Across a number of industries, vertical farming has become a major component of agriculture and medical production in America.

The concept, on the surface, is simple—take unused urban space such as warehouses and convert them into grow centers through the use of vertical industrial shelving. By focusing more on vertical space instead of strictly ground/floor space like traditional farming, you can make better use of your available room while ensuring that your plants are still given the care, space, and nutrients they need to grow and be usable.

 

Of course, as anyone who’s looked into indoor growing and urban farming can tell you, it’s never quite that simple. Vertical farming and urban growing takes a lot of careful planning, hard work, and the right tools (not to mention a little creativity) to get everything growing successfully. There’s a lot of ways to farm indoors, and no matter what method you choose there’s a lot you can do to make sure everything grows successfully while minimizing your environmental impact and making the most of your available space, no matter how limited.

 

The first step will be determining your method of growth. While every kind of plant or crop (be it food, medical, or otherwise) will have its own methods of growing and care, you can boil them down into three main categories: 

  • Hydroponics, the method of growing plants without soil, instead using a water solvent that contains mineral nutrients
  • Aeroponics, a NASA-backed method involving exposed roots being constantly sprayed with a fine mist of nutrient solution
  • Aquaponics, a method involving suspending roots over a body of water containing fish that provides fertilizer for the plants involved

 

As you can imagine, settling on one of these growth methods is going to strongly influence the direction and design of the rest of your urban farm, and looking into the advantages of each one in comparison to the crops you plan on growing will be a huge factor going forward.

 

From there, you’ll need to focus on carefully utilizing your space. Even above and beyond leaving space in the aisles for your growers to walk and cultivate plants, you also need to accommodate building installations such as water access, plumbing, and air movement. Do some of your plants need more water than others? Will some need to be positioned closer to sunlight (instead of artificial LED lighting)? Are there easily accessible water points around your biggest crops? Too many times, urban farmers attempt to work their farm around the design of a building instead of the other way around and it leads to inefficient growth and poor warehouse planning.

 

After that, you need to consider what installations you need. The obvious answer might be “shelves” but have you considered exactly what kind? As many forms of indoor farming and vertical growth require the roots of the plant to be exposed, most farms turn to something with a more open design like wire shelving or rust proof wire shelving (for growth methods that require more exposure to open moisture) to allow proper distribution of the plants and make sure they receive the nutrients and support they need, no matter what growth method you’re focusing on. In many cases, you may need to keep your shelving equipment at two tiers, at least at first, due to local codes and regulations, although this will likely vary from state to state (and may require approval before your farm can begin operations).

 

In a similar vein, make sure you have the right kind of lighting as well. Many indoor crops are chosen for their viability with less natural sunlight than other types of plants, and as a result require carefully positioned industrial LED lighting. Make sure these lights cover the entire plant canopy as evenly as possible, at close range (but not enough to prevent growth or cause overdrying), and be careful where you wire them into to prevent loose cables and traffic issues, i.e. no power cables stretched across an aisle where people need to walk.

 

Finally, you need to make sure you have some way of managing wastewater. This will vary depending on local municipal guidelines, as well as where wastewater is allowed to be diverted to (especially if it’s rich in nutrients like most water from an urban farm will be). You may also need to get a plumber involved to set up a drainage system near your wire shelves to better divert water away.

With these planning methods in mind, you should be off to a good start when it comes to the layout and design of your urban farm, and your new vertical growth facility should be more productive than ever.

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