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Best Plants Most Suitable for NFT Nutrient Film Technique Aquaponics

6 best plants nft aquaponics

Most Suitable Plants Best for NFT Nutrient Film Technique Aquaponics…

Nutrient Film Technique NFT aquaponics is a highly efficient soilless growing technique that couples hydroponics with aquaculture to create a partly self-sustaining ecosystem, from which you can raise and harvest both fish and plants. In this article we’ll take deep dive into the nutrient film technique NFT, see how and what makes it work, then advise you on most suitable plants best for NFT Nutrient Film Technique aquaponics.

Table of Contents

Different Types of Aquaponics Systems

Aquaponics systems are categorized into three main techniques; Media Based Systems, Deep Water Culture DWC a.k.a. Floating Raft Method, and the Nutrient Film Technique NFT.

All aquaponics systems are based upon existing hydroponics setups, which are then modified by adding a fish tank and filtration system consisting of a biofilter and solid separator. The basic cycle starts with fish that produce waste, which in turn, beneficial bacteria can convert into food for the plants. Water is then filtered and cleaned through a process sometimes referred to as mineralization, then once the water is adequately cleaned it is then recirculated back into the system.

In an ideal world all you need to do is feed the fish, however, essentially replicating a wild environment isn’t necessarily the easiest, so be prepared for regular monitoring and maintenance to get your system dialed in.

Selecting the best species of fish for your system isn’t as system dependent as some other choices you’ll need to make. The fish tank stage of the process largely remains the same no matter what technique you’re using, so your choice here won’t necessarily affect your choice of fish.

Plants on the other hand, these are rather system dependent. You may hear some say it’s possible to grow any species of plant using any aquaponics technique and there is some truth to that. However, there’s no question some species are more suited to certain techniques, so it’s a good idea to go with one of the more compatible species to make your job as straightforward as possible.

Each type of aquaponics setup has its down benefits and drawback, therefore it’s important to understand what each method brings to the table, so you can make an informed decision which system is best for you.

NFT setups are ideal for growing smaller, lightweight plants such as leafy greens and flowers. It is possible to grow fruiting plants and some vegetables, they may just need a little support for stability when they get bigger.

NFT setups are also relatively easy to construct using DIY techniques, so you can customize dimensions to fit your space; ideal for the home grower. However this very same advantage also makes NFT aquaponics the top choice for commercial grows due to the ease with which the system can be scaled up.

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The Best Most Suitable Plants Species for Nutrient Film Technique NFT Aquaponics

As noted, nutrient film technique NFT aquaponics is a lot like growing with hydroponics, and thus, the types of plants that are most suitable for aquaponics are similar to those popular with hydroponics. This generally includes shorter, lighter plants, such leafy greens, flowers and smaller vegetables and/or fruiting plants.

This size/weight factor is simply down to the construction not being as strong as soil and a grow bed, but with that said, NFT systems do tend to hold more weight than DWC/Floating Raft Systems. The system is highly efficient, easy to maintain and affordable, and since there are still a good number of plant species you can grow regardless of the weight restrictions, NFT systems are still extremely popular for aquaponics.

6 Aquaponics Plant Species Ideal for Nutrient Film Technique NFT Aquaponics

Leafy Greens

Also known as leafy vegetable, and even just greens, these lightweight, fast-growing, and relatively low maintenance plants are perfect for NFT aquaponics.

6 best plants nft aquaponics lettuce

Leafy greens great for growing in NFT aquaponics include lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, spinach, watercress, and beets.

Brassicaceae Vegetables

With many varieties often called leafy greens, vegetables from the Brassicaceae family are also ideal for NFT aquaponics.

6 best plants nft aquaponics cabbage

Brassicaceae vegetables suitable for NFT aquaponics include: broccoli, bok choy, kale, mustard greens, turnips and cauliflower.


The latter three species are from the Brassicaceae family, which includes cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, kale, mustard greens, turnips, cauliflower, and radish. There are not compatible to grow with many other companion plants due to secretions from the plant’s roots, which hinders the growth of a number of other species such as tomatoes, beans, peppers and strawberries.

Certain Fruiting Plants

Nutrient Film Technique NFT aquaponics can support the smaller varieties of fruiting plants, but note that some species will require additional support.

6 best plants nft aquaponics fruits

Fruiting plants ideal for nutrient film technique NFT aquaponics include: tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, goji berries/wolfberry.

Certain Flowering Plants

Flowers are a great option for NFT aquaponics due to them being lightweight and easy to support when tall, as well as easy to grow and fast for many species.

6 best plants nft aquaponics flowers

Flowers suitable for aquaponics include: lavender, marigolds, roses, orchids, pansies, and nasturtiums.

Certain Herbs

Herbs are another perfect plant for NFT aquaponics since they posses the main traits that makes plants suitable for the technique; being small, lightweight and fast growing.

