Imagine being able to at least double the amount of marijuana you can grow in a space? Thanks to the process of ‘vertical farming,’ this dream is a reality. It is a practice that enables you to boost yield with increased efficiency.
Those who cultivate cannabis know it is tricky to do so in a confined space. You are generally limited to a small grow space, and the more plants you want, the more power and lighting you need.
The typical ‘horizontal’ process involves growing the plants beside one another. Unfortunately, in many cases, much of the light doesn’t reach the plant. You use a lot of space and suffer from an inefficiency in the use of energy. However, vertical cannabis growing could become a game-changer. In this article, we check out its pros and cons and provide some starting-up tips.
What Is Vertical Cannabis Growing?
As the name suggests, you grow the weed ‘vertically’ instead of horizontally. There are two distinct ‘types.’
This process involves stacking multiple shelves in a hexagonal or square formation around a central light source. You arrange them in a 360-degree setup around a tube that contains your light source. As a result, you get to use the space between the roof and the floor.
Commercial growers are becoming drawn to these vertical rack systems. They have also found ways to deliver nutrients and water to their plants rapidly and effectively. You will need to regularly defoliate and ‘top’ plants to ensure they remain short and laden with buds. Some growers even try to stack in the flowering stage.
Hydroponics and soil-based systems are the most popularly used variety when stacking marijuana plants. They usually consist of two or three rows of plants. Clearly, such a process enables you to make use of the space you have and should result in a better yield.
The truth is, a stacked vertical grow is essentially a second horizontal farm stacked on top of another one. The ‘true vertical’ method takes things to another level. It involves cultivating the plants out of the side of a column. The water and nutrients drip down from the top. You can combine the hydroponics Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) with aeroponics.
STEM Cultivation is one of the leading lights in the process of true vertical cannabis growing. They use it in conjunction with the Sea of Green (SOG) technique. The company claims it can yield five times the grams of bud per square foot of growing space than a typical indoor setup. Moreover, they do it for a fraction of the start-up and operating expenses.
Pros & Cons of Vertical Marijuana Growing
Here are some of the pros and cons of vertical cannabis growing:
The Pros of Growing Marijuana Vertically
You can grow more cannabis in less space, and use fewer nutrients per plant on average. You also make the most of your lighting. Green Living Technologies (GLTi) uses a soil-based vertical farm and flips growing pots sideways. The result is better yields and lower costs. According to GLTi, you could reduce your labor costs by up to 70%. You could also reduce energy usage by around 65%.
GLTi uses broad function LED lighting. As a consequence, the light penetrates deeper into the canopy of plants. It also means no need for separate flowering and vegetative stage rooms. Ultimately, you are looking at perhaps a 5% reduction in operating costs. GLTi uses advanced biotechnology, a process that ensures no usage of fungicides or fertilizers.
Ibiza Farms sells aeroponic vertical towers. Compared to ‘conventional’ methods, one of the brand’s Tower Gardens leads to a 30% increase in yield. These towers also reduce water consumption by 90%, and recycle all of their water! Nutrient costs can fall by 90%, and you can grow 20 plants in a space that generally holds fewer than five.
Additional Crop Cycle
Growers that use vertical farming often keep the vegetative stage short. As a result, the entire growing cycle duration is reduced. There is usually the potential to include an additional crop cycle per annum. Yes, you will not receive the same ‘per plant’ yield as you will with a more extended vegetative stage. However, the sheer volume of plants you can grow more than makes up for any shortfall.
Relatively Easy Installation
Already, vertical cannabis growing systems are abundant on the market. They are usually designed for commercial cultivation. However, you can grow in this fashion at home if you have the means and space. That said, you must remember to adhere to your state’s laws on cultivation limits!
Many of the systems available are ready for use out of the box. They come with everything you need, including drip irrigation lines and Rockwool cubes, for example. Look hard enough, and you’ll find systems that include a grow tent! In that case, you only need nutrients and an extraction system.
In essence, vertical growing provides more cannabis, lower bills, and greater efficiency. Nonetheless, it is not a ‘perfect’ system by any means.
The Cons of Growing Marijuana Vertically
Higher Start-up Costs
Vertical cannabis farming is indeed cheaper overall. However, commercial growers, in particular, find that buying quality equipment is an expensive process. You also need to upgrade your climate control system and pay to hire skilled agro-technicians. Extra equipment such as sensors, racks, ladders, and more, are also required.
Despite the many advantages, not everyone is convinced that vertical farming is cost-effective in the long-term. Those operating on the fringes know they are in a precarious position with lots of competitors. They are unwilling to take the risk in case it doesn’t work out. It only takes one bad harvest for certain businesses to unravel.
Safety & Compliance Issues
As you are growing skywards, you have to ensure the height of plants is closely controlled. As a result, technicians must climb ladders or scaffolding to reach the plants. It is not a guarantee that such tasks are compliant with OSHA regulations. Indeed, if you try growing more than two tiers, you may no longer remain within local code requirements for mobile racking systems’ structural stability.
