My NFT PVC Pipe System

I have a small glass house that has my two Homemade Hydroponic NFT systems in it.  I have one system using Panda Film and the other one using plastic pipe, both of these systems have their own Nutrient Reservoir as I grow completely different types of plants in them and their nutrient requirements are not compatible.

Nutrient ReservoirNutrient Reservoir

I have a 20 litre plastic tank, it is raised off the ground so that I can easily get the PVC pipe in and out of it as required.   I have not yet painted the outside of the reservoir, I currently simply cover the reservoir to stop algae from growing.

I have a plumbed in water float valve to keep the water level constant.

I do not have a heater or air supply in this tank.  There is over 60 cm fall from the NFT channel to the reservoir and this is enough to aerate the solution.  I generally only use this system from late spring to early autumn so heating the tank is not really necessary.

Submersible PumpI have a small fish pond submersible pump, shown at the right of the tank in the middle.  There is a black plastic pipe connected to the  pump, this runs to the high end of my NFT channel.

It is important to make sure that the pump is capable of pumping water to the high end of your NFT channel, this is often described as the pump “Head” on the labeling.

NFT - PVC Downpipe ChannelNFT Channel

My channel is about 2m long and made of 80mm white PVC down pipe, I have two of these connected together at the lower end of the channel with PVC joiners

I have cut 60cm holes along the length of both pipes.  I have also made some covers to go over the holes that I am not using, I made these by cutting the side out of some plastic containers and placing a cable tie over the lid to hold it in place.

At the top end of the PVC pipes I have a ‘Tee’ connection in the nutrient pipe from the pump, this allows the nutrients to flow into each of the PVC pipes.

Planting

I generally grow Lettuce or Strawberries or a mixture of plants that have similar nutrient requirements.  I always use plants that are 10-15cm tall and definitely plants that do not require external support.

Make sure you get all of the dirt off the plant roots, I always soak the plants in a bucket of water and then the soil comes of pretty easy.  Run the roots under water to get more dirt off.

I have small grow pots that fit nicely into the holes in the PVC pipe and allow the roots of the plants to easily reach the nutrient solution.

I use a mixture of aggregates to hold the plants in the grow pots.  As the aggregate is not in contact with the nutrient solution, you can use anything from rock wool to gravel.

I currently do not have anything growing in this system and will upload some pictures when I do

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My NFT Panda Film System

I have a small glass house that has my two Homemade Hydroponic NFT systems in it.  I have one system using Panda Film and the other one using plastic pipe, both of these systems have their own Nutrient Reservoir as I grow completely different types of plants in them and their nutrient requirements are not compatible.

Nutrient ReservoirNutrient Reservoir

I have a 68 litre black plastic tank.  I have partially sunk the tank into the ground leaving around 10cm above the ground to provide protection from ground water and soil bound diseases and pests.

The hole that the tanks sits in has a plastic liner and then sheets of polystyrene in it to provide some insulation for the tank.

I have a plumbed in water float valve to keep the water level constant, this is the white device, bottom left in the picture.

I have a stainless steel heater and thermostat, this keeps the nutrient solution at around 20 c, the heater is the silver bar in the bottom of the tank.  I use a pump because of cold ground temperature in spring and autumn, this allow the plants to grow a lot quicker than if the nutrient was not heated.  Plants generally require their roots to be over 15 c to really thrive.

I have a air pump with air stone, the air stone sits underneath the heater close to the pump, this is not visible in this picture.  The air pump is sitting underneath my NFT channel with a green air pipe running to the air stone.

Small Submersible PumpI have a small fish pond submersible pump, shown at the right of the tank in the middle.  There is a black plastic pipe connected to the  pump, this runs to the high end of my NFT channel.

It is important to make sure that the pump is capable of pumping water to the high end of your NFT channel, this is often described as the pump “Head” on the labeling.

NFT ChannelNFT Channel

My channel is about 1.5m long.  I have a board with small sides nailed on to help keep the Panda Film in place.  The board slopes about 3 cm over the entire length, the slope is toward my Nutrient Reservoir (shown in the background).  I have a cord running the length of the channel, the Panda Film edges meet at the cord and I use plastic spring clothes pegs to hold the Panda Film in place.

I also have some small patches of silicone underneath the Panda Film to ensure it doesn’t slide down.

At the top end of the channel I have a ‘Tee’ connection in the pipe from the pump and two pipes running nutrients into the Panda Film, this allows an even flow over the entire width of the channel.  I sometime will put some open weave multi cloth in the bottom of the channel to make double sure that the entire channel has a supply of nutrients.

At the bottom of the channel I have a piece of plastic guttering that collects the nutrients from the channel and drops them back into the nutrient tank.

NFT ChannelPlanting

I generally grow Tomatoes and Cucumbers in the Panda Film NFT system.  I always use plants that are 10-15cm tall.  Make sure you get all of the dirt off the plant roots, I always soak the plants in a bucket of water and then the soil comes of pretty easy.  Run the roots under water to get more dirt off.

I place the plants by cords running down from the roof of my glasshouse.  I support the plant by placing a plastic spring clothes peg either side of the plant, ensuring that the roots are partially in the nutrient solution.

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How to grow Tomatoes in NFT

Hydroponic TomatoesTomatoes are very easy to grow in hydroponics and produce an amazing quantity of

great tasting fruit

I grow tomatoes every year in my homemade  NFT hydroponic system utilising Panda Film for the channel.   I generally grow one cherry tomato and one or two other larger varieties.

