The Best Plants for NFT Aquaponics Systems

The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) is an aquaponic growing technique that is popular among aquaponics growers because of its simple yet effective design that works well in some environments. The NFT system is mostly used in larger commercial aquaponics systems, but can also be used by home growers.

This aquaponics technique is useful in urban places where space and food production are considered because it offers a more sustainable approach than other aquaponics growing methods. However, just like other aquaponics methods, NFT has its limitations, one of which is that not all plants do well in NFT systems, for it is only suitable for growing certain types of crops. This article will discuss which is the best plant for the NFT system and why. 

How Nutrient Film Technique Works

In NFT, the water is pumped or flows through the mechanical filter and into the biofilter or sump tank. Some water is pumped directly into the fish tank from the sump tank, while the remaining water is pumped and distributed through the NFT channel equally where the plants are planted. Upon exiting the grow pipes, the water returned to the biofilter or sump and then into the fish tank. The water that enters the fish tank causes the tank to overflow through the exit pipe and back into the mechanical filter, completing the cycle.

Unlike the media-based system, the Nutrient Film technique does not require a flooding period because the water in NFT flows consistently from the fish tank. The grow pipes contain several holes on the top of the pipes into which the plants are placed and grown. 

NFT Aquaponics

Factors to Consider When Choosing Plants for NFT

When choosing plants to grow in your NFT system, consider the following factors:

  1. Plants should be Lightweight: The nutrient film technique uses narrow pipes to grow plants, so you should only consider growing lightweight plants. Lightweight plants include spinach, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and small rooted plants that do not grow very large and can support themselves.
  2. Minimal Root System: The plant's root system should be considered. It should be small and accommodating enough to absorb all the nutrients for their growth. Plants with heavy or big root systems are not recommended, as they will consume all the space or clog up the nutrient film channel.
  3. Short Harvest Period: Another thing you should consider is the harvest period of the plants. The plants should be fast-growing and harvested quickly (plants should mature within three months starting from the seed sowing period). An example of these plants is the leafy greens.

Planting in The Grow Pipes

When planting in an NFT system, holes are drilled into the grow pipes (7-9 cm diameter). These holes should match the size of the net cups used. Place the seedlings in a plastic net cup and then placed them in the grow pipe's hole. The net cups will provide support to the plants. It is recommended to put a space of about 8 inches between each plant to allow enough plant space for the plants to grow. Grow media like clay pebbles or gravel can be placed around the seedlings in the net cups to balance and support the plants.

What are the Best Plants for NFT Aquaponics System?

To avoid issues with your NFT aquaponics system, it is recommended to grow lightweight plants and have shallow roots to prevent blocking or clogging your channels. These are the best plants for the NFT system:

    1. Green Leafy Vegetables of Salad Greens: these include different varieties of spinach, lettuce, and arugula.
    2. Herbs: Some herbs are ideal for NFT systems because their root systems are not large and grow very fast. Herbs suitable for growing in NFT include cilantro, parsley, lemon, basil, and dill.
    3. Brassicaceae Family: also known as cruciferous vegetables, including kale and mustard greens. 
    4. Certain Fruiting and Flowering Plants: fruiting and flowering plants can also be grown in the NFT system if they have a small root system. Examples of fruiting plants are strawberries. Tomatoes and cucumbers can also be grown in NFT but need to be supported using strings and support clips. This is required because the roots do not hold on to anything firm to uphold the plant's stalk. Flowers like orchids, pansies, and nasturtiums grow well in an NFT system.


      Strawberry Aquaponics

      Nutrient Film Technique Tips

      NFT aquaponics systems can also experience some problems, like any other aquaponics system. However, proper planning, regular monitoring, and good maintenance can help overcome difficulties when they arise.

      • When you plan your NFT aquaponics system, it is essential to consider how your setup will differ from other aquaponics systems. The shallow trays and the absence of growth media in NFT require proper planning to ensure success. 
      • Root temperature is hard to maintain without growing media, especially if your area is exposed to rapidly changing temperatures. You should regularly monitor your system's temperature and ensure that the roots are not exposed to the light to prevent algae growth.
      • Good maintenance is essential in NFT aquaponics systems. The two main components that should be checked regularly are; 
                      1.) The water pump that brings water to the system. If the pump stops working, you could easily lose your entire crop. 

                      2.) Clogging can also affect your system. The most common cause of a clog in NFT systems is the plants' roots themselves, stopping the flow of water, so they should be checked regularly.


      Leafy greens and plants with a small root system, lightweight, and short harvest time are the best plants to grow in an NFT aquaponics system. If you focus on these types of plants and proper monitoring and maintenance of your system, you can be sure of a smooth and productive system. Thank you for reading this article. If you're interested in learning more about the best plants for aquaponics systems, click here


      1 Response

      Norm Arnett

      Norm Arnett

      February 08, 2022

      I am very interested in your nft channels. Did you design and have them custom made, or did you purchase them? Do you sell them?
      I have small hoop house in east San Diego county most for personal use. I am currently refurbishing it. I will be looking to your reply.
      Norm Arnett

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