food needs. More and more indoor farms have been opening across the country. Forbes has a good article on the growing movement into indoor farming.
NFS systems are also widely used in home gardens both by do it yourself and systems available thru retail.
So what is NFS Hydroponics ?
In all versions of this technology the plant is grown in net cups which are placed in a tube or gutter above a steam of water nutrient solution. The water nutrient solution is pumped from a reservoir into the gutter. As it passes under the plants the roots will absorb what then need with the remaining water solution flowing back into the reservoir.
Going back to the basic plant needs:
These systems work beautifully to give a continuous flow of fresh water and nutrients. Since the net cups are suspended above the water flow not completely submerged, this allows for plenty of warm moist air at the roots.
These are my favorite system because they are easy to use and great for growing lots of vegetables. The basics of the system can be used with either tubes or as water tables.
The Pros of NFS Hydroponics include:
- easy access and control of water nutrient solution since the solution is in a central reservoir
- greens and herbs do very well
- Smaller fruits and vegetables do well ( see Cons to help you decide which)
- multi varies of plants can be grown on the same system
- plants can be harvested and replaced at different rates without effecting the system as a whole
- NFS systems make great use of space
The water nutrient reservoir can be anything including a fish tank making into an Aquaponic system without the central hardware changing
Aquaponic Table with plants getting nutrients from a home aquarium. Learn more about Aquaponics here
The Cons of NFS hydroponic systems for vegetables
- NFS hydroponic systems for vegetables be expensive to set up. The system will need a series of gutters and a structure to hold them, a water pump and a tub of some kind for a reservoir.
- The systems needs power. So not suitable for most off grid situations. If there is an extended power outage your plant may not survive. The Kratky method is far better if you don’t want to use power.
- It requires some maintenance. The water nutrient solution needs to be checked often to ensure proper mixture and temperature.
- The root size can be an issue. The system can deliver enough nutrients and air to grow truly anything. The problem is that large plants have large root systems. You have to find the right balance between the size of your tubes/water table and the potential size of the roots. If the tube is too big the roots can’t reach the water easily which will cause health issues for young plants. If the gutter is too small it will get clogged and the system will not function. Plants easily moved so this issue is not a huge problem.
Some thought for my experience
There good reason why this is the most widely used kind of hydroponic system. NFS is very flexible with size, spacing, design, variety of plants and can be used with a fish tank or pond. It can also be combined with a Dutch bucket system with both running off the same reservoir.
General guideline for sizing the water ways for your NFT hydroponic systems for vegetables
2” PVC is suitable for greens and most herbs. The plants can be only a couple of inches apart since they are not fighting for root space.
When you grow anything more than greens use a 3 or even 4″ PVC. You also need to leave about 12″ between plants and the last plant and the outlet/ drain end.
The worst thing is to come home to dead plants and a flooded area because the outlet was clogged with roots. When in doubt go bigger.
Make sure that the roots are long enough to just touch the water before you put seedlings into any system. The root does not need to be submerged… it will grow quickly. It just needs to touch. If you are growing in a large tube you can leaving the seedlings in a seed tray a few days longer to let the roots grow. Transferring plants in a hydroponic system is easy and doesn’t stress out the plants like soil transfer.
A final thought from my experience. If you design or purchase a system that the water outlet that is a bit off the bottom which will allow for a shallow amount of water to remain in the tube/table then you only have to run the pump for part of the day rather than continually. Much better and cheaper in my opinion
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