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Small NFT Hydroponics System

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Picture of Small NFT Hydroponics System
Hydroponics is a type of agriculture that uses no dirt, and usually results in larger, fuller plants. I recently became interested in the topic, and decided to start my own vegetable garden using the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT). It involves a channel of nutrient enriched water constantly flowing past a plant's roots. The system that I'm demonstrating here is just one example of infinitely many possibilities. Take my work and use it as inspiration for developing a system that suits you and your needs.
 
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Step 1: The Idea

Because hydroponics requires a resevoir for water to be drawn from and returned to simultaneously, and I was just building a small system, my design has two gullies. This allows the water to easily go full circle.

Along with the water pump, my system uses gravity to assist the flow of water. Each end of the PVC is one inch higher than the end that comes next in the circle. The end of the tube that water enters from is the highest, and the end that it leaves from is the lowest. To achieve this, I built supports out of lumber for the pipes. The supports also keep them high enough to be above the reservoir, so that gravity will return the water to it.

Step 2: Materials

Picture of Materials
  • 66" of 4" PVC Pipe - If I didn't already have PVC, I would have probably bought plastic gutters.
  • Assorted lumber - Go to the cull wood section of your hardware store. This is the wood they cut for other people who didn't want the scraps. I got four 43" 2x4"s, one 1.5x7.5x58" piece, and a scrap of plywood for $3.
  • Screws and such
  • 4 rubber adjustable end caps with hose clamps - about $3 each
  • Submersible pump - I'm using this
  • Teflon tape
  • 16 oz Plastic cups
  • Plants
  • Irrigation tubing
  • Opaque Bucket
  • Plumbing cement
  • Growing medium - I used expanded clay ball
  • Hydroponics Nutrient

I would make a list of tools, but there's no way I could make an exhaustive list.
sandworm3 months ago

I'm planning to build one of these soon, great work! One question, does it run 24/7, or do you have some sort of timer?

I noticed that you didn't mention much about figuring out correct flowrates. Is that because different plants require different flowrates? Or is that something you just left to trial and error?
Geoffrey981 year ago
Hey i was just wondering if that exact system could grow cacti or venus fly traps?
If you're still interested, I would recommend against it, but with effort it may be possible. A lot of cacti will suffer root rot if left that moist (some do okay, but you'd have to experiment). Carnivorous plants are from nutrient poor areas so the hydroponic solution would burn the roots. I suppose a hydro setup running distilled water would work to keep them watered, it would make it pretty easy to control how much they stand in.
jwood3112 years ago
Great job! Thank you!
I really hope I can pull this off. How long does the water last?
That will depend on your climate, plants and reservoir. I was generally able to just replace water as it was consumed every other week or so.
Thank you
g.forces2 years ago
Great system! Check out my hanging nft system at http://needscitation.blogspot.com/2012/03/nutrient-film-technique-hydroponics.html and tell me what you guys think about the design. Regards.
scottinnh2 years ago
A 'pipette' or 'wine thief' will sub for a syringe, and any home brewing/wine making shop would have it.
MrChuII2 years ago
Sweet setup! An even gentler way to remove dirt from roots is to submerge the root ball in water, gently moving the water to wash away the dirt. Just make sure you 1st adjust the PH of the water as it you were going to use it for the nutrient solution.
Goudla2 years ago
Nice work!
At some point, while following interesting biology classes in highschool, I also got interested into that, and I seem to remember that by monitoring the pH and the electrical conductivity of the liquid (nutrients), it was possible to control it.
This even makes it possible to adapt it to the actual needs of the plant, which can vary depending on the actual stage of development of the plant.
Finally, if you can control, and adapt the composition of the liquid, you don't need to replace/through any.
bountycrops3 years ago
Thanks for sharing this wonderful step-by-step process on building an NFT system. The PVC pipe would really do better with this kind of system although rain gutters would also do fine. I think the only challenge with rain gutters is to find a covering that will be light proof. Anyway, what kinds of plant have you tried growing with this system? Would be happy to know the results.
pyrofyr4 years ago
I see most other instructables use LECA on the bottom (Holy christmas batman, I just found out my home depot carries it, and it's cheap too), Vermiculite, and Perlite.