I have a small glass house to protect the tomatoes from the weather and they normally will produce fruit from late autumn to the middle of winter.  In ideal conditions tomato plants will fruit for an entire year.

I prefer to purchase tomato plants that are 15 – 20cm tall, this is because this extends the growing period and the requirement of larger plants when using NFT.  The plants need to be talk enough to have their roots dangling into the nutrient solution and have the leaves above the top of the channel.

If you want to sow seeds one of the best ways is to sow seeds directly into Jiffy-7 pellets.  Ensure that you soak the pellets before planting one seed in each pellet.  This is a very commonly used propagation method in commercial hydroponic systems.  When the plants are 15 – 20cm they can be planted into the NFT system

Preparing the Tomato seedling for planting

Cleaned Tomato PlantCarefully remove the plant from the pot and very gently shake as much soil as possible from the roots of the Tomato plant.  Use your hose on low with a soft spray nozzle to wash more soil away from the plants roots.

The plant roots have very fine hairs on them which can very easily be damaged, please take your time and be very gentle with them.

Planting Method

Close up of Tomato plantPlanting Tomatoes when using Panda Film is very easy.  The Panda Film is folded into a triangle with clothes pegs to hold it at the top.   Put the plants into the gap at the top and place a clothes peg either side of the plant close enough to hold the Tomato plant without actually applying any pressure onto the plant (2 – 4 cm away from the plant).   Leave plenty of room between the plants, they are going to grow much larger than when grown in soil.

Tip – Place some open weave multi cloth in the base of the channel to ensure even flow of nutrients over the width of the channel.

Training the plants

I have twine hanging down from the root of my glass house which I tie the Tomatoes to as they grow, I am not able to use stakes because the glasshouse has paved flooring.

I tend to leave the first suckers (side shoots) above the first fruit cluster on each side of the plant and will train them up adjacent twines.  It is best to remove all other suckers and let the three remaining stems produce all of the crop.  It is important for the leaves of the Tomato to have  space around them to decrease the risk of disease.  Every leaf on the plant should be able to get full sunlight every day.

Nutrient Requirements

Tomatoes should be grown with a nutrient strength between 22 and 28 CF, young plants should be started at 22 CF.  Tomatoes will become very big feeders, I recommend that you use a 40 litre or larger reservoir to avoid having to dose nutrients too frequently.

Fertilising the flowers

There are several spays available which will set the flowers, I have not found it necessary to use these.  The easiest method is simply to gently tap the flower stems with a small stick which will shake the pollen onto the pistil.

I have found that my tomato plants will easily grow 30cm per day during summer.

Have fun and enjoy you Tomato crop in your own Homemade Hydroponic System

For other methods of growing Tomatoes and many ways to eat and drink them check out http://www.TomatoGuru.net

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Nutrient Film Techinque (NFT)

NFT ChannelAs the name implies, the Nutrient Film Technique is a hydroponic system based on a moving film of nutrient solution.

This system is widely used in commercial hydroponic installations and can just as easily be used in your homemade hydroponic system.

A NFT hydroponic system can be as small as a single 1m channel to as big as you entire yard, give it a try and you will amazed at how well it works.

Basic Design

The basic components of a NFT system are a sloping trough or channel, a reservoir, a pump to circulate the nutrient solution and some plumbing.

Basic Operation

The nutrient solution enters the raised end of the sloping channel and flows in a thin film to the lower end of the channel where it flows into the reservoir.  The nutrient is recirculated to the top of the channel by means of a pump.

Image by chooyutshing via Flickr

Design Considerations

There are a few things to keep in mind when you design your NFT hydroponic system

  • The nutrient needs to flow not puddle around the roots of the plants to keep the roots from rooting
  • The nutrient needs to be kept in a dark reservoir to stop algae growing, you can paint the outside of the container to stop light getting in
  • The plants require air around the roots

Design Components

Channel

There is an almost endless number of items that you can use as a channel to grow your plants in, here are some of the ones I have used

  • Plastic roof guttering
  • Plastic down pipe with hole cut for the plants
  • A plastic film called Panda Film, this is black on the inside and white on the outside.  I lay the film on a board and fold the two edges up to form a triangular shape.

Reservoir

The size of the reservoir is dependent on the amount of channel that you are installing and the amount of plants you are planning to grow.  A small reservoir with a large number of plants will require dosing daily, a large tank with a large number of plants may only need dosing every two or three days.  Try and set up your channel so that as the nutrient drain from the channel they drop a distance causing bubbles in the nutrient solution, if this is not possible it may be necessary to use a fish tank air pump to aerate the nutrient solution.Reservoir for your Homemade Hydroponic System

Ensure your reservoir does not let light in and that it is not susceptible to corrosion.  Good reservoirs are made of plastic, glass or stainless steel, other materials are fine if you use a plastic liner.

Pump

Submersible Pump for your NFT System

There are a number of pumps that you can use, one of the easiest is a submersible pump.  The pump simply sits on the bottom of the tank with the pump intake on the side, a spigot is provided to attach some pipe to deliver the nutrient to the top of the channel.

Ensure you check the height that the pump is capable of pumping to, this needs to be more than the height of the high end of your channel.  This measure is generally known as the Head.

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