Four years ago I became very interested in hydroponic gardening. This new found interest was fueled by the poor quality clay based soil in our new backyard. After lots of research and learning, which I of course enjoyed, I built a way over ambitions hydroponic system. It had It is based on the nutrient film technique (NFT) which keeps a constant stream of nutrient solution flowing across the roots of the plants by pumping water to the top of a sloped container. My system was built out of 4 in. drain pipe and 4 in. fittings, two vertical posts, a water basin, and a pump. The pump moved water from the basin to the the top of the system. From there, the water flowed back to the basin. Nutrients were added directly to the water basin.
Ultimately, this system was unsuccessful do to my lack of knowledge about other aspects of hydroponics. I struggled with establishing suffiecient roots prior to moving the plants into the system, and knew nothing about nutrient solutions. It wasn’t all bad though, I learned a ton. Here are some of my key lessons learned from this first attempt:
- Each fluid loop must support plants that require the same (or compatible) nutrient mix.
- Plants must have a well established root system prior to being placed in the NFT system
- Start seeds in net pots using aero-ponics or have a way to water from the top of the net pots until roots reach the NFT flow.
- Fruiting vegetables like squash, tomato, strawberries require different nutrients than leafy veggies like herbs and lettuces.
- NFT systems must accommodate the root mass of the plant. The tomato plant grew a root mas so large that it ultimately clogged the 4 in. drain pipe and all the water spilled out of the system.
- NFT systems require power 24/7. One they lose power, no water/nutrients reach the roots of the plant and the quickly become stressed and die.
- Evaporation is real! At first, I didn’t have net cups with growing medium in every growing position and I was refilling water regularly. After putting in the net cups, evaporation was more manageable.