How to start vertical farming

Vertical farming as an industry has boomed due to the increasing urbanisation of the world. With less open space for traditional horizontal farms, growers started turning to this practice to make the most out of small spaces. These days, it has become possible to build a vertical farm from scratch, and almost anybody can do so. Read on to discover the optimal conditions for farming.

 

What is vertical farming?

Vertical farming is the practice of growing plants on surfaces that are vertically stacked in layers. It is optimal for farmers to grow more crops using limited space, as the increasing global urbanisation has made land scarce for traditional horizontal farming.

Once a niche industry, vertical farming businesses have boomed in recent years to keep up with feeding the rapidly growing global population. These days, vertical farms can be integrated into tall buildings or greenhouses, warehouses, shipping containers, and even underground. These businesses focus on growing crops, such as microgreens, leafy greens, and varieties of tomatoes.

 

Building your own farm

To start vertical farming, you must build your own farm. Several factors will contribute to its success These are climate, lighting, spacing, and use of technology.

Setting up the right climate

Firstly, growers must set up the right environment in which their crops can thrive. Where this is concerned, the climate must be managed well.

LED grow lights can be used instead of High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) grow lights for optimal climate control. This is because LEDs run on electrical currents, while HPS bulbs rely on the heating up of the vapour inside the bulb to generate light. This contributes to the famously low heat emissions of LEDs.

At LED iBond, our superior thermal management technology reduces heat emissions even further. Using 6mm Aluminium Composite Panels (ACPs) to transmit electrical currents to our LEDs, this patented idea makes a very efficient heat sink for redirecting heat flow.

Though different plants thrive at different temperatures, using LEDs can prevent the growing environment from having issues such as overheating. This can improve the overall humidity indoors and keep moisture in the plants.

When a farm is too hot, water from leaves will evaporate. This evaporated water will then contribute to higher humidity in the air, which will cause the farm to become uncomfortably warm and stuffy. The higher humidity may also promote mould and bacteria growth, invite pests such as fungus gnats and bugs, and cause root rot.

All of these issues will not only damage crops but cause inconvenience to the grower. They are best prevented by ensuring sufficient airflow in the farm with temperatures kept to an optimum level.

Investing in the right lighting

Secondly, and one of the most crucial aspects of building a vertical farm, is that the grower must invest in the right lighting. As growing takes place indoors, sometimes in areas without a single window, it is entirely up to the grower to decide how to provide lighting for their plants.

It has long been discovered that LED grow lights can improve efficiency in vertical farming due to the wide range of colours they are available in, their long service lives, and the small size of each LED. Knowing that lighting can greatly impact the quality of crops grown and harvested, growers should pay special attention to their lighting setups.

At LED iBond, we offer growers a unique shelf and rack system with integrated LED grow lights. This is an innovation precisely targeting the unique challenges of vertical farming, and lights on the shelf are customisable in terms of colour and number to fit every plant’s needs.

According to scientific research, plants respond best to the red and blue spectra in grow lights. Imitations of daylight are also effective in indoor farming. We provide deep red and royal blue LEDs that can be paired with high-power white lights, all of which can be integrated into our farming shelf to ensure plants get what they need.

As plants are stacked vertically, it is a bonus for shelves to be integrated with LEDs—light can then reach plants on all levels of the system. While the shelves support the plants in their growth, the rack acts as a secure framework for the shelves to ensure the setup is stable for long-term farming.

Spacing out plants

After the initial setup, growers can choose the type of crops they want to grow. Common options are microgreens and leafy greens that are fit for human consumption. Seedlings can be cultivated separately and horizontally during the initial growth period before being planted vertically.

It must be noted that just because these plants are grown in a small space does not mean that they have to be packed and cramped. Giving plants a little breathing room can be beneficial to their root growth and, naturally, from that, nutrient absorption.

Plants can be placed in alternate columns between vertical panels or planted in every single column but in a staggered manner. Additionally, growers can also opt for intercropping, which is to alternate different crops between columns. For example, even number columns can be used to plant large crops and odd number columns small ones.

How to space out plants depends on the grower’s judgement and experience, with the end goal to give each plant a little more space to grow into itself.

Using technology

Innovations in vertical farming equipment have also made the practice easier.

Apart from LED integration, our shelf and rack system has full Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities, which allows for the connection of third-party devices such as temperature, motion, and light sensors.

Growers can record and store data about plant growth rates and cycles. They can run experiments based on existing data and make adjustments until growing conditions are perfect to reap the highest yields.

Vertical farming setups can also benefit from robotic automation paired with existing sensors to increase productivity and efficiency. Robots can be assigned actions in response to triggers from the sensors. For example, when a sensor reports that there is insufficient moisture in plants, robots can tip a measured amount of water into the vertical columns. This can eliminate human monitoring, and as robots never have to rest, they can keep an eye on the farms twenty-four seven.

 

Benefits of vertical farming

High productivity in a small space

The greatest benefit of vertical farming is the use out of small spaces growers can get. Often, this space does not even need to be inside a building as shipping container and underground vertical farming have become more popular.

Growers can not only reap a higher yield when they stack plants up, but they can also grow in all seasons of the year and at all times of the day with the help of LED grow lights that stimulate each plant’s unique growth cycle. Seasonal crops can be grown and harvested year-round and at a higher rate.

Optimal growing conditions

Depending on the plant’s needs, farmers can adjust growing conditions as needed, down to the most minute details such as LED grow light brightness, angle, and colour. Plants at the bottom of these vertical columns can also have LEDs catered to them so that there is not a lack of light at any point in the growth process.

Additionally, taking farming indoors means that crops will be protected from unusual and changing weather patterns. This is especially helpful in regions that are prone to droughts, chronic rain, or flooding.

Ability to produce locally

With the ability to farm almost anywhere and in small spaces, it has become possible for communities to be self-sustainable. When farmers can produce their crops and distribute and consume them locally, it reduces transport fees and manual labour and improves communal morale for those who like to support local businesses.

The ability to produce crops locally is a huge draw for people who live in food deserts—rural or poor urban areas with limited access to healthy and nutritious food.

Improved plant taste

As plants are grown in a controlled environment, farmers have full licence to control the growing conditions down to the humidity of the space. Efficient management can not only lower bills but also improve plant taste.

Studies have shown that grow lights that mimic plant growth cycles can create more flavourful crops. These include optimising the level of light intensity and light and dark circles, both of which can improve a plant’s hormone composition, which enhances its flavour characteristics.

 

Start vertical farming today

As the world embraces vertical farming out of necessity, we at LED iBond strives to make the practice a pleasant, efficient, and sustainable one with our range of grow lights the technological capabilities of our shelf and rack system.

For more information about vertical farming equipment or advice on lighting options to build a vertical farm, please contact Henrik Fabricius, VP Sales, Vertical Farming, at (+45) 8161 7810 or via email at hfa@ledibond.com.