Vertical Farming for Cannabis
It’s a revolution: Across the US, states are legalizing medical and recreational cannabis so fast that supply can barely keep up. There has been an enormous flowering in cannabis vertical farms and cannabis distributors that is helping to meet this demand but there is a hard ceiling to growth: physical space. The lack of physical space and need for environmental control can place a severe restriction on how many farms can build out. Keeping up with demand can often mean extensive use of chemicals and pesticides to maximize yield which will impact the quality of the cannabis crop and ultimately the health and well being of the end users.
The most limited valuable resource in any farming project is space. Especially if you are gearing up for an indoor farm, the way you intend to use your space will be critical. . Most importantly you’ll want to maximise your use of space without risking your yield or quality. Vertical farming should help you increase your yield with less space and more efficiency. Read on to see how.
Growing cannabis in a confined space is a sensitive project at the best of times. The more plants you grow the more lighting you’ll need which means more power consumption. In a normal horizontal setup, as one plant grow plants around it will fall into shadow and receive less light. Leaves and flowers below the main canopy eventually move to permanent semi-darkness.
Improving Cannabis Yield with Limited Space
There are lots of approaches to get round this with cannabis growing. The Stadium growing method puts plants on tiered shelves around a central light source. There's some pretty intensive management involved as invariably shorter plants are less mature and need more attention than the taller ones at the back, but it's still highly efficient.
It’s also known for growers to rely on heavy use of chemicals and pesticides to make the most of what they have, but this threatens the quality of the cannabis and ultimately the health of the end users.
However developing a vertical farm for your indoor cannabis grow trumps all these methods. Vertical growing can double the amount of growing space in use for cultivation in comparison with horizontal methods.
Vertical Farms for Cannabis
So what is it? Multiple shelves are stacked in squares or hexagons to create green towers of cannabis. By arranging the stacks around the lighting carefully you can maximize access to light, which has an impact on yield- you simply grow more!
More crop grown 24/7 indoors in vertical growing facility has a huge impact on the business as you can have multiple harvests a year. Being indoors- typically in a converted shipping container- gives you control over light, humidity, water and the environment.
Importantly this method when used properly can actually reduce your electricity bills.
How to Improve Yield and Lower Costs
The central light source will need to be kept as cool as possible- intense heat will easily burn the tips of the cannabis plant. This will be easiest to do with new vertical farming energy-efficient LED lights rather than older sodium lights which tend to run very hot. A cooling fan under the central light source should dissipate heat upward. As the plants grow,unproductive parts will need to be trimmed and shaped. This is easiest to do with string grids, fine trellis or even weights to train the plant . Keep in mind, sativa strains tend to grow tall. Occasionally the crops need to be rotated so that each side gets an equal amount of time facing the central light source. LED lighting also allows for interlighting where smaller lights are placed in between or even under plants to ensure flowers grow even under the dense canopy.
You can also maximise the efficiency of your growth by using hydroponic systems- getting rid of soil all together and replacing its with nutrient bath. The technology for this is well established for cannabis so there are lots of options for your cannabis vertical farm, for example It is also possible to install a nutrient film to drip water and nutrients onto your plants gradually. This can be done to the roots of plants, or continuously above with well-positioned drippers.
Main Aspects to Consider for Vertical Farming
You’ll want indica-dominant or hybrid cannabis strains are suited better for this growing style than tall sativas. You want short-growing, non-stretchy plants that don't overgrow their given space.
While there exist several options for said lights, the best are definitely LED lights due to the very low amount of heat they emit. LEDs have the best light spectrum options (oftentimes adjustable) for the different growing phases of cannabis, and are just as powerful as other light sources
Of course, you want to maximise your yield and pack as many plants into a room as possible, but you should not forget that the room needs to be functional for you as a grower as well- this means space to move around, work as well as ventilation, pipes, hoses,and plumbing.
It's often forgotten than water runoff isn't very clean, even if you’re using a hydroponic system. You’ll need space for pumps, holding reservoirs, even tanks.
