The vertical hydroponics system is an innovative horticultural pursuit that maximizes inadequate spaces. It foregoes the limitations of conventional farming. Moreover, it is undemanding to setup and pre-made structures are available in the market. To put it into action and increase the prospect of success, however, significant pointers must be observed. Most importantly, like all cultivation endeavors, it requires consistency and commitment.
Vertical Canna-Cultivation In Hydroponics
Vertical hydroponics system merges the concept of hydroponics and vertical farming. It requires the constant flow of nutrient-rich solution while plants grow in media like perlite, clay pellets, and vermiculite flourish in stacked layers.
The integration of the two cultivation methods brings together their advantages and shortcomings. Hence, although promising, it is not serviceable in all situations.
As mentioned, vertical hydroponics aim to make the best use of limited grow spaces. Apart from that, it also comes with other benefits that ease the cultivation process and increase harvests.
- Higher yields. Having multiple layers of containers maximizes small grow areas and light distribution. It also means bigger plant count, which, if all goes well, equates to a more substantial harvest.
- Extra crop cycle. In this kind of growing method, the vegetative period is reduced as plants need to stay compact. Moreover, if Indica strains, which often flower faster than Sativas, are utilized, the budding stage is also relatively shorter. With the total duration of a single crop cycle curtailed, more can be achieved in a year.
- Space efficient. With vertical cultivation, the surface space required for one plant can be maximized to 3 or more plants depending on the grow room’s available floor-to-ceiling height. To give a rough estimate, an 8 ft x 8 ft x 8 ft space can supply over 150 ft of usable space. On top of that, since it does not require a lot of horizontal area, this system can also be built in compact rooms, balconies, and front yards.
- Needs minimal maintenance. Vertical hydroponics uses an enclosed nutrient and water flow system, where water constantly circulates over the framework, causing no runoff and zero wastage of essential resources. Moreover, the structure can also be automated, further minimizing the need for maintenance.
- Less electricity cost. With a vertical hydroponics system, vegetative periods only require 18 hours of light for a span of a few days, reducing electricity cost for the hours saved on lighting.
- Easier regulation and fine-tuning. The use of water eliminates the tedious balancing of soil elements and nutrient solution. Unfavorable factors such as incorrect pH or TDS levels can easily be corrected by emptying the reservoir and replenishing it with H2O with the ideal amounts of nourishment.
- Does not require soil. The absence of soil means there is no threat from pests and pathogens that propagate in the said medium.
In cultivation, and perhaps everything else in life, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Growing with a vertical hydroponics system has its strong points. However, as with other horticulture methods, it has its limitations that can either make it unfit or less appealing.
- Expensive initial cost. Whether purchasing a turnkey vertical hydroponics system or DIY-ing the growing structure, investing on such setup can be costlier than others.
- Needs a suitable cooling and ventilation system. To maintain an agreeable humidity, temperature, and air flow relationship in a tightly packed grow area, having a fitting cooling and ventilation system is necessary. The use of LED lights is also highly recommended as they produce less heat.
- Lighting can be challenging indoors. Vertical gardening requires vertical lighting. Easier said than done, ensuring that all plants receive an equal amount of light in such setup can be difficult. Nonetheless, it can be done by installing grow lights for every layer of plants.
- Demands many plants. To effectively use all the space with this kind of set-up, a large number of seeds and clones must be propagated, which requires more time. Also, a bigger headcount entails more significant expenses.
9 Tips For Vertical Growing In Hydroponics
For cannabis floras to thrive and produce abundant yields in a vertical garden, these pointers must be considered and observed:
- Choose short-growing strains so plants won’t grow over the specified space per tier. Variants should also be forced into flowering before getting too tall during the vegetative phase.
- Choose disease-resistant strains to reduce the time allotted for careful examination. When around half of the canopy is above head level, there is an increased chance of mildew and mold going unnoticed.
- Create adequate spaces around the frameworks for plumbing, air movement, as well as easy cleaning and replacement of the racks. The method is designed to maximize space but overcrowding the grow room will only cause future inconveniences.
