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Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) is a popular aquaponic growing technique that is more geared towards commercial systems. The ability to grow plants vertically or horizontally and the ease of harvesting them using this technique makes for a more sustainable approach compared to using other aquaponics systems. Just like other systems, however, NFT has its limitations, one of which is that it is only suitable for growing certain types of crops. So what are the best plants for NFT aquaponics?
While NFT allows you to grow various kinds of edibles favored by many, it cannot handle plants that grow tall, like root crops and trees/shrubs. Also, the system is not preferred in plants that have large roots in general. That said the best plants for NFT aquaponics are the following:
- Leafy or salad greens
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Certain herbs
This article will discuss the characteristics of plants ideal for this system, the different kinds of plants, and their examples.
Characteristics Of Plants For NFT Aquaponics
In an NFT aquaponics system, plants are placed in a narrow channel where a thin film of nutrient solution is allowed to flow over and touch their roots. The thin film of nutrient solution ensures that the majority of the upper roots remain dry and are exposed to air.
Because of the narrow channels, the system has limited space for the root mass. That being said, plants that can thrive using this technique should have the following characteristics:
- It should have a short growing period or quick harvest time
- Plants should have a minimal root system
- They should be lightweight
We will briefly discuss each characteristic in the sections below.
Quick Harvest Time
Plants mature at different times, but when it comes to quick harvest, it usually means reaching maturity within 60 days from the time you sowed the seeds. If you are an impatient gardener, then you can practice with plants that mature a lot faster. Mostly leafy greens belong to this category. You can also find the harvest information on the seed packets of your chosen crops.
The roots serve as the plants’ anchors, storage for food reserves, and transport system for water and nutrients needed for their growth. Different plants have different rooting systems; some can have massive roots, while others are minimal. In the case of plants for NFT, it’s ideal to grow plants that don’t go crazy with the roots. Otherwise, root masses may take up space and clog up the channels.
Plants grown in systems using NFT should not be too heavy for the channel. They must also not require much support, like how most fruiting plants do. While tomatoes can grow large and need extra support when fruiting, some aquaponics growers have managed them successfully with the help of self-standing trellises.
So What Are The Best Plants For NFT Aquaponics?
Given the abovementioned characteristics, the best plants to grow in NFT systems are the following.
- Green leafy vegetables or salad greens – these include different varieties of lettuce, arugula, and spinach
- Brassicaceae family or cruciferous vegetables – kale and mustard greens are a couple of vegetables in the Brassicaceae group that can thrive in an NFT system. Those members that form heads, such as cabbage and broccoli, however, are not ideal for this kind of system. Not only do they grow heavy, but they can also have big roots and take time to mature.
- Herbs – these are generally popular choices to grow in an NFT system. Basil is, by far, the easiest and most commonly grown. They grow fast, and they don’t have a massive root system. Plus, there is a variety of them including – lemon, Thai, and Genovese, to name a few. Other culinary herbs you can grow using NFT are cilantro, dill, and parsley.
- Perennials – Growing fruiting and flowering plants is also possible with NFT. Strawberries don’t grow big, and they can thrive in a shallow channel. They have been grown successfully using commercial NFT systems. Orchids can also thrive in the same system, as well as flowers like nasturtiums and pansies.
Best NFT Aquaponics Systems
NFT is a familiar technique for anyone who is growing hydroponic plants. That said an NFT hydroponics setup will work perfectly for aquaponics since both employ the same technique of using a thin film of nutrient-rich water.
The NFT system is a versatile aquaponic method of growing crops that can be easy to set-up. While they are popular among backyard and commercial growers, it’s important to understand they have limitations.
NFT is best suited for plants that grow fast and are ready for harvest in less time. With this system, you can grow leafy greens for salads, some cruciferous vegetables, common culinary herbs, and fruiting and flowering plants. If you want to see quick results and move on to new seedlings after harvest, the NFT system is ideal.