As any astute gardener or amateur scientist may be aware, vertical farming is a method of growing plants in controlled, artificial environments that don’t take up much space, nor do they require arable land to grow.
While typically reserved for large-scale growing industries or scientific endeavors, such as university botany faculties, vertical farming at home is expected to grow in popularity as the demand for food increases at the expense of shrinking arable land.
So let’s explore vertical farming at home in detail below.
The Primary Purpose Of Vertical Farming
As projected by the United Nations in 2019, the world’s population is expected to increase to nearly 10 billion people by the year 2050. Understandably, this will place an enormous amount of pressure on food security, particularly in light of the consequences of global warming and climate change on arable land.
While there are efforts to reduce the harms of global warming, such as poor water quality and soil erosion, the Grantham Center in 2015 found that ongoing urbanization has resulted in an estimated 40 percent reduction of the world’s arable land.
Consequently, natural damage in the pursuit of human growth and capital may have already reached the point of no return, meaning that vertical farming is one of the ways communities are looking to capitalize on sustainable food security in the future.
The reason why vertical farming is considered an alternative to traditional farming is that it is a form of Controlled Environment Agriculture technology. Controlled Environment Agriculture is the process by which people can control the growing process without relying on the unpredictability of the natural environment.
Controlled Environment Agriculture typically involves a combination of aeroponics, aquaponics, and hydroponics to grow plants in layered, vertical shelving.
In conclusion, this reduced space and control add a level of security that traditional farming does not while resulting in a guarantee of improved crop yield per square meter.
Vertical Farming at Home Benefits
There are six major benefits to vertical farming at home over other farming methods:
- Future food security
- Improved year-round crop production
- Less use of water
- Not affected by unpredictable weather patterns
- Improved organic crop production
- Environmentally friendly
Let’s explore these benefits in greater detail below.
1. Future Food Security
Due to the projected increase in greenhouse gases, global warming, and urbanization in the future, there will be a reduction in arable land and an influx of people living in urban areas.
As a method of offsetting poor water quality, soil quality, reduced land availability, and unfavorable weather patterns, vertical farming at home could increase crop yield per square meter in controlled spaces.
Furthermore, because of larger urban populations and food demand, the logistics of growth, harvesting, transportation, and food storage could be a major concern. Consequently, vertical farming at home or in the community could ease this burden while improving accessibility to food.
This is particularly obvious in countries that have been testing vertical farming in the community, such as India and South Africa.
2. Improved Year-Round Crop Production
Because vertical farming utilizes Controlled Environment Agriculture techniques, this allows gardeners to regulate all manner of weather conditions, meaning that the production of certain crops is not limited to certain times of the year or specific regions.
Furthermore, the verticality of growing results in an improved crop yield at a reduced space. The Columbia Climate School estimates that 1 acre of indoor vertical farming offers the equivalent of between 4 and 6 acres of outdoor farming.
3. Less Use Of Water
Along with the introduction of soil alternatives like peat moss or coconut husks, some estimates believe that vertical farming at home could produce sustainable crop yields at up to 70 percent and 95 percent less water use!
4. Not Affected By Unpredictable Weather Patterns
Although modern farming techniques, such as advanced irrigation systems and pesticides, may reduce the effects of unpredictable weather and disasters, such as droughts and crop diseases, there is still a risk of widespread damage befalling outdoor crops.
Furthermore, because the effects of global warming increase the risk of disasters and unfavorable weather patterns occurring, most estimates show that this ongoing damage mitigation for outdoor crops is expensive and unsustainable in the future.
Consequently, indoor vertical farming allows for a level of control and enough protection from the elements that food security from vertical farming is not as affected as crops from traditional farming methods.
5. Improved Organic Crop Production
Although organic crops are better for your health and the environment and generally taste better than crops sprayed with pesticides, growing organic crops on an industrial scale is extremely difficult. The reason is that without pesticides, outdoor crops are prone to disease and destruction from insects.
However, because vertical farming at home allows for the controlled growing of crops in protected, indoor spaces, it has been shown to yield the growth of organic crops with improved efficiency and sustainability than traditional farming methods.
In conclusion, this is a big positive for communities and homes looking for sustainable yields of organic crops for small-scale consumption or informal produce selling.
6. Environmentally Friendly
Traditional farming has been shown to put a heavy strain on the environment due to pesticides, large farming equipment, deforestation, soil erosion, and the disruption of natural habitats.
Not only does vertical farming not harm the environment, but it can reverse the effects of global warming and urban decay through the use of repurposing old, abandoned buildings.
Vertical Farming at Home Negatives
While vertical farming has a lot of benefits, it would be amiss to ignore the negatives:
- Uncertain economic feasibility
- Pollination challenges
- High labor costs
- Over-dependence on technology
Let’s explore these negatives in greater detail below.
1. Uncertain Economic Feasibility
Although vertical farming at home is a promising future investment, with a few start-up companies recording funding from reputable organizations such as banks and NGOs, it remains to be seen whether vertical farming is financially sustainable and capable of producing the yields and profits of traditional farming.
Consequently, a hybrid system between vertical and traditional farming will likely be the status quo in the future.
