Zartarian says: “It’s by no means impossible, but the jury is very much out on whether it’s cost effective long-term. If veggie growers prove it to be a dominant technique, I would expect to see more experimentation on the cannabis side.”
Stacked vertical (left) and true vertical (right) cannabis grows with LEDs. (Sean Walling/Leafly)
With true vertical growing, plants grow out the side of a column, and water and nutrients drip down from the top—see these examples from ZipGrow and Tower Garden.
Expensive to Set Up and Maintain
To allow for vertical growing with a diversity of strains, she and her partner Andres Chamorro invented a grow unit, TrellaGro LST, that trains plants to grow horizontally. Each unit is vertically stackable and equipped with LED lights that follow it as it grows sideways, allowing for taller strains and less energy use.
As it is, licensed operators he works with are struggling to meet demand and prefer to stick to more traditional techniques they know will produce.
The most common method of vertical farming is a stacked vertical setup—levels of plant racks with LED lights above each rack. Plants are topped and defoliated to keep them short and bud-heavy.
Because of this atmospheric variability, Hugh Gaasch, engineer at STEM Cultivation, recommends sensors to detect data points like moisture changes. “Shockingly, the majority of commercial growers I’ve seen to date use a single temperature/humidity sensor to monitor a room, even large spaces, over 20,000 feet.”
So why don’t all cannabis operations grow vertically, especially in this competitive new industry? Here we’ll look at some of the benefits and drawbacks.
To better control the environment, use more than a single temperature sensor. We recommend utilizing STEM cultivation to collect data on temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, lighting levels, system air circulation rates, and more. Use one temperature sensor per 100 cubic feet.
In contrast, the true vertical cannabis grow method is an advancement on the stacked vertical model. At its heart, stacked vertical growing cannabis is nothing more than two or three horizontal farms built on top of each other.
Any cannabis grower knows how expensive ongoing cultivation costs can be. With hefty real estate costs, huge energy bills, and a lot of sweat equity, you need to maximize profits to make your cannabis farm a worthwhile venture.
Two-tier stacks enable commercial growers to meet local code regulations. It also prevents the need for a scaffold or a scissor lift to access higher tiers. Two-tier stacks are an easy way to perfect your system before expanding your capacity.
Step Five – Manage the Plumbing
Finally, keeping reservoirs clean of salt, algae, and other buildups is vital for avoiding plant damage. Install flexible tubing to facilitate the replacement of plumbing every few crop cycles.
True vertical growing allows farmers to further increase their yields and maximize space. A popular way of managing a growing vertical system is to utilize the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) together with aeroponics.
Like any growth system, a vertical grow comes with its fair share of pros and cons. Here’s a brief rundown of the pros and cons of implementing this system as part of your indoor cannabis farm.
Pros and Cons of Vertical Cannabis Growing
The classic approach to growing is known as horizontal marijuana growing, whereby plants are grown side by side underneath old-fashioned sodium lights. But the industry has moved on, and indoor growers are now looking to maximize every square foot with vertical cannabis grow systems.
Vertical grow systems can more than double the amount of available cultivation space. Multiple square or hexagonal shelves are stacked on top of each other around a central light source. To protect the plants, the central lighting system must be relatively cool, which is why LED lights are such a popular lighting option among cannabis growers.
Learning from cannabis
Vertical farming has seen a growing trend in the last few years, as it enables growers to combine environmental and financial sustainability. At the same time, designing the facilities is still a rather new endeavor. Growers need to rely on the right consultant and supplier if they want to kick off their operation on the right foot. The complexity of vertical farming requires an adequate level of knowledge about both the designing stage of the facility as well as the growing of the product.
Vertical farming is still a rather young industry. However, there is another relatively young industry that has been utilizing vertical farming successfully. “There aren’t many vertical farms yet, and so to a certain extent, it’s new to everyone,” Brandy points out. “The vertical farm industry can learn a lot from the cannabis industry. The more experienced engineers, like us, have gathered there. At Surna, we have a lot of experience in designing controlled environments, cultivation lighting, and irrigation methodologies. Vertical farms can certainly take some lessons from the cannabis industry.”