You always hear that somewhere or the other food shortages are always there. Natural calamities like droughts, floods and landslides tend to majorly affect our food production. However, what if I said that there’s a solution to this, one where you can grow food without the risk of disasters or even the need for land? Yes, we’re talking about vertical farming that happens indoors.
In countries where you have shortage of agricultural land, vertical growing of food is a boon. This is because you can practice it at home, in a warehouse or even inside a shipping container. And it’s nothing close to typical agriculture and farming, where you need to take care of irrigation or the soil.
In fact, you can grow healthier food at a much faster rate, provided you use the right vertical farming technology. Let’s check out what this is all about and how it works.
What is Vertical Framing?
To be precise, it is a system where you grow plants on vertically stacked layers instead of flat land. It mostly takes place indoors, where you artificially control the environment for growing the plants.
So, instead of rainwater, you provide them with a liquid concentration of nutrients. Instead of sunlight, you use LED light. You even control the temperature of the room artificially using various devices. Most importantly, instead of using a field, the crops grow in your balcony or warehouse.
How does it Work?
Before we move to the technology, here’s a better understanding of what a vertical farm looks like:
- You create vertical stacks in layers first. They can be either like trays or shelves where you grow your plants. The section below explains how.
- Coming to the lighting, you keep a blend of natural sunlight and LED lights. With the help of rotating beds, you can control the lighting throughout the day with ease.
- You don’t worry about soil in vertical growing because you don’t use it. Instead, you use substitutes like coconut husk, peat moss, mineral solutions and other medium. We’ll be discussing that detail in the section below.
Vertical Farming Systems
Vertical growing systems would refer to the arrangement that you’ll make in the room to grow your plants. Where will you place them if not on a soil bed? Here are 3 different types of structures:
Vertical Grow Racks
They’re like the huge racks you see in some stores or supermarkets where they keep things on big shelves. They are generally made of steel and have 2-3 layers of shelves. They are horizontally longer and each shelf has space to grow plenty of plants.
These racks are taller, narrower and more easily movable. It creates more space for planting and is very convenient for growing crops in a comparatively smaller space. Framing operations like watering or harvesting are also made simpler.
Low Rise Grow Trays
Just as the name suggests, these are shallow trays, broad enough to grow plenty of crops in one. These are basically containers that you convert into a bed for growing crops. You could fill them will soil substitutes and grow plants that are small in size.
Techniques of Vertical Farming
Since vertical farming takes place indoors, you don’t take the load of bringing in soil. If you had that, you might as well grew it on land, isn’t it? That is why we use alternative growing mediums, which ensure that your vertical farm is clean, capable of providing higher yield and helps you save water too.
There are 3 ways in which you grow plants vertically:
Hydroponic farming is a system where you grow plants using a liquid solution of nutrients as a growing medium. It is basically water blended with nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, zinc and other vital nutrients. To support the roots, we use sand, gravel or any other chemically inactive medium.
Now, in a vertical hydroponic system, you either use towers or a zig zag system. Here’s how it works:
- The tower or tube is connected to a water reservoir where the solution is there.
- The hydroponic pump takes this solution to the plants.
- The roots absorb the necessary water and nutrients, while the rest falls back into the reservoir due to gravity.
- As a result, you save 13 times more water than you would otherwise.
Apart from this, hydroponic vertical farming also allows you to grow more plants within an area, all-year round planting, healthy and organic growth and convenience in farming.
In an aquaponics system, you combine aquaculture with hydroponics. Instead of a nutrient-rich solution, you use waste water from the pond where you’re breeding fish. Of course, you filter this waste water and convert ammonia into nitrate first. Then, you give the water to the plants which will absorb the nutrients and carbon dioxide from it, thereby purifying it for the fish again.
In a vertical aquaponics system, you connect the fish tank to the vertical tower through a pump. The plants absorb the necessary water and nutrients and the rest goes back to the tank along with fresh oxygen from the air.