I can't find Vermiculite anywhere, and then I noticed you didn't list what you use besides LECA, did you use anything or just fill it up with  LECA?
Weissensteinburg (author)  pyrofyr3 years ago
Sorry for the late reply. I've made two hydroponic systems now, and both used only LECA. Some people seem to like mixes, but I haven't had any problems using only it.
tea-pain4 years ago
is pvc ok to use? its not toxic @ all?
Weissensteinburg (author)  tea-pain4 years ago
 PVC is only toxic when heated.
[AV3NG3R]4 years ago
LOL, I saw the NFT Acronym and assumed it was your secret code for "No F*cking Time"...

Awesome instructable though.
awang84 years ago
I've got a 500GPH Bilge Pump somewhere in the garage. Will it work? Or will it be too vigorous and damage the roots? I'm trying to make a nice 4-hole herb garden for my kitchen with all the needed herbs - rosemary, parsley, basil and thyme.
awang8 awang84 years ago
Sorry, one more question I forgot to mention. Are you sure that tiny hydroponics... thing... will be able to handle a mature tomato? Because i'm also planning on growing a few of those.
awang8 awang84 years ago
Gah... I hate it whem you just suddenly have a question pop up in your mind and just have to find out the answer. Can the roots breathe? Water doesn't loook like it has much air in it. Before I make another post, can seaweed solution (liquid fertilizer) be used instead of the hydroponics nutrients?
Weissensteinburg (author)  awang84 years ago
I've seen it's use mentioned, and don't think people generally recommend it over conventional nutrient solution, but I think it will work. Don't take my word for it, though.
Thanks alot.

1. I think the pump would still be good enough, http://Hydroponics.net sells 550GPH... So I'm guessing it isn't that bad.

2.Yep. I mean the nutrient supply.

3.Err... Uhh... Umm... I'll buy hydroponic nutrient some online.