There’s a Lot of Labor Involved
Maximizing the potential of this system involves stacking up lots of plants from the floor to the ceiling. It is a tedious process at the beginning because of the potential need for more mother plants. You need to find space for the mothers, and it takes time to fill a room with plants from the cuttings. If you have hundreds of plants, it means plenty of time devoted to maintenance and troubleshooting.
Possible Environmental Condition Issues
If you have grown marijuana before, you’ll know that ensuring the temperature, air circulation, and humidity remains in the right ranges is tough. In a vertical growing scenario, you face even greater variability in these conditions. The conditions faced by plants at 12 feet are likely different than those on the ground.
Now imagine, trying to monitor such changes in a 10,000 square feet space! Some growers only use one or two temperature and humidity sensors in large spaces, a wholly inadequate practice. STEM has a temperature sensor for every 100 cubic feet of space! It measures humidity, temperature, CO2 levels, and much more.
Tips for Vertical Cannabis Growing
Ultimately, vertical growing is for commercial cultivation. There is no need to try it when growing a handful of plants at home. If you have a license to grow, here are a few useful tips if you plan to go vertical.
Use LED Lighting
It is more expensive than HPS lighting, to begin with, but an LED lighting system will make life easier. HPS lights must remain several feet away from your plants. Otherwise, they could cause a light burn. In contrast, it is safe to keep LEDs relatively close because they emit less heat. Most LED systems have narrow physical dimensions than other lighting types. As a result, you need less ‘clearance’ above the lights, thus maximizing space.
Also, LEDs have the best light spectrum options, essential for the differing needs of a plant as it grows. Broad-spectrum lights are suitable for hitting industry standards. However, paying extra for spectrum control can boost the quality of buds.
Begin with Two Tiers of Stacking
This process enables you to remain within local code regulations more easily. It also makes it easier to maintain your plants because you likely only need a rolling ladder. Once you add a third tier, you need equipment such as scaffolding or a scissor lift. Two levels also make it easier to leave ample space between racks for air movement, plumbing, and employee access.
Choose Your Strain Wisely
Ultimately, there may come a time when you can use any cannabis strain when growing cannabis vertically. However, for now, stick with the best indicas, or indica-dominant hybrids for the sake of space. Sativas tend to grow tall, which only increases the likelihood of the weed overgrowing its available space. As a rule of thumb, the height should not more than double during the first three weeks of blooming.
Also, make sure you pick a method of managing the height of plants. Most vertical growers prefer the Sea of Green method to keep the plants at a max height of four feet.
Shortening the vegetative stage also helps ensure plants stay short. Finally, pick strains known for being highly resistant to disease. Try as you might, when half the growth takes place above your head, you may miss a few things. With resilient strains, you get more time to react in the event of a mold outbreak, for instance.
Plan Your Grow Room Before You Start
Make sure there is enough space between the racks for ease of movement. You want workers to easily climb a ladder to check plants on the second tier. There is no point packing the room with plants, only to discover that you can’t check half of them! You also need the space to remove grow trays for cleaning and replacement purposes regularly.
It is also essential to utilize efficient environmental controls. There are lots of options for keeping temperature and humidity in check. In such a dense space, it is best to invest in automation, in the form of sensors. Regarding airflow, the ‘hoop-house’ method used in greenhouses is ideal. It involves pushing air down the open regions of the racks while pulling it out the other end.
Clean Pipes Thoroughly & Manage Wastewater
You need to regularly check and clean reservoirs to avoid the build-up of algae, salt, and other things that could damage the plants. Flexible tubing is a must because you’ll have to replace the plumbing between the reservoir and spigots every few growing cycles.
Another consideration is the management of wastewater. Consider the rules surrounding nutrient waste in your municipality. Floor drains are cheap and easy, but may not meet code. This is especially the case if your region demands the ‘treating’ of nutrient water before you discard it. You will likely require holding tanks and pumps. In reality, the collection of drainage in a vertical growing system requires the assistance of a licensed plumber.
Final Thoughts on Vertical Cannabis Growing
The process of growing marijuana vertically is undoubtedly an exciting one. It can significantly increase the efficiency of your commercial growing operation. When performed correctly, you could grow up to five times more cannabis in a single space. Moreover, it is possible to do it with diminished electricity costs. In theory, it is an environmentally-friendly method of growing marijuana that seemingly benefits everyone.
In practice, however, it is expensive to begin due to the prohibitive cost of equipment. Vertical marijuana farming is only suitable for those cultivating weed on an industrial scale. Perhaps these companies can afford the start-up costs, and the time and effort required to maintain their crops.
It is very much ‘early days’ in this process. There is every chance that it becomes less expensive and easier to complete than at present. If you are willing to invest the required time, cash, and effort, you could receive a significant reward. A few pioneers are attempting it, and we watch with interest to see how they perform.