6 best plants nft aquaponics herbs

Herbs suitable to for the nutrient film technique NFT aquaponics include: basil, cilantro, parsley , rosemary, chives and mint.

Some Spices

As we’ve previously noted, although spices aren’t the go-to choice for an aquaponics system, many have shown success growing various varieties of chili. So whilst it’s the only spice currently on the list, it’s on the list regardless.

6 best plants nft aquaponics chili

Why Choose Nutrient Film Technique NFT Aquaponics

The nutrient film technique NFT method is another aquaponics setup that’s easy to setup and has few great DIY techniques that can be utilized to build a professional looking system at an affordable cost. On the other hand but to the same end, because the system is popular in the commercial industry it’s highly likely that more professional grade systems will hit the market, or at least the services to custom build them.

In addition to being easy to set up, NFT aquaponics are also relatively easy to maintain, in part thanks to the hydroponics stage of the process already being tweaked and perfected over the years. For example, vertical farming has become extremely popular for hydroponics.

Advantages of Nutrient Film Technique NFT Aquaponics

  • Minimal water requirements
  • Efficient water use
  • Efficient use of nutrients
  • Minimal salt build up
  • Natural oxygenation
  • Easy to setup
  • Easy scalability
  • Easy to operated and maintain
  • Space-saving
  • Great DIY options
  • Easy Vertical Farming options

Disadvantages of Nutrient Film Technique NFT Aquaponics

  • Roots can cause clogging and blockages
  • Thin film of water susceptible to temp fluctuations
  • Limited plant choices
  • Pump failure quickly leads to catastrophic system collapse

How to Set Up Your Nutrient Film Technique NFT System

When setting up your NFT aquaponics system there are a number of key factors you’ll want consider, these include:

Location: Where you place the setup will have a large affect on temperature and lighting. Consider any temperature swings from day to night, use grow lights where needed, and you may also need some type of shading if there’s too much natural light.

Selecting Grow Media: Plants are typically be placed in net pots with a grow media like rockwool, clay pellets, These net pots sit in correctly sized holes cut into the PVC pipes; the same concept applies to vertical farming.

Selecting Plants: Small lightweight plants that are fast growing are generally best. Consider adding supports/trestles for fruiting plants or vegetable plants when full grown.

Selecting Fish: There are a number of a fish that are better suited for the conditions in aquaponics system. This isn’t really system dependent, either way it’s a good idea to choose a hardy fish species that’s suited to the natural climate of your location.

Preparation Cycling: Always allow enough time, 4-6 weeks, for nitrifying beneficial bacteria to colonize in sufficient numbers for them to perform the conversion effectively.

If you’d like to learn more about the nitrification process and the importance of cycling the system, then check out our article on the Importance of Cycling Your Aquaponics System’ here >>>

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Buy or DIY

  • Buy: Nutrient Film Technique NFT systems are becoming increasingly more popular. And since there’s been a good number of NFT hydroponics systems on the market for a while already, there is already a good number of complete NFT aquaponics available to buy.

    Since the technique generally uses off-the-shelf parts, and doesn’t require any special components, these pre-built systems are relatively affordable. However, the same is to be said with DIY.


    DIY: The DIY method for nutrient film technique aquaponics is great way to setup your own home aquaponics system. Using off-the-shelf components that are readily available from your local DIY store, whilst offering both horizontal and vertical farming configurations, DIY NFT aquaponics are one of the most affordable, easy to build and versatile ways you can get started with this soilless ecofarming method.

How to Maintain & Optimize Your Nutrient Film Technique NFT System For Growing Aquaponics Plants

There are a number of helpful tips and tricks you can utilize to optimize your nutrient film technique NFT aquaponics setup. But perhaps the best piece of advice would simply be to monitor, monitor and monitor, a few essential parameters. These are the things that are most likely to give you problems when growing plants in NFT aquaponics.

Essential factors you’ll want to keep a close eye on when growing plants in NFT aquaponics include:

Daily monitoring and maintenance
Whilst not a parameter, it’s the number one aim of the game so deserves its own listing. Always perform regular checks ups to look for any problems. Some parts you’ll want to check daily, others multiple times per day, at least until you’re highly experienced and know exactly what can and can’t be more relaxed on the monitoring.

To monitor essential parameters of your aquaponics system you can use:

  • 6 in 1 test strip; this measures nitrates, nitrites, water hardness, chlorine, alkalinity and pH level
  • DO meter/Oximeter: measures DO concentrations
  • The colorimetric method: uses a color meter to indicate DO concentrations
  • Temperature: a thermometer can be used to measure water temperature.
  • Also consider using modern devices placed inside/outside the system, which can provide consistent, digital monitoring of all the essential parameters and in many cases can send these readings to your smart phone, laptop or computer. These devices are now more affordable than ever, especially the more simpler versions.