- To prevent development and spread of pathogens, especially root rots, keep equipment sterile by regularly disinfecting materials with isopropyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide. Frequent cleaning of reservoirs is also necessary to prevent salt and algae buildups and ensure a clean delivery of nutrients to the plants.
- Use clean and pH-neutral water. The ideal pH level of the H2O before nutrients are added should be 7, making reverse osmosis (RO) water ideal. However, if an RO system is not available, distilled water can be temporarily utilized.
- To ensure better nutrient absorption and prevent algae buildup, the ideal temperature for water is 18ºC (65ºF), while air temperature should be about 24ºC (75ºF).
- In an indoor setup, place the light source at the center of the growing area by means of vertical light tubes. It allows the plants around it to efficiently make use of the light directly from the bulb. To achieve this lighting system, install vertically hung light sources. High-Intensity Discharge (HID) lights with 400 or 600W are widely used. However, since this type of illumination generates a lot of heat, Full spectrum Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights are more preferable. Meanwhile, in locations with favorable climates, natural sunlight provides adequate lighting regardless of the setup. Hence, the primary consideration is the available space.
- To keep vertical lighting cool, place a fan at the bottom of the light source to disperse the heat upwards. In addition, strategically install vents at the top of grow rooms. Proper ventilation not only balances air temperature but is also vital for healthy plant growth.
- No matter what vertical grow method is practiced, trimming away unproductive parts of the foliage is necessary to ensure that the flora focuses all its energy on creating massive, resinous buds.
Setting Up A Vertical Hydroponics System
To ensure successful results with this type of grow operation, the set-up phase should be given as much detail as with other aspects of the process. There are many types of hydroponics systems to choose from, such as aeroponics, deep water culture, and ebb and flow systems, among others. However, the best set-ups include the following:
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) is considered to be one of the most effective single hydroponics systems. Cannabis grown in NFT are placed in net pots within long, watertight and sloped channels. Most of the plants’ root mass is also exposed to air, assuring that the roots are well provided with oxygen. Consequently, a thin film of water with dissolved nutrients, hence the name “nutrient film,” is consistently circulated along the bottom of the gully passing the bare roots of the floras.
NFT system promotes water efficiency as there is a minimal loss with water merely circulating continuously around the structure. Moreover, with a nutrient-rich solution persistently passing through the roots of the plants, adequate provision of appropriate vitamins and minerals is not a problem with this method. Nonetheless, since roots grow in a confined medium, potential clogging of the roots is one of NFT’s main disadvantage.
The initial set-up of an NFT structure may take a bit of time and labor, but once done, the entire operation period will be painless. There is a wide array of turnkey NFT systems in the market today. However, constructing a personal set-up not only requires basic skills, but it can also be an essential process to understand how the method works.
To go DIY, prep these materials (can be modified to suit individual growing needs) and follow these instructions:
- Cannabis strain of choice
- Clay pellets
- 3-inch net cups
- Large zip ties
- 10ft vinyl downspout
- 30ft of 1/2-inch black irrigation tubing
- Submersible water pump
- Large opaque container like a black tote
- 3-inch hole saw
- Cut 3-inch holes through the vinyl downspout, with 3-inch gaps in each opening. Do this to every gutter needed.
- Hang the gutters by connecting two zip ties to make them longer and zipping it to any grow stand or ceiling. Make sure that the gutters are a few inches above the water reservoir.
- Place the large container beneath the channels and submerge the water pump in the nutrient-filled water.
- Connect the irrigation tubing to the out barb of the water pump and attach it to the end of the gutter assembly facing downside.
- Germinate plants in rockwool then transplant in net cups filled with clay pellets after the germination process.
- Place the net cups in their designated spots and make sure that the roots are lightly in contact with the water.
- Switch the pump on to circulate the solution.
Top Feed Drip System
A drip irrigation system is composed of a series of small holed-tubes that is connected to the water reservoir, which provides water to each of the plants. The amount, pressure and timing of the nutrient solution released can be controlled through timers or pressure regulators.
