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What is Vertical Farming?
Vertical or indoor farming has seen widespread recognition in recent years as one of the most sustainable crop production methods. The system specifically emerged as a result of the 21st-century challenges, including food shortage, overpopulation, and others.
Today, this method has made it easy for anyone to grow their own food at home.
- Definition of vertical farming?
As the name suggests, it is simply the practice of growing crops in vertically slanted layers, like in a shipping container, skyscraper, or an old warehouse, and even inside our homes. The major objective of this method of crop production is to maximize the yield while using as little space as possible.
Vertical farming has been touted as a possible solution to the world’s food shortage. It is usually applied alongside another controlled environment agriculture technique called hydroponics.
- The concept
The concept of vertical farming is combines indoor farming methods with controlled environment agriculture technology, which helps control environmental factors, for example: fertigation, light, temperature, humidity, and gases including carbon dioxide.
At its best, vertical farming is a closed-loop arrangement that recycles resources, and its effectiveness is in minimizing water usage and space. This farming method is incredible for urban communities as it can facilitate the production of fresh food throughout the year.
Vertical farming at home?
Over the years, the technology involving vertical farming has been refined to the extent that it can now be done in the comfort of our homes, including some DIY indoor vertical farms.
However, many people tend to overlook one thing when looking to set up a vertical farm. That is the energy needed for construction and running the system, which must work against the ecology.
- Low Tech vertical setups
In recent years, new low tech vertical setups have been launched, such as Window farming, which uses items like pumps, lamps, and electricity and the method of hydroponics.
Another concept of vertical farming at home is ELIOO, which is actually not the equipment but a manual explaining steps for: building, running, and maintaining several vertical farms. It can be something as small as windowsill herb planter or a large vertical garden. This method also utilizes hydroponics to function.
Another form of a vertical farm at home is the DIY vertical farm, which is a robotic vertical garden requiring some various hardware equipment.
What do you need for vertical farming at home?
Setting up vertical farming at home can be quite costly, especially starting capital. It requires buying and installing several pieces of hardware equipment, which don’t come cheap. It will also require a sustained supply of electricity since the system is automated as well as some levels of know-how since this is high tech.
Vertical farming hydroponics
Vertical farming is not only dependent on aeroponics, but it is also dependent on hydroponic. They are all connected by the sustainability and minimization of water usage.
In vertical farming hydroponics, crops are grown in water as medium or in an artificial, contrived substrate, in buildings that have or don’t have windows. In case they don’t have windows, artificial lighting can be used instead.
The main criticism of vertical farming hydroponics is that the plants obtain their nutrients artificially, since they don’t have access to the microbiology of healthy soil.
This, according to critics, goes against the basic principles of organic farming, which states that the health of soil, plant, animal, and man is one and indivisible.
Vertical farming Equipment
To successfully have a vertical farming system at home, you will need a few hardware tools. The vertical farming equipment required for this system to work enables the crops to be stacked in platters on shelves rather than laid out flat across tracts of land.
In this system, plants don’t rely on natural energy from sunlight or pesticides and rainwater; instead, they are supplied with minerals and LED lights.
The most basic vertical farming tools are the full spectrum LED grow light, hydroponic systems, and vertical grow systems.
When setting up, the vertical system should comprise columns of vertically arranged shelving or growing trays in expansive warehouses.
Vertical farming advantages
Vertical farming has loads of advantages. Many experts believe it will offer the most dependable and sustainable solution to the global food shortage and the inadequacy of fresh food in urban areas. Below are some of the advantages of this method of farming.
- A reliable method for crop production
Perhaps that biggest advantage of vertical farming is its ability to function without depending on the weather. This means that food can be produced year-round without worrying about the season.
- Effective use of space
Another benefit of vertical farming is that you don’t need to look for fertile arable land like traditional farming. All you need is a space, whether in a desert or a city, and you can start producing your crops.
- Immunity to adverse weather conditions
The crops on vertical farming are grown in an enclosed controlled environment, which means all the suitable conditions are simulated and so no need to rely on the weather.
On the other hand, crops in the outdoors can be affected by adverse weather conditions such as strong winds, drought, or excess rain.
- No use of pesticides and chemicals
Vertical farming is completely organic. When managed properly, you will not need t use any chemicals or pesticides as the enclosed environment doesn’t allow pests to enter. Since the soil is not used, weeds can also not grow.
- Less water usage
Another major benefit of vertical farming is that it minimizes the use of water. The hydroponic systems used can cut water usage up to about 90% and in the process, also the number of fertilizers and nutrients. The water used is recycled, which also helps in reducing costs and while minimizing waste.
- Energy efficient
Though vertical farming requires a constant electricity supply to run the system for the crops to achieve optimum growth, the system can also generate its own power.
- Low labor costs
The system is fully automated, and therefore no need for manual labor in the farm for optimum year-round production.
Disadvantages of vertical farming
There are also some disadvantages of vertical farming. Some of them are discussed below.
- Vertical farming consumes a lot of energy
Since sunlight is not the primary use of energy, artificial light is used. This source of light can be seen as both strength and weakness of this method of farming.
While it allows farmers to produce crops regardless of the time of the year, it also consumes a lot of energy. Solar panels can also be used to supply complementary power. Still, even then, it is only applicable when there is plenty of sunlight.
- High initial capital
Though vertical farming is more efficient than traditional farming methods, setting up the systems requires some hardware equipment, which can be pretty expensive. This can prevent this method from being used in some parts of the world.
The high cost of starting also means it will take you longer before you start to see a return on your investment.
- It requires skilled labor
This method of farming uses various advanced technologies, including sensors, cameras, artificial intelligence, an automated system, and hydroponic, aeroponic, or aquaponic systems, which require high skill labor to install and run.
Though most of the machines are automated, you will still need some professionals to run and maintain the systems. Also, the equipment will need to be constantly repaired or replaced. In contrast, the software will need updates and adjustments along the way.
Suitable crops for vertical farming
Not all crops can be grown in a vertical farm. As a matter of fact, the type of crop can determine whether the vertical farm will be successful or not. Here are some of the best suitable crops for vertical farming.
Lettuce: Leafy greens are the biggest crops grown in vertical farming. According to a certain study, 57% of all indoor farming produces leafy produce, including lettuce.
This is because plants like lettuce are easy and quick to grow and consistently demand throughout the year. Lettuce is also available in numerous varieties, which allow farmers to switch from time to time to a whole new crop.
- Chard and collard greens:
Though not as popular as other veggies, chard and collard greens are slowly becoming favorite crops for vertical farmers. They tend to grow large in enabling conditions and can also be harvested multiple times a year.
This is perhaps the most common vertical farming crop. The nutrient powerhouse is an ideal choice for farmers, especially with the growing health-conscious market.
In traditional farming, basil can only thrive in a few months of the year, making it perfect for vertical farming. This plant responds so well in an enclosed, tightly controlled environment.
Is vertical farming the future?
Though the starting capital is so high, vertical farming can become the future of agriculture and help solve the global shortage.
However, the industry should cherish skilled labor since very few people have the know-how of operating the vertical farming systems.