Exploring cannabis vertical cultivation

Conceptually, vertical cultivation is not really easy to visualize. Simply put, vertical farming is the practice of growing cannabis in vertically stacked layers. This growing practice could either use conventional soil, hydroponic or aeroponic growing methods. Vertical farms can help produce cannabis in otherwise challenging environments.

As some growers have come to know, cultivating cannabis indoors can be a costly affair. Real estate costs coupled with energy bills, significant staffing requirements, and a host of different elements needing to come together in precise tandem are required for an indoor grow to be operational. It then becomes crucial to be consistently profitable. And that can only be achieved by increasing plant yields. Maximizing the grow space is one way to reach this goal and that’s what brings us to the many aspects of vertical growing; the practice of producing plants in vertically stacked or inclined surfaces.

Primarily vertical farming can be done in one of two ways.

Stacked Vertical
The most common method of vertical farming is a stacked vertical setup. Here levels of plant racks have LED lights above each rack. Plants are topped and defoliated to keep them short and bud-heavy. This may lead to growers stacking in the flower stage - despite the plants being large and top heavy.

True Vertical
In true vertical growing, plants are grown out of the side of a column, with water and nutrients dripping down from the top.

The LED and the Ramp
Cannabis cultivation is going vertical in a big way and the primary reason for that is the vastly improved performance of indoor LED lighting systems. This is resulting in more and more cannabis growers investing in powerful multi-tier (or ‘vertical farm’) lighting systems. With fully functional LED system in place one can expect reducing production time on both the retail flower market as well as for oil extraction. More associated benefits include decreased energy consumption, reduced ventilation, air conditioning and heating needs, decreased cycle time, doubled production because of increased crop yield and of course, the overall reduction of the cost per pound of the finished product. It is also known to significantly reduce water and fertilizer usage. Most growers swear by it for the consistent, year-round flower quality and chemotype with denser trichome development in buds.

Environmental Conditions Get Complex Quickly
Maintaining optimum temperature, humidity, and air circulation is tough for all cannabis grows. But in vertical growing there are more variables in macro and micro environmental conditions because there are more plants, making absolute control more difficult. For the atmospheric variability, the use of sensors to detect data points like moisture changes is recommended. Generally, commercial growers use a single temperature/humidity sensor to monitor a room - even for grow areas spanning over 20,000 feet. In such cases, it is prudent to recommend air circulation systems that push air right in between the racks above the plants, usually with small ducts that take air from the edges of the room to the center of the racks.

Expensive to Set Up and Maintain
While growing plants vertically provides several fundamental advantages for cultivators, it also stands to reason that the increased yield comes with some added costs. This may include increased energy usage from artificial lighting, the upkeep and maintenance of state-of-the-art climate control systems, extra infrastructure required to facilitate a logistical equilibrium and of course, paying high-skilled technicians to constant upgrade and modify the equipment.

Certain Cultivars Work Better Than Others
The most successful cannabis cultivars for vertical growing are those that are short but have big buds. They will also need to have fewer leaves, so less defoliation is necessary. But if you are a confident defoliator, you can broaden the range and diversity of the cultivars used.

For more information:
Frontier Botanics
Lindsay Gayman BScN, Medical Cannabis Educator 
+44 (0) 203 993 8250 

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