The main benefit of this system is that it allows you to breed fish and grow plants in the same space at a very low cost. Not to mention, it saves a tremendous amount of water.
So far, we were using at least some medium to grow plants. However, in aeroponic farming, this need goes away too. In this system, you let the roots grow in the air and use mist or droplets of nutrients to grow the plants.
You “sow” the seeds on a piece of foam. One end of this foam is exposed to sunlight or artificial light while the other is sprayed with nutrient mist. As the roots come out, you keep spraying that mist on the roots from time to time.
NASA, the inventor of this technique says this can actually help you grow plants in space! Moreover, there’s no doubt that you’re saving plenty of water here and getting a high, healthy yield.
Types of Vertical Farming
Here, we’ll see what space you can use to place the racks – no matter what medium you’re using. There are 3 types of places where you can practice vertical growing of plants:
Building-Based Vertical Farms
This would include skyscrapers, offices, residences, warehouses or any other space inside a building. It is the most common vertical farming practice as these spaces are easily available. The environment is partially natural and partially controlled artificially.
Here, you use shipping containers to grow plants. These are obviously around 40-feet large containers, where you have enough space to set up a vertical farm. The lighting and temperature control here is completely artificial.
From buildings and transport containers, we now move underground. That’s what deep farming is all about – setting up the racks, lights and temperature in underground tunnels or mine shafts. Here too, the environment is completely artificial.
How to Practice Vertical Farming At Home?
By now, you’ve understood the types and techniques of vertically growing plants. Now, if you feel like trying it at home, believe me it’s neither complicated nor costly. In fact, the amount of work you have to do is really less once your setup is done.
The basic vertical farming equipment that you’ll need includes:
- Containers in which you would choose to plant. For home, low rise trays, pots and bottles are convenient containers to use where you can grow plants. If you have more space, you can use a mobile stand too.
- Next, you need the plant seeds that you want to grow. Do choose them on the basis of one factor – how much artificial control of light and temperature is possible in the space where you’re growing?
- According to the seeds you choose, you can either get a hydroponic solution or nutrition mist for aeroponic farming. If you think neither can be possible, you can consider using coconut peat too. If you have an aquarium at home, the best solution for you will be aquaponics farming. You’ll be needing a pump and connecting pipe for irrigation in case you opt for hydroponic or aquaponic farming.
- Now, depending on the space you choose and the plant you choose, look for devices that may help you control light and temperature artificially. Usually, in the balcony you might have to depend on natural light and temperature as it is open. However, in a completely indoor space, you may need full spectrum LED grow lights.
You can avail some really good vertical farming equipment from Agrilution. The company provides seeds, containers where you can grow them, intelligent lighting, automatic watering and artificial climate control.
Benefits of Vertical Farming
One of the biggest advantages of vertical farming is that anyone can practice it. If practiced on a commercial scale, vertical growing can really help to meet food demands. So, overall here are the benefits of vertical farming that we can see from what we learnt so far:
- It helps in growing a much higher yield and helps meet the food demand of the country.
- You can save a 70-95% water.
- There is nearly no wastage of nutrients.
- You can grow the same plant all year round.
- The risk is minimal due to no dependency on the weather.
- Since you’re indoors, there is no need for pesticides, encouraging organic growth.
- There are no chances of soil-borne diseases for plants since they’re growing on substitute mediums.
- You can practice it literally anywhere – even in space in case of aeroponic farming.
What is the Future of Vertical Farming?
Vertical farming is not a new concept, but the technology is surely growing day by day. Aerofarms is a company that has been vertically growing plants using aeroponic technology. And they’ve been doing it since 2004. Today, they are a very popular brand.
Food that grows on soil contaminated with pesticides don’t have the nutrition that organic foods do. Vertical farming technology has promoted organic, healthy, fast and sustainable growth of food. Additionally, it has helped reduce shortage of food and helped us grow crops all year round. Even if you practice it personally at home, it could help you with groceries you need the most.