How to do Vertical Farming
What is Vertical Farming?
Vertical farming is a modern technique of farming in which plants or crops are grown in vertical stacked layers under a controlled environment using soilless farming techniques such as Hydroponics, Aeroponics and Aquaponics.
The concept of vertical farming is different from traditional farming techniques. The food is produced in vertical inclined surfaces instead of growing plants at a single level as in fields or a greenhouse. These stacked layers are well integrated to multiple structures like a skyscraper, shipping containers, or warehouses.
The farming is done in a controlled environment so there is an artificial control of temperature, light, humidity and gases which produces fruits and medicines required. Also, it helps in maximizing the crops output in a limited space. Vertical farming is somehow similar to green houses where metal reflectors and artificial lightning is used instead of natural sunlight.
Vertical farming is applied with some other state-of-the-art technologies such as specialised LED lights which have resulted in over 10 times the crop yield than it would have yielded through any other traditional farming methods.
Techniques of Vertical farming
Vertical farming is a more sustainable method or an eco-friendly method of growing crops which utilizes almost 70% less water than any other traditional farming techniques and helps to save a reasonable amount of resources. Vertical farming proves to be efficient in almost every environmental condition.
Vertical farming is based on 3 techniques of farming. They are:
- Hydroponics – It is a method of growing plants without any involvement of soil, where the roots of the plants are submerged in a solution which contains micronutrients such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Sulphur, Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium and some trace elements such as Iron, Chlorine, Manganese, Boron, Zinc, Copper and Molybdenum.
These solutions with some substrates like gravel, sand, or sawdust support the roots and help in higher yield of crops. It helps in reducing the dependence on water for growing crops and is one of the most widely used methods in vertical farming.
- Aeroponics – It is the process of growing plants in air without actually dipping it in the nutrient solution or in a mist medium without soil or any aggregate medium.
Aeroponics consumes 90% less water than traditional farming techniques and it is more advanced and efficient in terms of growing crops than the hydroponic growing system. In an aeroponics system, the plants absorb more nutrients and minerals and so the vegetables produced by this method are more fresh, tasty, quality rich and even more healthy. In the present scenario, aeroponics is not as widely applied to vertical farming but in near future it will surely attract significant attention to the farmers.
Aquaponics – Aquaponics is a combination of two words: ‘aquaculture’ referring to fish farming and ‘hydroponics’. It takes hydroponics to an advanced level. This system integrates the production of plants with the production of aquatic organisms in a closed loop system. The nutrient rich water in the fish tank is used as a food source for the plants and on the other hand these plants clean and purify the water and make it available for the fish.
Aquaponics can be an ideal option for vertical farming but it is not as widely used as conventional hydroponics in the current period.
Types of Vertical farming
There are 3 known types of vertical farming. They are:
- Building based Farms – The buildings which are left abandoned repurposed for doing vertical farming and sometimes new buildings are also used to construct vertical farms, depending on the requirements.
- Shipping container Vertical farms – Vertical farms use Old and recycled shipping containers. These containers are equipped with LED lighting, vertically stacked farms, smart climate controls and monitoring sensors. These constructed vertical farms save even more space and also produce higher yields per square foot.
- Underground Vertical farms – These farms are also known as ‘Deep farms’ which are built in underground tunnels, abandoned mine shafts or any subterranean environment. There is a temperate and constant temperature underground and humidity is also constant, these farms require less energy for heating and they also reduce the cost of water supply. Due to these factors it produces 7 to 9 times more food than a traditional farm.
Requirements for a Vertical Farm
Vertical farming is a modern date technique of growing crops without soil as like hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics in vertical stacks producing maximum yield in minimum space. Therefore, it requires maximum attention and care for growing crops inside a vertical farm. It is essential to control the irrigation, lighting and fertigation inside the farm.
Some of the various equipments and systems for a vertical farming are:
- Climate Control System – For growing healthy plants in a vertical farm, you need a proper controlled environment. It is essential to manage different aspects inside the farm including humidity, lighting, temperature and Carbon dioxide. The control system relies on various devices which are specifically monitored by trained engineers.
- Hydroponics System – Vertical farms generally follow a Hydroponic farming system which requires all the nutrients through a solution. The system provides the required amount of water, oxygen and nutrients in the form of a solution.
You have to remember that any overdose or underdose of these nutrients can damage the plants and can also affect the growth and yield of crops, so, there should be a calculated amount of nutrients for nurturing the plants.
- Irrigation & Fertigation Controllers – Vertical farms use these controllers which are very efficient to monitor different aspects including irrigation and fertigation requirements and also saves energy by doing so.
How Vertical Farming works?
Vertical farming helps us to grow crops in a self controlled environment with the use of proper knowledge and technology. The climate is under the control of our mother nature of which we can do nothing but vertical farming allows us to control all the chaotic factors responsible for the growth of plants, hence contributing to an increased yield of crops.
Vertical farm works on the basis of the following factors:
- Centrally controlled temperature
- Mixture of both artificial and natural light
- Sensors to control nutrients and fertilizers level
- Controlled humidity level
Vertical farms allow maximum output in the least amount of space.
Vertical farms have mainly 3 features:
- LED’s (Light Emitting Diode)
- Aeroponic or Hydroponic System
- Cloth medium
The structure of a vertical farm has a solar panel on the top to absorb sunlight which mixes with LED lights having different wavelengths to target different types of chlorophyll, making the process of Photosynthesis more efficient.
Vertical farms use aeroponics or hydroponics systems as their key part where the plants are grown in a soilless mist which is sprayed from internal micro jets. The roots of the plants require a sufficient amount of water, oxygen and nutrients for their growth but in vertical farms there is no soil to provide with these requirements. But here the roots are uncovered and are exposed to more oxygen which helps them grow at a faster rate and it also uses around 95% less water than traditional farming methods and the nutrients are sprayed artificially to the roots.
The cloth medium in these political forms are used for seeding, germination , growing and harvesting of plants.
Vertical farming has a multiple stacking system in which there is one floor for cleaning of the growth trays, sowing and germination, one floor for packing and processing the plants and fish and there is also a sales and delivery floor at the basement of the farm.
There are many other sustainable features built inside the vertical farms like rainwater tanks, wind turbines and many multipurpose spaces which offset energy costs in these farms.
Best crops for Vertical Farm
Vertical farms allow you to grow almost any type of plant but that doesn’t mean that you grow everything in your farm. The best crops to be grown in vertical farms should be based on the revenue structure, economics of the species, demand of the crop and also the growing technique.
The most recommended type of crops to be grown in vertical farms are those which can mature fastly. Some of these crops are:
Advantages of Vertical Farms
Vertical farms come with a number of pros.
Some of them are named below:
- Renewable production
- Efficient use of urban space
- Water conservation
- Increased yield of crops
- Year-round crop production
- Environment friendly
- Reduction of transport cost
- Less labour cost
- Energy efficient
- No use of chemicals of pesticides
- Limits occupational hazards
- Future of farming
Limitations of Vertical Farms
As everything has a share of cons as well, vertical farming too has some limitations. They are:
- Less pollination
- Totally dependent on technology
- Effects communities
- Less employment
- Highly Expensive
Vertical farms are the future of farming as it not only provides fresh quality crops but it also helps in increasing food production and will surely expand in agricultural operations. As the world’s population is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, it is essential to produce large quantities of food in a sustainable way to meet human needs. In the future, vertical farms will be the only option to grow crops close to Urban centres because the space is limited there and these farms have an advantage of reduced transport costs and also increased quality product.