Written by Jessica McKiel
It’s true that a vertical garden set up remains relatively unknown and unexplored for indoor growers, but over the years it has slowly developed something like a cult following.
Despite the fact that many growers remain completely unaware of the technique, there is a dedicated number of growers pushing the limits of the practice and producing exceptional harvests.
For anyone interested in vertical farming, resources are available but largely only available through forum discussions, meaning there is still much debate on best practices. Many newcomers are still left wondering what are the best ways to begin a vertical cannabis growing setup?
What are the benefits and pitfalls to making the switch?
Logically there are many benefits to vertical gardening, because it makes the most effective use of space and light.
Depending on your financial means and production capacity, it can also provide the cheapest method to set up a simple yet extremely productive grow space.
Many easy designs are available online that do not require a high level of technical knowledge or skill, however, the more advanced and large scale industrial or commercial models definitely push the boundaries in terms of cost and technical requirements.
A quick search on youtube for vertical farming can show you the huge array of options available, anything from a simple do-it-yourself setup with materials from your hardware store, to set ups that seem to come straight out of a sci-fi movie.
Don’t let the options deter you, because vertical farming has tons to offer for every size operation and all budgets.
Why Consider Vertical Farming?
- Simple vertical systems are cost effective
- Environmentally friendly
- More Energy Efficient
- Increases yield when done correctly
- Easy to ventilate
- Best use of space
What are the Potential Pitfalls?
- Can have a steep learning curve
- Large scale and technologically advanced set ups can be cost prohibitive
- More difficult to train plant growth
- More restrictive for strain selection
The Basic Premise of Vertical Growing
The basic premise of vertical growing is to get the most out of a small space by increasing the effectiveness of light usage.
This is done by hanging a light in the center, and plants placed around the light source. With the light hanging vertically, there is much more useable light and therefore much more energy efficiency.
While we’ll leave the detailed semantics of vertical farming to the forums, moving towards the vertical method works under most circumstances by simply following some basic guidelines.
But first, let's take a look at the differences between the traditional horizontal method, and vertical growing.
Flat growing, or traditional horizontal set ups, have all plants located underneath the light sources. Both the plants and the lights are set up on horizontal planes.
While the most popular method of farming, this method does not make effective use of space. For example, in an 8x8x8 ft space the growing capacity maxes out at 64ft.
In a shaded horizontal lighting set up, the vast majority of light does not directly benefit the plants. In unshaded structures, upwards of 75% of the light is sent away from the plants while only 25% is directly beneficial.
In cases with shaded horizontal lighting, much of the wasted energy will bounce off the shade structure simply be re-absorbed into the bulb. This increases heat, causes bulbs to burn out and wastes energy.
Stadium Vertical Growing
Stadium growing is the the first step towards true vertical farming.
It increases the growing space by roughly 40% over traditional horizontal set ups of the same size space.
In this practice, the plants are on staged on two opposing diagonal planes (much like a soccer stadium with opposing stadium seating).
The light source can still be horizontal, or can be set up vertically.
In the same 8x8x8 ft room as our previous example, there is now 90.5ft of useable grow space compared to 64ft and much more of the light (even in a horizontal setup) is directly beneficial to the plants.
Vertical set ups are optimal in most cases as they serve to increase light efficiency, but in a shaded stadium situation, still much more attention has to be given to ventilation.
Circular Vertical Growing
The real deal of vertical farming is the circular set up, which has the light source hanging from the ceiling, surrounded by a cylinder of plants.
In this situation nearly all the usable light is directly beneficial to the plants with only a limited percentage escaping.
In unshaded situations the heat is allowed to rise away from the plants (requiring less ventilation overall) and in shaded situations the heat is reflected back down. In the shaded situations, it essential to plan ahead with ventilation located underneath the light source in the center of the plant cylinder.
In this vertical scenario, in our same 8x8x8 ft sample room using a screened ScrOG style set up, we are now able to use 150 ft of growing space, which is 135 % more than the traditional horizontal growing technique.
Clearly, vertical growing can produce dramatic increases in yield simply by increasing usable space and making more effective use of light.
A Few Thoughts to Consider with Vertical Farming
A cost effective and simple set up (for even the most novice growers) is to hang your light within the middle of the space, with a fan set up directly underneath. Arrange the plants in a circular shape around the light using whatever irrigation method you know best.
For more advanced versions of this simple setup, move towards more vertical expansion of growing space by using a SCROG system or creating a coliseum shape by stacking plants on sets of progressively higher stairs around the light source. Some proponents also set up light sources that are on tripods, secured to the floor (rather than hanging from the ceiling).
There is lots of inspiration available for easy, cost effective vertical farming set ups available online.
When deciding on what type of strain works best under vertical conditions, many suggest sticking to sativas with a higher stretch ratio. Specifically this is when using a screen set ups, when stretch comes in handy for creating a solid wall of cannabis.
Others suggest that stocky, bushy indicas can work better under stadium conditions.
Some growers suggest sticking to strains that can handle a lot of trimming and defoliation during the growth period.
Much of the debate on vertical growing surrounds the best methods for increasing yield. Especially when using the circular method, crop rotation can be beneficial but can often be painstaking to carry out because of the space restrictions within the cylinder.
Instead of focusing on crop rotation, some growers have begun training the plants and adapting special trimming techniques which is where some of the technical knowhow starts to become extremely beneficial.
- Lighting is another point of contention within the vertical farmer community, however because the heat dilemma is managed better with vertical set ups, plants can be placed closer to the bulbs with less risk of damage.