Benefits associated with using this grow system include the reduced possibility of water stress in plants, efficient use of water and minimized chances of mildews. It is considered as one of the best hydroponics systems as it allows for minimal use of water, nutrients, electricity, and human effort. However, with this grow method, pipes have to be occasionally cleansed to prevent clogging of algae and mineral buildup. Moreover, it also requires monthly flushing, and it is less favorable in indoor growing as hose leaks are a common problem.
There are different ways of setting up a drip irrigation system, but all apply the basic principles of the method. Most are easy to construct, others can be complicated and challenging. However, once the drip irrigation system is complete, less maintenance is needed, and overall smooth operation is guaranteed.
- Hose end cap
- 1/4-inch reducer
- Opaque hose or PVC (polymerizing vinyl chloride) tubing
- Water pump
- Vertical wall planters
- PVC plastic gutter
- Hydroponic medium
- Connect a 1/2-inch tubing to the water pump. It should be long enough to reach the last planter at the top layer.
- If there is just one column of planters, attach a 1/4-inch reducer to the open end of the tubing to reduce its size and prevent flooding the plants. However, if there are plenty of columns, connect a drip emitter for each one and close the hose with a cap.
- Use clips to keep the tube in place and ensure that the water solution flows directly into the medium. Once the system is running, gravity will pull the water down through the other pots, feeding the rest of the plants.
- Put the pump at the bottom of the bucket which will serve as the reservoir, and connect it to the power outlet.
- Drill a hole on the PVC plastic gutter. Connect a tube to it through an adapter or elbow. The tubing should go straight to the reservoir or bucket.
- Place the gutter, which will function as the overflow container, underneath the columns of the hanging planters. It will catch the run-off water and transfer it back to the reservoir.
- Fill the planters with the medium of choice. Plant the seeds or clones.
- Use a timer on the plug to run the pump, ideally for 6 minutes thrice a day.
Sea Of Green (SOG) Method
Designed to achieve a dense and homogenous canopy of buds, SOG works best with clones from a healthy mother plant. These cuttings will then be grown in containers that are tightly packed together. Furthermore, the floras are given a short vegetative phase and forced into early flowering with a change of an 18/6 to a 12/12 light regimen.
What makes this grow technique beneficial is its undemanding nature, reduced risk of attracting pests and diseases, and ability to yield heavy harvests in shorter periods. Despite such benefits, however, the method’s growth requirements limit the suitable strains (ideally, Indicas and autoflowers) that can be employed.
A sea of green hydro-garden can be applied to vertical growing the same way it is done in a horizontal setting, but this time in shelves.
- Choose a suitable cannabis strain.
- Determine whether to germinate seeds or grow clones. For the sake of uniformity, though, the latter is much preferred.
- Provide an 18/6 light cycle until the clones are about 10 to 12 inches tall. It takes about 2 to 3 weeks.
- Place 1 to 2 young plants per square foot of shelf space.
- Once the appropriate height is achieved, switch to a 12/12 light regimen to instigate flowering.
- Once the cannabis floras develop dense foliage, trim the branches beneath the plants’ crown to divert their energy in fattening the flowers instead.
- Harvest plants when ready.
Screen Of Green (ScrOG) Method
With the ScrOG method, plants are trained to flourish through a screen for even dispersion of light, producing a homogenous canopy of buds. It is ideal for growing leggy Sativa variants in confined spaces. However, its most notable disadvantage is that it promotes longer plant growth phases, hence less gathering seasons as well. In a year, it can furnish a maximum of 4 harvests while SOG can have up to 6.
To merge this method with vertical farming, screens must be constructed around an upright light source, and with plants placed on the floor.
- Roll a sturdy screen, with 2-inch mesh size, around the light source.
- Place the potted plants on the floor around the screen.
- Weave the branches through the netting with buds facing inside where the light source is.
- Trim all growth outside the canopy to direct the energy on the bud site only.
A Set-Up For Success
Vertical hydroponics systems prove to be an answer to the usual problems that come with indoor cultivation. The method minimizes grow expenses while maximizing limited spaces and yield potential. Moreover, with different types of frameworks to opt for, it is not difficult to find one that suits the required growing conditions as well as individual preferences. Finally, while initial set-up is costly, all is worth it because of its subsequent minimal need for maintenance and guarantee of a plain sailing growth period.