Constant changes in our world, such as increasingly extreme weather and population growth, have prompted many people to deal intensively with the production and distribution of food. The promises of consistency, control, resource efficiency, and space efficiency have made indoor farming one of the most widespread areas of innovation in this space. This new industry has already been divided into several iterations, from home gardens and camping farms to our own greenery. But how do these different sizes really compare? If you are thinking of growing greens hydroponically, which version of indoor farming is right for you?
New hydroponic growers who want to start small with a garden-sized hydroponic system have two main options: a homemade garden or ready-made home appliances from companies like Ikea or Sprout’s iO.
While growing at home is the cheapest and riskiest gateway to hydroponics, it also boils down to lower production and is, therefore, more suitable for hobbyists than urban farming entrepreneurs. There are plenty of resources online for those who want to try building their own system by hand. Of course, not everyone has the time, desire, or expertise to build a grow space at home. Washing machines and/or countertops, on the other hand, require much less labor but are usually aimed at a lower overall production. Think of this as the hydroponic version of a windowsill herb garden. Those looking to build a business around their hydroponic business will have to look elsewhere for their growing systems to get to market at a competitive pace.
At the other end of the spectrum, warehouse farms in many major cities have caught the attention of entrepreneurs and investors as they are clearly capable of producing massive amounts of a consistent product. Many of these projects are aimed at the wholesale trade, but sometimes they forget to leave room to learn and develop their farming system.
Warehouse Farming Have Certain Advantages:
They are a great way to turn underused buildings into activities that create jobs and feed communities. At a certain size, farmers can automate most or all of the process to keep production costs from getting out of hand. Large storage companies can produce vegetables all year round. If they are large enough, they will gain significant market share in urban areas where millions of people are willing and willing to buy fresh farm vegetables.
“The design cost for a 5000 square feet warehouse system alone starts at $ 300,000 to $ 500,000 before the farming system is built and perfected. Many warehouse companies essentially have to invent their own growing system.
However, the big advantages of storage companies have certain drawbacks. To achieve economies of scale and levels of production that can finance the business or pay back investors, a warehouse expansion must overcome several high cost and infrastructure hurdles. Even with cheap, underutilized properties near target markets, the start-up capital required to make a warehouse operational afterward is huge compared to the supermarket’s more modest margins.
First, for a 5000 square feet warehouse system alone, the planning costs start at $ 300 to $ 500,000 before the farming system is built and perfected. Many warehouse companies essentially have to invent their own growing system.
Subsequently, the high cost of agricultural machinery and automation equipment increases the initial capital investment to a level that almost guarantees the need for outside investors. Then a larger space means a larger environment to control and thus a lot more energy to maintain perfect growing conditions. These high delivery costs coupled with a very high start-up capital requirement mean that the return on investment extends over a very unattractive period.
When it comes to warehousing, we have seen that the high electricity demand adds enormously to the challenge of building an economically successful growth business. Many projects have tried to get rid of these high electricity costs by building a greenhouse on top of a warehouse to take advantage of natural light.
While this may seem like an attractive alternative to a warehouse full of energy-intensive grow lights, there are some hidden costs associated with building and growing food on the roof. Everything from the structure and shape of a roof to regulations requiring easy access can make running a farm difficult.
Those wishing to grow on a roof should consider the shape of the building and the presence of HVAC systems, ensure the structural stability of the building in the presence of additional weight and water and move goods to/from the farm.
“Building and growing food on a roof entail a multitude of hidden costs. Everything from the structure and shape of a roof to regulations requiring easy access can make running a farm difficult.
Even though the building was built perfectly and literally for a rooftop greenhouse, potential farmers now face the hurdles of minimal structural requirements for the greenhouse itself. For example, when a greenhouse is placed on a roof, it is exposed to higher winds than close to the ground.
