Establishing plants in a nutrient film technique (NFT) hydroponic system has many advantages and will create faster rooting transitions, eliminating the need to transplant. This effectively reduces the overall time needed to grow your crop and increases overall production. By spending time learning these methods, you will be on your way to maximizing yields and overall production in your modern farm.

Room Prep

A proper room should be prepared according to the outcome you desire. If you’re just in there having fun or for personal produce, maybe you’re not worried about the mess on the floor or being super clean. However, if you want laboratory-like cleanliness and organization, you should plan accordingly and prepare the room with proper modern farming equipment.

Line the walls with plastic sheeting products that have black on one side and white on the other. These products come in large rolls and are easy to install. They brighten the room and make the garden an easily controlled environment to work in. The white walls also make it much easier to keep the room clean day-to-day and over the long term.

As for equipment, consider having cloning tools and propagation equipment, grow media, various environmental controls, nutrients, water-quality devices, grow systems, proper ventilation, and more. Also, be sure to also research flowering tools and enhancers, harvesting tools and equipment, as well as processing and post-harvest gear. These room prep products, among others, are available at most grow shops or from garden supply companies. Just search around your local areas or online for hydroponic or modern growing equipment.

NFT System Preparation

While researching different types of grow systems, consider NFT systems. They are generally easy to use and maintain. More importantly, plants grown in NFT systems generally thrive due to their constant access to oxygen-enriched solution and fresh nutrients. They can uptake nutrients and water freely with little or no stress. The water and air pumps are left on 24/7.

The power in NFT hydroponic systems is their ability to provide plants with a consistent delivery of everything they need to thrive. In an NFT system, a thin film of nutrients and water provides just what the taproots need, and the nutrient- and oxygen-rich root chamber maintains the perfect humid environment for the upper aerated roots that spider web out from each plant’s root ball.
After buying the complete grow kit or parts to design your own NFT hydroponic grow system, set it up on a level surface. Be sure the angle of your NFT system allows for proper drainage and minimal pooling (“film” is a key word here). It is not good to have water sitting stagnant or pooling up deeper on one side. Proper drainage is somewhat precise, so spend the time to do it right.

NFT Reservoir Preparation

With an NFT system, think about your set-up and minimize risks by doing the planning that needs to occur ahead of time. The NFT system should be purchased or built and cleaned ahead of time so you are ready to grow immediately when you obtain your seeds or cuttings. You can also modify any system using air and water pumps, air stones, tubing, and drain fittings to make it more adaptable. For example, rooting is much easier if the system has adjustable drains.

You should also put the system through a test run with plant containers (A.K.A net pots) and no plants. First, run the system with aerated water for a while to check water levels and drainage. After dialing in the water levels and drainage to ensure the roots will receive proper moisture and aeration, mix nutrients into your reservoir in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications. Don’t forget to check EC/ppm and pH before placing seeds, cuttings, or rooted plants into the system.

Rooting in an NFT Hydroponic System

To establish roots as quickly as possible, you need to provide a humid yet aerated environment to the cutting or seed for several days. This can be done easily in most NFT systems if they are configured with adaptable drains. For the early rooting stages, simply flood the system with deeper water. Be sure there is also plenty of room for air in the root chamber and that your air pump is keeping the recirculating water and nutrient mix well-aerated. Roots will emerge in about 10 days if submerged in properly aerated water. This method of rooting eliminates the need for transplanting and reduces overall production time.

After roots begin to form and multiply, you will notice when the plants have hardened off because they will begin to grow vigorously. This is when your plants can handle a little more nutrients in the reservoir mix. They are now ready for aggressive growth.

Aggressive Vegetative

A main advantage of an NFT system is that it does not need additional time for transplanting to get to the aggressive vegetative phase. Due to the NFT system’s design, vigorous growth can happen without waiting for plants to recover from transplant shock. To support the aggressive veg phase, be sure to feed the proper amount of nutrients and adjust EC/ppm. Just follow the manufacturer’s directions. If you need to purchase equipment to measure the EC/ppm, be sure and do so, as this is an important parameter. Also, pay close attention to your nutrient mix, as plants’ needs change throughout their lifecycle. Be sure not to exceed the manufacturer’s strength recommendations throughout the remainder of the crop cycle and give your plants the ability to rise to their full potential.

Like aeroponic systems, NFT and other hydroponic systems can be finicky. More things go right quickly—growth occurs bigger, faster, and stronger—yet things can also go wrong more quickly compared to other methods. Check pH and EC/ppm often. Keep reservoirs out of direct light and keep average water temperatures below 64°F to avoid growth of unwanted pathogens.

Finishing Flowers and Fruits

After you’ve fed them well and grown them close to ripening, your flowers, fruits, and other produce are about ready to finish. Think about your harvest ahead of time. In preparation, flush the nutrient salts out of the system for at least a week. Change the reservoir several times, being sure to change your old nutrients out and provide fresh water each time. Do not, however, flush with just water. It has been proven that plants getting absolutely zero nutrients during a flush will save, instead of cannibalizing, their stored nutrients (you want them to cannibalize their nutrients). So, provide them with a very small amount of nutrients, less than 10 per cent of the manufacturer’s recommended strength. Once they’ve used up the available nutrients, the plants go ahead and cannibalize their stored nutrients.

To obtain the best quality crop, wait until after a thorough flush to harvest. Once flushed and harvested, process the plants according to their specific needs. Be sure to do your homework for your specific crop, as overall quality is determined not just by the growth process but also through this final processing stage. Take extra care of the produce throughout the rest of the process until final packaging. After all, you grew your babies and put in all this work, so why mess up now? Take great care of your produce from start to finish, from cutting or seed to sale.

Cleanup

Cleaning up after your crop is easy with an NFT system. Although not a requirement, a removable lid helps with the ease of cleaning. Take apart all the fittings, air stones, and pumps and clean them thoroughly. Be sure to scrub off residue from every crack, crevice, and corner to ensure a pathogen- and disease-free crop on your next run. While you can clean it too, consider replacing the tubing as it can harbor pathogens. Also, take the extra steps and clean all the surfaces your growroom, including floors and walls, with warm water and hydrogen peroxide or another safe cleaning product.

Whether or not you’ve tried other methods of hydroponics or aeroponics, be sure to give NFT systems a shot. You won’t be disappointed with this system’s ability to provide amazing results. Though things may seem slow during the hardening off period time, your plants will take off from there and thrive throughout the rest of the growth cycle.