I'll be buying a few bags of pelite and vermiculite. I beleive that mixed in a ratio of 3:1 would make a good growing medium.
A 500GPH pump will push almost 9 gallons of water per minute over the roots. You'll probably flood the tubes and the roots won't get the air they need.
For a small system you should probably use a smaller pump.
Hydroponics.net also supplies the professionals who would need a big pump.
Your bilge pump (if it has a float) might be good for the food and drain method.
What if we use the bilge pump with a flow regulator, or what if i use it for a drip system?
Since I'm not very... interested... in ebb and flow, and I don't want to buy a new pump, , I thought of an idea. At the hardware store there are chrome switches (designed for toilet cisterns) that can regulate the flow pretty damn good, down to a tiny trickle, and everything inbetween. So I might somehow attach a copper pipe to my pump, then use a olive threaded thingy to connect it to the cistern switch, then use another olive thingy and copper pipe to connect to the gutter (I'm using gutters, it's cheaper). there will be a hole at the top of the opposite end of the gutter where the water will come out and fall into a bucket containing the pump. The copper pipe, it's lurking in my garage: $0. 2 olive thingies: $4. Switch (or is it called valve?): $3. Seven dollars is cheaper than a new pump. Sorry about the long comment, but I just had to explain everything in detail.
Weissensteinburg (author)  awang84 years ago
In what sense? Depending on the plant, you may need a trellis to support it. If you mean the nutrient supply, than yes, it will. As long as water flows, it can get as much nutrient as it needs. That being said, some plants require more nutrients than others, and you'll have to replenish the supply more often.
Weissensteinburg (author)  awang84 years ago
I'm thinking that's a lot more than you need.
How did you get the stinking plastic out of the hole cutter?  I'mabout to pull my hair out.
I got it.  I waited to long to take it out.  I had to put iton a stove burner to get it out. 
just curious as to how much water you want moving across everything. like if i wanted to expand this to something bigger, could i still use that same size pump you are using, or would i want a bigger one
You should be able to use the same one. The flow of water really isn't as important as the fact that it is circulating. The reason you can't just stick a plant in the water is that the water needs to re-oxygenate, like in a fish tank.
lchhour4 years ago
where do you purchase adjustable rubber end caps? i'm working on a hydroponics setup and i also have gutters. What can i use for the ends of those? any info/help would be greatly appreciated! thanks!
Weissensteinburg (author)  lchhour4 years ago
I got those at home depot. Rain gutters are a good idea, I would have gone with them if I didn't already have the PVC. I believe they make end caps for gutters. Have you looked around your store?
Where did you get your nutrients for $9.99??? That's a good price!
Weissensteinburg (author)  serpensphile4 years ago
Sunshine hydroponics.
Thanks!
pipster5624 years ago
i was wondering does the pump always have to be on or do you have it on a timer?
Weissensteinburg (author)  pipster5624 years ago
With a system like this, you'll usually want it on all the time so that the roots don't dry. If you use an aeroponics or ebb and flow system, then you will need a timer.
Parabri4 years ago
Nice simple , well done
Lawn looks good to ,Lol
Ha4xor4life4 years ago
i have a 60gph pump is that too little?
Weissensteinburg (author)  Ha4xor4life4 years ago
No, it shouldn't be.
DebH574 years ago
Thanks for directing me here Weissenstienberg, I am going to need to spend some time going over this and gathering materials and will probably have a lot of questions later.
shwa4 years ago
For the veggies you trying to grow be sure to have really sturdy trellis on top of your system,tomatoes have very brittle stem which break very easily,I'm not sure about other ones, but you need to have something that can bear the load of the plants and the crop.Or you might try leafy stuff like Swiss chard or lettuces and herbs,for half perpetual crop harvest just pick the mature leafs and leave rest to grow ,but on other thought maybe it's not good idea since you using non organic fertilizer,all nutrients go directly into leafs,you might consider switching to organic nutrient juice or to aquaponics (a way to go system). keep us informed .good luck
awang8 shwa4 years ago
Organic and non-organic fertilizers are pretty much the same. They are all based on the nutrients a plant requires, and the term "organic" refers to the fact that the fertilizer has had it's nutrients extracted from organic matter. As for the nutrients itself, it cannot make a difference. There is no such thing as "organic nitrogen" or "organic potassium". I don't mean to offend you, I just want to give you my opinion for "organic fertilizers".
shwa awang84 years ago
Problem is not in nitrogen ,potassium or phosphorus.Problem is in other minor element traces such as arsenic, cadmium, and uranium which can be build up in prolonged application of chemical fertilizers,surely FDA approved.This is more evident in soil agriculture than in environment controlled hydroponic system but still sooner or later you'll have to waste the nutrients from your system somewhere...
Weissensteinburg (author)  awang84 years ago
Not at all! That was actually a point that had been confusing me since I was at the store.
Weissensteinburg (author)  shwa4 years ago
Thanks. Will the non organic fertilizer make a difference in plants that aren't as water based as lettuce? I was planning to play it by ear in terms of support. The cukes and eggplants will both need a structure. I've since moved them to the far right of the system, so I can build straight out. As for the tomatoes, I still have the green garden mesh I used in my water bottle raft, so I'll probably use that.