2. Pollination Challenges
Pollination requires insects to travel from plant to plant; this is a vitally important process of successful farming and maintaining nature’s balance.
In comparison, because most vertical farming takes place indoors, in urban areas, or is subject to highly controlled artificial environments, insects are not introduced into the vertical farming process, meaning pollination cannot occur.
In response to this limitation, manual pollination needs to be affected. Unfortunately, this is a labor-intensive practice that is inefficient and expensive.
Furthermore, the lack of investment to protect insect/bee populations due to their diminishing returns as pollinators could have devastating results on the fragile balance of the greater ecosystem.
3. High Labor Costs
Further to the need for manual pollination is the need to employ skilled workers to run and manage vertical farming operations. Most of these workers will need to be sourced from urban areas near urban farming operations.
The training and hiring of skilled labor is a costly endeavor, and the high cost of living in urban areas also needs to be factored into the equations of workers’ salaries.
4. Over-Dependence On Technology
By its very nature, vertical farming is Controlled Environment Agriculture that exclusively relies on technology to simulate natural conditions to grow crops.
The problem with an overreliance on technology is that this technology is expensive to develop and install. Still, it relies on various other forms of technology to remain operational (such as a constant supply of electricity.)
Consequently, this requires a large capital investment to start a vertical farming operation, but it also requires reliable infrastructure to sustain growing operations, as the absence of a key component such as electricity can have devastating effects.
In conclusion, this high ceiling and risk of wide-scale crop failure due to consistent electricity demands means that companies and governments may be hesitant to invest in what may be perceived as a high-risk venture.
While developing countries with poor power infrastructure and the need for food security may be deterred from vertical farming investment in its entirety.
Vertical Farming at Home Ideas
Vertical farming can look daunting, especially when you see large-scale vertical farms running into the hundreds of millions of dollars in capital investment. However, there are ideas and tips one can use to sustainable scale a vertical farming operation:
- Choosing the correct crops
- Choosing a scalable farming method
- Determine the layout of the farm
- Find natural light sources
- Maximizing water efficiency
- Use agrotechnology software
Also, consider checking out this video on DIY vertical farming at home for some inspiration on making your own vertical gardens.
1. Choosing the Correct Crops
While it may be enticing to choose your crops based on your preferences or what you think will sell, the most important thing to consider is whether crops can be grown on vertical layers without interfering with each other.
Therefore, it is advisable to choose plants that don’t have much height or overhanging branches, vines, or leaves.
2. Choosing A Scalable Farming Method
While Controlled Environment Agriculture allows for aeroponics, aquaponics, and hydroponics, most people consider hydroponics the easiest growing method for adaptability and scalability.
3. Determine The Layout Of The Farm
When looking to begin a home vertical farming operation, make sure to set aside designated space in advance so that you can plan out the size of your growing operation subject to your crop yield goals.
4. Find Natural Light Sources
To ease the burden of constant monitoring and adjusting of artificial lighting and to save on electricity costs, it is recommended that you place your vertical farming in an area that can capitalize on natural light sources.
5. Maximize Water Efficiency
Because you cannot rely on rainwater or groundwater to grow your crops, you need to manually install irrigation systems that are connected to clean, reliable water sources.
One recommendation for water efficiency is to install a circular hydroponic system to recycle water usage.
6. Use Agrotechnology Software
Although this may require additional capital investment, using agrotechnology software allows you to monitor your plants and record your growing techniques accurately.
What Countries Use Vertical Farming at Home
Although the United States of America has the most vertical farms in the world, Asian countries are investing heavily in vertical farming. While not a definitive list, the leading vertical farming countries are:
- The United States of America
- South Korea
- The United Kingdom
- The Netherlands
- Saudi Arabia
- South Africa
How To Set Up A Vertical Farm At Home
Over and above the advice/ideas mentioned above, a key consideration and barrier to entry for a lot of people in determining what equipment they need to begin vertical farming at home.
Some popular choices, depending on the space you have available, are to purchase and install wire-racking shelve units, tower gardens, or hydroponic jar gardens mounted on south-facing walls.
Although these are simple vertical farming products, suitable for beginners that don’t have the funds or interest in advanced products such as grow lights and advanced irrigation systems, this can still be a costly investment (see below for further details.)
Therefore, we recommend constructing your own vertical farming setups, as opposed to purchasing them online. Not only does this allow you to customize the size and shape of your vertical farm to your home’s design, but it also saves you costs.
For a simple tutorial on building your own vertical farm at home, have a look at the video below to see “How To Make A Vertical Hydroponic System”
Vertical Farming At Home Costs
The basic equipment you need to start vertical farming from home can cost anywhere between $50 and $600. The following equipment is recommended for new vertical farmers:
- Stacked shelves
- Watering system
- Temperature control
- Grow lights
- A growing medium of your choosing
Running costs can vary considerably, depending on the availability and price of electricity, soil, fertilizer, and seeds in your area. Generally speaking, this will save you money in the long run when compared to grocery shopping, especially for organic crops!
Final Thoughts on Vertical Farming at Home
To summarize, while large-scale vertical farming may be yet a while away, vertical farming at home will save you money in the future and is an exciting hobby that promotes sustainability and environmentally friendly gardening.