What Is Vertical Farming And What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages?

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What Is Vertical Farming?

Vertical farming is the growing of food in vertical layers or inclined structures.  Most vertical farming operations are in controlled environments.  They use places such as greenhouses, warehouses and shipping containers.

With more and more of the population living in urban areas, growing food there makes sense.  Many believe vertical farms is the only way to feed tomorrows growing population.  Additionally, vertical farming operations could also include foul, pigs and goats.

Most of the vertical farms are rather small.  Some are rather large.  The larger ones are using building like abandoned warehouses and factories.  They can cover several thousand square feet.  They could are just multi story greenhouses.

A New Jersey company, AeroFarms, say they have the worlds largest vertical farm in the world.  AeroFarms are growing crops like lettuce, kale and other leafy green vegetables.  They will have over 250 different greens and herbs.  Start up date: Sept 2016.

The use of shipping containers is becoming common with vertical farming.  Containers come equipped with environmental controls.  As a result, crops can be grown all year long.  Plants are grown in trays on shelves with artificial lighting.    So they do need electricity to operate and some are solar powered.

There are a few companies selling these.  I have seen prices from $70K to about $85K.  Not cheap, but if you have a spot for a shipping container, you can grow a lot of produce.

Vertical Hydroponic Farming

Hydroponics is not a new technology.  Early Egyptians as well as Aztecs and others, used hydroponics to grow plants.  The hanging gardens of Babylon ring a bell?

Vertical hydroponic farming is the preferred method in most vertical farms.  Hydroponics is the method of growing crops without soil. It uses a pH balanced nutrient solution instead of the traditional method of using soil.  There are three types:

  1. Aeroponics – This is where the roots either get dripped upon or misted.  This uses no soil or other growing medium.
  2. Agroponics – Plants are grown in a medium such as perilite, gravel or other material.
  3. Aquaponics – Plants will be grown with their roots in the nutrient solution.   The nutrients may come from a chemical fertilizer or they may come from fish waste. Aquaculture is the term for using fish waste.

Types of Vertical Farms

There are several different types of vertical farming systems available to the budding farmer.  Some of the more common are:

High Density Vertical (HDV): This system utilizes stack-able, pots (usually plastic). This system drips nutrient solution onto the roots of the top plant. The solution drips down from one plant to the next.  Then it finally runs into a collection chamber.
vertical farming hydroponicsNutrient Film Technique (NFT): Plants are grown in a type of gutter or channel.   Plants have their roots suspended in a moving nutrient solution.  These gutters have little slope and the recirculating solution is shallow.  An eight of an inch or so.  Hence, film in the name.

Deep Water Culture (DWC): This is where they float the plants in a raft like structure.  They will have their roots submerged in the nutrient solution.  The roots are always kept covered.

Farms may use one or more of these techniques.

Vertical Farming Advantages:

  • Vertical hydroponic farms use a closed system most of the time.  That means that the water is then recycled.  Because of this, they use 95% less water than traditional farming.
  • Crops can be grown all year round.
  • It takes less space.
  • It is less labor intensive.   There are no requirements for weeding, fertilizing or pest control.  Additionally, it is easier to harvest.
  • Less use of fossil fuels for food distribution.
  • No pollution of the surrounding environment due to chemical runoff.
  • No weather damaged crops.

Vertical Farming Disadvantages:

  • More expensive to get started.
  • Requires some technical expertise and constant supervision.
  • Choice of crops is somewhat limited.
  • Does need electricity to operate pumps and artificial lights.
  • Susceptible to power outages if no backup power source.

Vertical Farming At Home

Many have started vertical farming using the same technologies that the commercial farmers do.  They just do it on a smaller scale.  A home farm could be setup in a greenhouse, a patio or even the yard.  Home farms are usually not going to be the controlled environment systems due to cost.  Some of the commercial systems will sell for around $85K.

A home based vertical farm could be one of a multitude of different types.  They can be indoor or outdoor.  The can be soil based, hydroponic, aquaculture or some combination.  You have the choice of so many different types it is hard to describe.

There are several different companies selling vertical farming and vertical gardening systems.  They can be anywhere from a few plant system to large commercial systems.

DIY

Bright Agrotech makes a system called the ZipGrow Farm Wall.  It is a system of square tubes with a slot for the plants to grow in.  These tubes are then filled with their grow medium and then stood up.  The plants get fed by dripping nutrient solution into the top and collecting it on the bottom.  There can be one tube or hundreds of tubes.  Several plants are grown in each tube.

Other manufacturers are making similar growing systems.

Mr Stackey’s Vertical Farming System

Vertical Farming SystemMr. Stacky make a system that uses a system of stacking planters.  These systems rotate the growing area from one level to the next.  As a result, excess water from one planter drips down to the next planter.  These stacking planters can be several feet high.

There are planters that you can hang on the wall.  Planters are being  made of just about anything. Fabric, wood and plastic are common materials.  Also, they could be as simple as soda cans or bottles.  Some people are even growing in their walls.

As you can see there are many options so you don’t have to be vertically challenged.

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