I'm not quiet sure what you mean by non water based plants non of above mentioned plants are water based,what I meant is that plants like tomatoes and alike have roots ,stem and leaves to process nutrients before they reach the the fruit so it's fairly safe to eat them ,leafy veggies everything goes and builds in the leafs so what you give to the plants end up in your stomach bottom line is if you going trough all the pain of making costly hydroponic system why ending up with the products that you can get in any supermarket =commercial chemical based... god know what..poisoned products opposed to natural organic products that are safe to eat .. just by switching couple a things...Like ErisKSC mentioned .
Do you keep your pump 24/7 on or it's interval based?
Weissensteinburg (author)  shwa4 years ago
I don't know why I said water based, but I meant how lettuce is composed nearly entirely of water...which is why people don't generally spring for it as their daily veggies. I keep my pump on 24/7. I'll have to post pictures soon, they've had some amazing growth.
hjenkins4 years ago
I've done hydroponic tomatos a few times with a complete outfit I bought. The tomato plants grew about 10 lbs of roots each, pretty much took over the growing tank. Tomatos didn't have any taste though. I was using micronutrients along with the regular liquid plant food. It was in a greenhouse, maybe it needed real sun. A neighbor has 3 huge greenhouses for growing tomatos commercially and his tomatos are completely tasteless too. Now I'm trying upside down tomatos outside. I'll keep trying.
Dr. D hjenkins4 years ago
It may be the plants you started with. Find some nice heirloom tomatoes. You may have gotten some GMO hybrid bred to look nice and ship well at the expense of taste.
awang8 Dr. D4 years ago
True. Once I tried growing seeds from a store-bought hybrid and it tasted like cardboard. Even worse than the tomato it came from.
grullord4 years ago
where did you buy the cns 17 for that price?? I can't find it cheaper that 18.00???? PS > By the way great Job!!! Grullord
Weissensteinburg (author)  grullord4 years ago
Teleran4 years ago
Another way to control Algae , or even Mold is to use 35% Food Grade Hydrogen Peroxide, and you add it to the Water at a rate of 7 Drops per gallon. This in effect Steriizes the Water, without stopping Niagara falls. :) Teleran
Weissensteinburg (author)  Teleran4 years ago
Where do you get that/how much does it cost? At school we use 30%, and it costs $25 a bottle.
I live in Canada. I just typed Food grade Hydrogen Peroxide into a Search engine, and it was $13.00 about for 200 ml. Hydrogen Peroxide comes in different grades. Some have stabilizers in it, Chemicals that are poisons. Food Grade does not have Chemical Stabilizers in it. It is usually 35%. The stuff you buy in a Pharmacy is 3-4% and has Stabilizers in it.
ErisKSC4 years ago
Nice setup! Now you just have to replace the store bought nutrient mix with a tank full of fish then you can grow organic hydroponic plants (aka aquaponics). I'm working a setup for my yard with a 500L water tank that i will keep jade perch or sleepy cod in, their waste will fertalise the plants so i can get fish and veggies from the one system! I have also run mini 'plant filters' on my 6' cichlid tank where i grew ornamentals. I love thhis instructible coz it's simplke and effective and can be scaled up as much as you need. Top work
I hope this isn't use for the propogation of illlecit plant material.... :P Looks good :)
SinAmos4 years ago
I appreciate all that you have done. It looks nice. Eventually, I will give it a go, but for now, the soil is my playground.
Weissensteinburg (author)  SinAmos4 years ago
I can understand that. I think something like this gives more of a sense of accomplishment, compared to the relaxation that many people get from traditional gardening.
The health of my plants gives me the sense of accomplishment you speak of. Something like this has more to do with separating the plant from the earth in order to control it. We are not the masters, but the caretakers. ;)
valamas SinAmos4 years ago
Totally agree. I have ordered 20 different varieties of chilli plant seeds from ebay. I plan to grow them hyroponically. At summer, If I want to grow a plant in the soil outside, all I do is take a cutting and plant it with root growing powder in a pot. Then when it is big enough, transplant to my garden outside. Now, I can keep all my chillies alive for years, prevent the breed from being cross-polinated and keep disease and pests away.
Ozzybee4 years ago
Try this EBay link <br/><br/><a rel="nofollow" href="http://cgi.ebay.com/3-pounds-hydroton-growing-medium-LECA-for-hydroponics_W0QQitemZ150347888871QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_DefaultDomain_0?hash=item23016eb8e7&_trksid=p3286.c0.m14&_trkparms=72%3A1240%7C66%3A2%7C65%3A12%7C39%3A1%7C240%3A1318%7C301%3A0%7C293%3A1%7C294%3A50">http://cgi.ebay.com/3-pounds-hydroton-growing-medium-LECA-for-hydroponics_W0QQitemZ150347888871QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_DefaultDomain_0?hash=item23016eb8e7&_trksid=p3286.c0.m14&_trkparms=72%3A1240%7C66%3A2%7C65%3A12%7C39%3A1%7C240%3A1318%7C301%3A0%7C293%3A1%7C294%3A50</a><br/>
skachati4 years ago
very cool.... thanks
A good name4 years ago
I don't like Hydroponics... something about it just kind of creeps me out. That and it's a bit of an energy waster, no?
read my post about the benefits of hydroponics
Weissensteinburg (author)  A good name4 years ago
Not really, especially if you use sprinklers to water your plants. And if you want to factor in the environmental standpoint, it's as simple as thinking about all the gas that went into producing and moving the topsoil and fertilizer used. Pesticides and other additives are needed less, and you produce a more bountiful crop.