Building codes often require any roof structure to withstand hurricane-force winds (over 75 miles per hour), requiring significant engineering time and resources. Then the transparent structure that captures the natural sunlight must not only be able to withstand full snow or ice load, but also throw it off so that the harvest never ends up in the shade. To meet all of these requirements and get a rooftop greenhouse up and running, it can easily cost over $ 1 million to code the greenhouse.
After all these costs, you now have a growing business exposed to seasonal changes in light, producing vegetables up to the roof that then needs to be shipped (in bulk if you want a comfortable return on investment). on the ground floor. This Wall Street Journal article sums it up very briefly: “Building farms on top of cities is a stupid endeavor because of the higher costs and the extra time it takes to get approval.”
Greenhouses have been the workhorse for indoor growers for over 100 years, especially when it comes to making flowers and ornamental plants. The modern high-tech designs were developed in the Netherlands and are now known all over the world. Several examples of these farms can be seen in the United States, the largest of which extends over hundreds of acres. For example, Altman Plants (CA) has nearly 600 hectares under glass, according to Greenhouse Grower, followed by Costa Farms (FL) with 345 hectares (1). These are mainly used to make ornamental plants.
Edible plant greenhouses were originally designed for making tomatoes, but are now used to make kale, microgreens, lettuce, herbs, squash, and a host of other types of fresh produce. These greenhouses, which used to be in rural areas, are now placed near metropolitan areas to bring operations closer to population centers. For example, BrightFarms has greenhouse operations outside of Philadelphia and Cincinnati to produce lettuce and other leafy greens. Gotham Greens’ first greenhouse stood atop a warehouse in Brooklyn, NY, and has since expanded to other cities. Lufa Farms has several rooftop locations in Montreal and other parts of Canada.
What greenhouses have in common is that they are lined with materials such as glass that allow natural sunlight through, including air conditioning and irrigation equipment, and all growth takes place on one level. Even during the winter months, you can use a modest amount of additional lighting.
The use of limited space and resources for planting is called implementing a vertical growing system. The system places plants in an environment that works with their agriculture and optimizes growth. This allows plants to be harvested on shelves or towers that are vertical, instead of the traditional old-fashioned horizontal farming.
Farmers using this method can grow exponentially greater amounts of food on the same amount of land due to the improved use of space. Vertical farming can be more difficult to implement because more control over temperature, humidity, and light is required to be successful. It takes even more determination, discipline, and hard work on the part of the farmers!
Vertical farming works by growing the plants in a stacked tower or shelf structure using scalable technology. Plants are filled in cups or containers to save space. There are many different types of vertical grow systems that farmers can use to get the best crop.
Different types of vertical farming systems
This vertical farming technique suggests growing crops without soil. Hydroponics systems immerse plant roots in liquid solutions with different nutrients. Instead of using soil, materials such as gravel and sand are used to replace the roots of the plants. This allows macronutrients or the nutrients that plants need in large quantities to be absorbed and concentrated.
The benefits of hydroponics include increasing crop production in an area and reducing the amount of water used by the crops as a whole.
There are several approaches to design hydroponic systems, but the core elements are essentially the same.
What you need:
- Freshwater. We were talking about primo, filtered stuff with a balanced pH. Most plants like water with a pH between 6 and 6.5. You can adjust the acidity of your water with over-the-counter solutions available at your local hardware store, garden, or hydroponic supply store.
- Oxygen. Don’t drown your plants! In traditional agriculture, roots can get the oxygen they need to breathe from air bubbles in the soil. Depending on your hydroponic culture, you will either need to leave space between the bottom of your plant and the water reservoir or supply your tank with oxygen (think bubbles in an aquarium), which you can achieve by purchasing an air stone or installing an air stone. pump.
- Root support. Even if you don’t need soil, the roots of your plant still need a hold. Typical materials are vermiculite, perlite, sphagnum moss, coconut fiber, and rock wool. Stay away from materials that can compact (such as sand) or that will not retain moisture (such as gravel).
- Nutrient. Your plant needs a lot of magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, and other nutrients to stay healthy and productive, just like plants that grow in the ground need healthy soil and fertilizer. If you are growing plants without soil, this “plant food” should be in the water that nourishes your plants. While you can technically make your own nutrient solution, buying blends online and in stores is easy.
