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Creating a DIY NFT Aquaponics System

Alexander Levine
Permaculturist & Regenerative Agri. Consultant

Constructing the correct NFT system can be more complex than building regular hydroponics or aeroponics setups. This is because it is crucial to have the correct flow rate, slope, and length of channels. Yet once set up correctly, it is one of the more easily expandable systems compared to other forms of hydroponics, so if you want to add or subtract to it, you can, depending on how modular you tried to make it. In this system, we will create an NFT system that combines aspects from aquaponics.

Steps for DIY Aquaponics NFT System

  1. Reservoir

The first thing you're going to need is a reservoir. This can be anything from a pond to a tub to a five-gallon bucket. It depends on what you're trying to accomplish.

  1. Oxygenation

Now you need something to oxygenate the water consistently. So, an air pump, air tubing, and an airstone are required. You could also have the reservoir or pond placed in an area on the dominant wind side to allow the wind to oxygenate and cycle the water naturally.

  1. Pump

The next thing you’ll need is a water pump and tubing to cycle the water at the end of the system back to the reservoir. This can be a simple aquarium pump to a larger pump.

  1. Tubes or Channels

Now you will need the channels. You can use PVC pipes or any available medium. This is what makes the system so expandable and modular. You can make it go as slow as you like but remember that doing that may risk a potential flow backup. It is about correct flow rate, proper length, and the slope just right.

  1. Pots

Plant spacing will depend on the type of plant that you're growing, and typically, in these channels, you have to pre-plan because you need to drill the holes that the pots are going to sit in like in a typical DIY Hydroponics setup. Fill these pots with your chosen plants as the roots dangle into the channel.

  1. Flow Rate and Slopes

Suggested flow rate ratios are between 1:30 and 1:40; this allows for inconsistencies in water flow as the roots develop over time. Try to get a flow rate of one liter (0.26 gallons) per minute. Please do this by seeing how long it takes in a minute to fill up a liter per junction. Experiment with different flow rates because it depends on what plants you are growing and how robust the roots are. You can start them in a traditional hydroponics way, suspended above a tray of nutrient water for its roots to develop into to get started. You can then transfer them to the NFT setup once there’s substantial root growth.

  1. Fish and Other Nutrient Inputs

Most people tend to input hydroponics reservoirs with conventional chemical-based nutrient fertilizers. Still, the salt residues left behind by them, organic or non-organic, can inhibit healthy plants and beneficial microbial growth. Mitigate this by having live active microorganisms floating through your system and avoiding applying any chemical-based fertilizers. You can do this by having fish, ducks, and rabbits positioned above the fish. You can also inoculate your reservoir with EM (effective microbes) and compost teas occasionally to give it a boost. Still, the natural biological balance is sufficient if you get it right.

Implementing these steps can create a living and self-maintaining system with the least number of inputs.

See How Aquaponics System Works
how Aquaponics system works
Source: iStock Photos

The Aquaculture Chain of Life in a Healthy System

The following are the chain of life and plant layers of an ecologically balanced system. (Powers, 2018).

  • Algae
  • Zoo Plankton
  • Crustaceans
  • Fish

                                                   Plant Layers

  • Edge Plants
  • Shallow Plants
  • Deep Water Plants
  • Floating Plants

What Plants to Grow?

Leafy greens and lettuce are great to grow in an NFT setup as they are lightweight and easy to grow. According to previously done research, you can get a six-ounce head of lettuce in about thirty-five days.

  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Mustard Greens
  • Kale
  • Microgreens
  • Radishes
  • Small Potatoes
  • Wheatgrass

And many others…

References

Powers, M. (2018). The Permaculture Student 2 The Workbook. PermaculturePowers123.

Powers, M. (2020). The Permaculture Student 2 - the Textbook 3rd Edition [Hardcover]: A Collection of Regenerative Solutions (3rd ed.). Permaculturepowers123.

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