pyroal4 years ago
Hydroponics are a great way to grow plants for many reasons. 1. There aren't any bugs to eat your crops.Therefore people don't have to spray chemicals into the environment. 2. Hydroponics take up less "root room". Plants have lots of long roots because they need as much area in the soil to take water in. I'm not sure but you can probably cut the most of the root hairs and only leave the main root with some hairs. 3. Weather. Up here in Michigan we can't plant are plants till late may without taking a risk. Frost is the main problem because it will be 70 degrees one day and 35 the next. 4. Finally I think you don't have to put food with the water for the plants as long as you change the water every 4 days. But putting "food" or nutrients into the water will also help the plants grow bigger and faster. Also if you use nutrients you don't have to change the water but it would help if you do it every now and then.
fuzvulf4 years ago
Nice Instructable. You can put the holes in the drain pipe ends on the edge just like the fill. All you have to do is rotate the pipe end like an old fashioned clock hand until it comes up to the level you want. That way you can adjust it deeper or shallower as you fine tune the system. You can also just use the hard end caps that are supposed to be cemented on. You don't have to cement them to get a seal, just make sure the ends of the pipe are square *(cut straight across 90 degrees to the length of pipe) and press them on. They stay in place and are easier to pop off than the ones with the radiator clamps. Also with the hard end caps you can drill a hole, use a pipe thread tap and thread in a hose barb, still use sealant on the hose barbs, but it is less likely that moving stuff will cause a hose to pop loose. This is not a slam on your setup, I like it, just trying to be a help. Tweaking prototypes and manufacturing processes is a large portion of what I did for a living before my disabilities got so rough.
Weissensteinburg (author)  fuzvulf4 years ago
I would have gotten actual end caps, but they were $8 a piece.
sands0444 years ago
I love the idea, and the methods seem solid. I can't wait to give it a try! I do find it interesting, however, that more people seem to have problems and pointed remarks about your work on this than usual... I guess they just don't know how to take it for what it is - a very cool way to grow plants without the need for soil (or the space, mess, etc.). Keep up the great work!
Weissensteinburg (author)  sands0444 years ago
Thanks. I don't mind criticism, I am new to this, and can use all the help I can get.
Where did you get the clay balls? Does the size of them matter greatly?
Weissensteinburg (author)  fatherofthree4 years ago
I got them at a local hydroponics store. I don't think they come in many sizes...but I believe they do need to be fired.
Nice work Weissey.
Thanks for your help. I saw few people coming out of the hydroponics store that didn't quite fit the profile for vegetable growers..
Ha. At my local store there is a big sign at the front door... "Any questions asked regarding the growth or cultivation of cannabis will be answered by the police" I guess they really have to watch themselves in this business.
Amnesia Wes4 years ago
The set up looks nice but, they are much too close together for the plants you are growing.
tyedyedsoul4 years ago
PVC plus heat equals poison. It off gasses under warm temps. You might want to do some research. Love the idea though. Keep working on it. From personal experience a hydro system is never done.
Weissensteinburg (author)  tyedyedsoul4 years ago
Yes, that's why I reccomended wearing a mask, and I just added to do it in a well ventilated area. Some fumes cannot be avoided, as it needs to be cut. Just being outside won't be a problem, as the PVC can't heat up enough to do so, especially with water running to it. I've definitely seen that they take continual work already, I'm out there all the time adjusting tubing, and sealing leaks. Hopefully it's good for a while now.
Unfortunately I'm commenting on the findings that PVC leaches lead and a host of other nastys into the water or nutrient solution running through them. In my home state it is illegal to instal PVC in your home. They have something called CPVC which I doubt is much better. There is some good info on www.cleanwaterpipecouncle.org I love your system and just want people to be healthy.
Weissensteinburg (author)  tyedyedsoul4 years ago
Thanks for your concern, I guess I will have to look into it more.
CrazeexGood4 years ago
id watch those cucumbers- they grow out of control
gmjhowe4 years ago
This is full of win.. Great work mate!
ironsmiter4 years ago
"A lot of people recommend cleaning everything with a heavily diluted bleach solution to help ward off algae."<br/><br/>I'd use a "better" method. Introduce a UV light into one of the light proof sections. A slit in the bucket lid, with a UV fixture set on top should do admirably. I used to use a similar setup to keep my external fish filtration system algae free.<br/>By introducing the light into the bucket, the water will receive the maximum UV exposure, giving you the best algae/organism termination %.<br/><br/><a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.aquariumfish.net/information/uv_sterilization.htm">UV sterilizer</a><br/>
lemonie4 years ago
Looks good - what are you growing? L
Weissensteinburg (author)  lemonie4 years ago
I've got it labeled in the last step:

  • Patio tomato
  • Beefsteak tomato
  • Red bell pepper
  • Zucchini
  • Eggplant
  • Cucumber
I either missed that or you just did it - thanks! L
5 stars for looks alone, I haven't even read through it all yet.
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