We have been growing food in the N.F.T. Downspout hydroponics now for a few years. It is our preferred choice for indoor gardening. In this post, we are showing you how to set up a simple NFT downspout Hydroponics system.
There are different types of hydroponic systems: Water Culture, Ebb and Flow (Flood & Drain), Drip (recovery or non-recovery), N.F.T. (Nutrient Film Technique), and Aeroponic.
Why Choose Hydroponics?
Hydroponics allows us to grow food year-round despite our cold climate. It’s a very clean method to grow and very well suitable for indoor growing.
By definition, Hydroponics is a method of growing plants in a nutrient-rich water solution. Instead of using soil, the root system is supported by an inert medium such as vermiculite, Rockwool, peat moss, or clay pellets.
Hydroponics gives you the ability to precisely control the variables that affect how well your plants grow. A fine-tuned hydroponic system lets the plants mature up to 25% faster and give up to 30% more yield by consuming less water when compared to growing in soil.
What is N.F.T. Downspout Hydroponics?
Nutrient Film Technique (N.F.T.) Downspout Hydroponics is an exceptionally simple hydroponics setup. Nutrient-enriched water is pumped into a vinyl downspout, drifts over the exposed roots, and is drained back into the reservoir. Normally in the N.F.T. system, the nutrient solution is pumped continuously, but we are experimenting with 15 minutes cycles during the day, and 30 minutes at night. Pumping in intervals helps to get more oxygen to the roots between the pumping cycles. However, it’s also important to dissolve as much oxygen in the solution as possible via an air pump and airstone (a.k.a. aquarium bubbler).
The downspout pipe can be as long or short as you want it to be. It also can be set up at different levels, as long as water flows through it, it will work.
Every time water flows through the system, the roots of the plant are watered and nourished.
Planting for downspout hydroponic is just the same as any hydroponics, read more about planting a hydroponic garden here. We cover everything you will need to grow in that blog article.
Materials needed for the setup
- White Vinyl downspout
- Amerimax White Vinyl A-Elbow
- Amerimax downspout flex elbow
- Submersible fountain/pond pump (200-300 gph)
- 1/2 Barbed elbow fitting
- Roll 1/2″ tubing
- U-hook (4-pack)
- Electric drill with a 2” hole saw
- 2” round net pots (pot should have a rim that makes it slightly larger than 2”)
- A large clean plastic tub with lid (25-30 gal size works well)
- Zip ties
How to set up an N.F.T. downspout Hydroponics system
Note that we built our system according to our room situation. We have a 22 feet wide area that is all windows, so we installed the downspout along with the south-facing windows. It allows us to manage without any additional lighting. It can easily be adjusted to any window or growing situation without grow lights. Read more about the garage grow room here.
Drill 2” holes every 6” in the top/wide side of the downspouts. TIP: Before drilling ALL the holes insert the 2” net pot in the first hole to make sure it sits well and doesn’t fall through.
When installing the U-hooks to support the downspout you need a slight decline (0.5in over 10ft) toward the exit end of the system, so the water can flow smoothly but not too fast. The other reason for the very small slope is shown in the next picture.
There you see a green plastic plate inside the downspout with a rectangle hole in the center. The purpose of it is to hold back the water and raise its level so it would soak the Rockwool cube in the net pot, as the net pots are not long enough to reach the bottom of the downspout. This is important for young seedlings when the roots are not long enough to reach the bottom of the downspout pipe.
The two notches at the bottom of the green plastic barrier allow the draining of the water between the pump run cycles. That allows exposing the plant’s roots to the oxygen in the air which contributes to faster growth.
We have set up the 20′ long N.F.T. downspout system alongside the windows of the winter garden using the U-hooks. However, you can adjust the length of the downspouts to the total width of your windows or available space.
Fasten the downspout to the support U-hooks using zip ties. Drill a small hole on the top side on the higher end of the downspout for the barbed elbow fitting. Connect it with the tube to the pump in the reservoir. You can plug off that end with an Amerimax white vinyl A-elbow pointing up. The other possibility is heating up with a heat gun about 2″ of the underside of the downspout and pushing it up to close the opening of the pipe as shown in the left picture below. The right picture demonstrates the closing of the pipe with an A-elbow. In addition, it is important then to seal all pipe connections with a food-grade silicone to prevent any leakage.
Install an Amerimax downspout A-elbow on the other end of the downspout and connect it with the flex elbow to the tank for drainage.
It is an inexpensive setup for home growers allowing us to grow our own lettuce year-round, here are 3 reasons to grow your own salad greens.
See also an upgrade in this N.F.T. system with bigger pipes for larger plants here.
Maintenance of the N.F.T. downspout Hydroponics system
The N.F.T. downspout Hydroponics system really shines when it comes to maintenance. All the nutrients solution is in one container that is easily accessible, cleaned, and refilled.
Read more about the planting, what nutrition to use, and more in the blog post Planting a hydroponic garden.
We usually just top up the solution every week as needed. About twice a year, or as needed we empty the container completely and clean the pump.
Once a year the whole system gets a deep clean. We do that in the middle of summer when the indoor garden gets a fresh start for the winter season. For us, it works best when we disassemble the pipe system, scrub the in- and outside thoroughly, and rinse it off. Then the shiny pipes go back to their place in the system and the next season can begin.
Replanting is also simple. Remove the old plant, with all the roots as much as possible, and put a clean net pot with a new seedling in. Net pots can be cleaned and reused. Again, read more about all this in the blog post Planting a hydroponic garden.