- Light. If you are growing your plants indoors, you may need to invest in specialized lighting. Each type of installation has different requirements for the amount of light needed and the placement of lamps (usually referred to as Daily Light Integral or DLI).
While there are other elements to consider when upgrading your hydroponic farm sophistication (such as CO2 supplementation), the five elements listed above are the most basic elements of a hydroponic system.
By tracking and adjusting these important variables, you can discover exactly what your plants need to thrive and mimic these conditions for future growth.
Aquaponics combines aquaculture and hydroponics. Aquaculture refers to the use of fish farming and hydroponic plants without soil. Aquaponics takes hydroponics to the next level by integrating land plant production and using aquatic organisms to promote their growth.
In a closed system (or a system that feeds on itself without external organisms), the environment of the plant mimics its natural habitat. The combination of natural aquatic organisms without land-use helps plants to focus on absorbing natural materials and nutrients.
The main focus of aquaponics is on the creation of slow-growing plants with the involvement of some aquatic organisms. Since nutrients and vertical farming are still used here, but at a reduced rate, it is not used as often as in other vertical farming.
Why grow food this way?
- Aquaponics uses less water than any other gardening job – up to one-tenth the amount used in traditional gardening on Earth.
- Aquaponics takes less time than fish farming as plants do some of the cleanings for you.
- Growing with aquaponics is completely organic. You just can’t use harsh chemicals because they are deadly to the fish.
- Aquaponics grow beds are usually medium-high and will relieve your back while you take care of your plants.
- The time it takes to grow with aquaponics is much less when compared to other forms of gardening with food.
- Food can be grown anywhere: indoors, outdoors, in greenhouses, even your bedroom!
- Systems can be tailored to your needs – small enough to feed a few or large enough to feed a community.
Aquaponics Design: Which System Is Best?
There are several ways to set up an aquaponic system. The three most common are:
Set up Deep Water Culture
The deepwater culture system, also called raft building, uses a floating foam raft commonly used in large commercial settings. This allows the roots of the plants to fall into the water and draw nutrients directly from the channel through which the water flows. The water was taken from the tank where the fish live and filtered to remove solid waste.
Establish a feeding film
In this method, the water is sucked out of the aquarium through a narrow, cylindrical tube, such as PVC, with holes in the top. The roots then dangle through the holes, where they extract nutrients from the water. This setup works for spaces with little floor space, as it can be driven over walls or hung from ceilings. It can be placed horizontally or vertically and is great for plants that don’t need support to grow, such as. B. leafy vegetables.
Set media bed
In this system, plants are grown in a certain type of medium, such as clay pebbles, and the media bed is usually located on or next to the aquarium. A pump sucks the water out of the tank and then flows through the media bed allowing the plants to extract nutrients from the water before it is fully filtered and returned to the fish.
This type of system is best used by NASA to find an efficient way to produce crops in unconventional conditions. NASA mainly looked for this technique to see how easy it was to grow plants in space in the 1990s. Aeroponics is unique in that it does not use soil or aquatic organisms to grow.
Instead, the lack of a growing medium helps to save energy for the cultivation technology and the plants. Because gravity automatically dissipates excess liquid, this technology is particularly suitable for use in space.
Since aeroponics is not a typical method, it is not used that often. However, with the rise of vertical farming and its efficiency, it is starting to take hold.
Considerations for equipment
All aeroponic systems require housing to retain moisture and prevent light from reaching the roots (this is usually a plastic container with holes drilled for each plant), as well as a separate tank to hold the nutrient solution. In addition to these basic components, there are a few other things to consider when designing an aeroponics system that meets your needs.
Some aeroponic systems are designed as traditional plant beds for horizontal use. However, towers and other vertical approaches are gaining in popularity – as the roots need to spread out, this is a smart way to save space. Vertical systems are also popular because the nebulizers can be placed on top to allow gravity to disperse moisture.