Smooth water flow
Ensuring the water keeps flowing is key to the efficiency of your NFT aquaponics system. Check for any clogging or blockages, which typically occurs around the roots in these types of setups.

pH scale
As with all aquaponics systems you’ll need to keep a careful eye on the pH levels. Of course, each different mix of plant and fish species will have its own optimal pH level, however the generally accepted range for aquaponics is 6.8-7.2.

You can expect levels to rise as more fish waste is produces, and in turn fall again after nitrification has converted the ammonia into nitrites. However, if these levels fall out of safe operating ranges for long, you’ll need to adjust as necessary.

To increase the pH level you can calcium carbonate or potassium carbonate; to lower pH levels you can use muriatic, phosphoric or nitric.

Dissolved oxygen (DO)
DO is extremely important for the fish, and therefore, your plants too. You’ll likely be pleased to hear that you can never really have too much DO, and that the higher requirements from the fish means that if they’re happy, your plants will be too.

The generally accepted DO concentration for aquaponics is around 3PPM, however it’s common for fish to require more, so be sure to check prior to starting.

To increase DO concentrations you can install an air pump with an air stone, or a waterfall, fountain, cascading steps/water feature that agitates the water’s surface to create more DO.

Plant health
You’ll also want to check plants for signs of stress, disease and/or pests. Remove any dead leaves as soon as you spot them. Check the roots are receiving adequate water flow, together with nutrients and chemical concentrations, and remember to act quickly if you see any levels fall out of safe range.

Fish health
Same as the plants you’ll want to regularly assess the fish for signs of stress, disease and/or pests. Should you notice any potential issues then act to resolve them ASAP. Depending on the problem you may also need to clean the system thoroughly prior to restarting the cycle.

As noted the placement of your NFT system should leverage as much natural light, shade and climate temperature as possible. It’s always best to go with a system that’s suitable to the climate of your location, so instead of fighting against mother nature, it will be much easier to harness her power then accent it with grow lights, and/or shading where necessary.


Prevent algae growth
One of the reason we advise using location to your advantage in terms of light, is because too much light can promote the growth of algae. Algae can suffocate the other living organisms in your system, so you’ll want to minimize it’s potential to grow. Be sure to limit hours of unneeded light, keep areas that don’t require light shaded, and don’t use opaque building materials for the same reason.

Prevent pests and disease
To avoid contamination ensure any devices, as well as your hands, are clean when handling any part of the system. Keep the water clean, remove any uneaten food, as well as any unhealthy fish and/or plants. Always check for signs of pest and disease when monitoring your system, and never leave anything till later, or even worse, to fix itself. Pests and disease can and will cause your system to die.

Neem oil or a citrus-based insecticidal oil are great for preventing any outbreaks. However if you already have an infestation then you’ll need to use natural predators like aphid midges larvae, ladybugs, or lacewigs, which will eat and get rid if pests.

Balance fish to plant ratio
General rule of thumb for stocking density is a ratio of 1:2 / fish:plant.

Consistency is extremely important. Even minor fluctuations in levels can greatly affect the health of the fish and plants, and quickly too.

Combining Techniques
Aquaponics techniques can be combined together to maximize yield and increase the variety of plants you can grow. Whilst not advised for beginners, it does have a number of benefits and is something to consider once you’ve gathered some experience.

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How to Prune Your NFT Aquaponics Plants

Remember to space your plants adequately. This will be different for each species but is typically between 12-18inches. You’ll also need to prune and trim the plants as they grow. This will prevent them from overcrowding and keeps them healthy whilst utilizing nutrients efficiently.

Pruning and trimming will also vary from plant to plant, by generally consists of removing dead leaves, cutting branches back, and pinching the tops to prevent further vertical growth.

How to Harvest Your NFT Aquaponic Crops

A method that’s already gained a lot of popularity thanks to many years of use in the hydroponics industry, NFT aquaponics are a great choice for home aquaponics and commercial systems alike. Although there are limits to the number of different types of plants you can grow using NFT setups, the species that do well typically turn over faster, and will lower water, and nutrient requirements and traditional soil methods.

As well as being easy to setup and maintain, the systems are relatively affordable and the DIY method can look highly professional. With a lot more benefits outweighing the few negatives, NFT setups should at least be consideration for anyone looking to construct a new aquaponics setup, whether they’re a novice, expert, home grower, or commercial operation.


In Conclusion

With so much choice when it comes to selecting plants for media based aquaponics, it can be difficult knowing whether to even begin, especially for beginners. However, by understanding the other components of your system, and what factors will matter the most during your grow. you can make a more informed decision that can give the plants growing in your aquaponics setup the best chances of survival.

Popular and perfect for home application, media based aquaponics systems are usually top of the bill, likely due to the fact that the method holds a few advantages over other systems.

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