Vertical Farming Techniques
There are three main types of soilless vertical farming technique: hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaponics. Our design build and consultancy services encompass aeroponics and hydroponics, with our main focus being the latter.
Hydroponics works by growing plants in a nutrient-rich water-based solution. The roots of the plants have access to the substances that they need to grow because they are suspended directly in the wet media. Concurrently, the remainder of the plants will have access to oxygen, which allows the growing process to continue.
There are several different types of hydroponic system, including the nutrient film technique where the plants are placed directly into an absorbent substance like vermiculite or perlite, and the water culture system, where the roots of the plant are placed directly into the nutrient solution. Both are very simplistic systems but are effective for smaller plants and herbs.
By using hydroponics and re-circulating systems, water usage is minimised and there is a significant reduction in water and nutrient wastage.
Our preferred hydroponic systems are either the Ebb and Flow system, or the Nutrient Film Technology (NFT) system.
- Ebb & Flow system – Plants are placed in a grow bed that is flooded with a nutrient-rich solution not exceeding the top layer of the grow medium. A timer-operated water pump switches off at certain intervals to ensure that the solution doesn’t overflow. The system is ideal for plants of different sizes including microgreens, baby leaf, and pot products. Other crops such as root vegetables can also be produced in modified systems.
- Nutrient Film Technology (NFT) system – Nutrient solution is placed into a large reservoir and then pumped into sloped channels that contain the plant roots, prior to being fed back into the reservoir. These channels can be calibrated to provide each plant with an appropriate amount of nutrients. The scalability of this system means that it is often the preferred option of commercial growers.
Aeroponic systems suspend plants in the air and spray a nutrient-rich mist onto their roots. The mist is sprayed using nozzles that are connected to a water pump, with excess solution being collected in a reservoir below. This process allows oxygen to enter the root zone that, in turn, allows the plant to produce oils and sugars more efficiently. The result is larger yields and a growth rate that is often 30% or more faster than traditional farming methods. As a method of soilless growing, it also uses less water than hydroponic systems and up to 95% less water than traditional farming.
Yields and risks
All vertical farming systems come with certain risks that can affect yield. These include:
- The uneven absorption of nutrients by plants.
- The build-up of toxic mineral salts with certain hydroponic systems.
- Bacterial contamination.
- The development of root diseases caused by dirty growing conditions.
- Malfunctioning pump controllers that halt operations.
- Fluctuating nutrient and pH levels within on recirculation of the nutrient mix.
A key element to our business is our after-sales support. We are also able to supply and/or monitor components to offset the above risks, including pH sensors, dissolved oxygen, and oxidisation.
Our industry links give us access to specialist companies with the latest technology to minimise these risks, and we are experts in training for crop husbandry and hygiene.