Another dichotomy in aeroponic devices: high pressure and low-pressure systems.
Low-pressure systems that rely on a simple fountain pump to spray water through the nebulizers are inexpensive and suitable for home improvement. This approach is also called “soakaponics” because low-pressure mist can only create a light mist, similar to a small nozzle, and not a true mist.
For true mist – that is, moisture floats in the air and delivers the nutrients to the roots more effectively – you need higher water pressure than a regular pump can provide. Professional aeroponic systems are therefore based on a water pressure tank that can hold 60 to 90 psi, as well as high-quality mists that can deliver the best possible moisture boost.
Hydroponics suppliers increasingly stock a full line of aeroponics equipment, from the nutrients, pots, pumps, timers, and hoses you need for a DIY system to fully automated turnkey aero farms.
What can you grow with Aeroponics?
In theory everything. In practice, aeroponic systems are mainly used for the same applications as hydroponic systems, including leafy vegetables, culinary herbs, marijuana, strawberries, tomatoes, and cucumbers. The exception is root crops, which are impractical in a hydroponic system but are well suited for aeroponics as the roots provide plenty of room to grow and are easily accessible for harvest.
Other vegetables are possible but have more complex nutritional requirements. Fruit bushes and trees are impractical in aeroponic systems due to their size.
Advantages of vertical cultivation systems
There are an efficient supply and absorption of nutrients by plants that maximize growth and allows plants to thrive and produce high yields.
The plants produced are of high quality; Very green, clean, leafy, nutritious, and tasty compared to plants made with normal playing methods.
Costs can be significantly reduced in terms of handling, labor, and the fact that water is recycled in most systems.
The systems are very durable and environmentally friendly. For example, aeroponics uses 90% less water than traditional agriculture on land.
With this system, 100% organic plants can be produced that are free from chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides.
Why does the world need indoor farming?
As the world population continues to grow and the demand for food increases by 70% by 2050, humanity needs an alternative solution to traditional farms. More people means more living space is needed, leaving less land for traditional cultivation techniques. In other words, more land for subsistence means less land for agriculture.
This can lead to higher costs for agricultural land, but it also means that farms have to increase their production per hectare. If you plant horizontally, there are only enough plants to fit in a given acre. Likewise, with global climate change, plants are affected by rising temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events.
Of course, something has to change and indoor farming can be a solution to all these problems. With vertical farming methods, it is possible to produce much higher yields per hectare than with horizontal farming, thus meeting the growing demand for crops with less space. It also ensures healthier plants without pesticides, pests, fungi, or bacteria.
High, prohibitive costs
However, indoor cultivation has higher costs, which can be prohibitively expensive for startups. In contrast, some companies are working on advancements to improve technology and reduce costs. It consumes significant amounts of energy, but progress is also being made in this area. As technology improves, it usually gets cheaper, but it’s still an issue.
However, another potential advantage of indoor farms is their suitability for urban environments. Poorer populations living in large cities have less access to fresh fruits and vegetables, leading to higher health costs and higher rates of obesity and health problems. Small indoor farms scattered around a city can reduce production costs and help these populations.
Another potential benefit is helping high-risk urban youth develop healthy habits using indoor gardening and farming. Rather than engaging in crime, gangs, drugs, or violence, inner-city teens can find a healthy hobby by growing their food.
In the United States, many not-for-profit urban gardens have sprung up to improve access to affordable fresh produce and to enable the downtown population to connect with nature. It remains to be seen whether these techniques will have a positive impact on the urban population, but it is an efficient use of the available space regardless of other results.
Because the world is generally more efficient, people are breaking new ground to accelerate the quality and speed of their transactions. Agriculture has begun to deviate from typical horizontal farming and create more crops with less room for vertical farming.
Some methods have been tested, others are still under development. The more techniques that are discovered, the more efficient agriculture becomes. This, in turn, will help to use space, conserve resources, grow successful plants, and ultimately increase efficiency all around.