Build up, Not Out for Cannabis
So what are the options for growers? Maximizing your grow space is one way to keep up and that could mean vertical growing—the practice of producing plants in vertically stacked layers.
Cannabis growers were originally slow to move to vertical farms as indoor grow systems typically use high-pressure sodium lights (HPS). These quickly run very hot, which is untenable for the confined space of a vertical farm where the plant (and even your people) find the environment too hot. New LED technology runs at much lower temperatures, so you can install them inches from the plant. LEDs have both fallen in price and improved their performance often equal to or exceeding HPS.
With 24/7 lighting, controlled nutrients and environment you end up with a packaged farm; in fact, a whole farm in a box. Without worrying about the weather or pests, the grower can maintain multiple harvest cycles- it's easily possible to maintain a better yield and multiple crops per year.
Vertical Solutions for Cannabis
Many refer to stacked growing systems as vertical growing solutions. However, in reality, the typical stacked system is really a horizontal farm replicated on large shelving units indoors. Soil-based and hydroponics systems are the most popular varieties of indoor stacked farming options. While these kinds of stacked systems improve the yield per square foot averages, they typically don’t do anything to help reduce costs by themselves.
A true vertical operation takes the idea of upright cultivation up a notch. There are many iterations of what a vertical farm operation can look like, but the principles of vertical farming focus on space-savings, energy efficiency, and increased yields. Depending on crop and specific set up, a vertical design can achieve 70 to 90 percent water efficiency over horizontal grows, and boost canopy space eight times over.
Vertical growing options for cannabis farms are still evolving. From aeroponics to hydroponics to soil, cannabis producers are also coming up with innovative solutions to “grow up” instead of out.
Vertical Farming Options
Hydroponics systems, where the plant roots are suspended in a nutrient bath takes away all the unpredictability of soil. The nutrients are critical- it allows you to give the plant the exact nutrients it needs under the perfect lighting conditions in an environment with the ideal humidity. This will also allow the grower to automate most of the growing process. This precision through automation improves the quality of the product.
If you’re looking for the highest cannabinoid presence, hydroponic will be your choice. It's now a popular way to get regular 28% THC buds.
Aeroponics may also work. The concept behind aeroponic farming removes soil completely. Instead of submerging roots into liquid nutrients,the plant's roots are suspended and regularly misted with nutrients. This obviously allows water consumption to drop dramatically, approaching zero waste.
Aeroponics is still challenging: Cannabis plant roots are very sensitive, and the success of the technology depends on carefully controlling the size and speed of the water droplets used to mist the roots, as well as the temperature in the environment.
How to Train Cannabis Plants
Cannabis branches are naturally flexible making them relatively easy to bend without halting growth, as long as the grower is careful not to break the plant.
By simply using a string, the top of the plant can be fixed a few nodes below the growing tip to an anchor point nearby. This can be as simple as attaching the string to the rim of the pot, or a stick or hook firmly pushed into the soil. The grower starts by lightly bending the stem, and gradually increasing the tension slightly every day, until happy with the position. It's important to pay attention to how the plant reacts (which can be different from plant to plant on the same container room) and to not over-tighten the string.
There are some simple guidelines. Firstly, don’t use string that’s too fine and which could accidentally cut or constricting the branch as the branch grows.
It's generally a good idea to use thick, brightly colored cord. Making sure it’s visible, helps the grower to avoid accidents.
To get the most out of plants, training is best done in the evening, or just before the lamps are turned off in a container grow system. This allows the plants to recover overnight and the next day we can inspect to see any reactions.
The Time to Start is Now
The cannabis container farming industry is booming, but most operations already know it’s only a matter of time before the numbers catch up with them. There are relatively few places in North America with the right climate for cannabis to be grown outdoors. As the market grows real-estate and resources are being eaten up by the industry, and growing space will come at a premium. The future of cannabis, as with other crops in high demand, will surely move vertically to improve harvest per square foot of growing space, while also reducing operational costs.
If you’d like to learn more about our vertical farming systems for cannabis, feel free to contact us.
Micro Lab Farms
3353 Needles Hwy