Indoor grows offer many advantages. However, there’s one thing they don’t have: plenty of space. Indoor cannabis grows are rather expensive as a great deal of money goes to the massive energy and water bills, nutrients, staffing, and equipment, but to name just a few. This is why cannabis growers are always looking for new ways to increase profits. Maximizing the growing space is one great way to do it and going vertical, the practice of stacking plants vertically or in inclined surfaces, seems to be the answer to all their prayers.
The main catalyst behind growing cannabis vertically is the improved performance of LED lights. This is partly because high-pressure sodium lamps (HPS), one of the most commonly used lights in cannabis growing for decades, become so hot that they have to be placed many feet away from the plants so they don't suffer. LED lights are different in that they don't give off almost any heat, so you can install them at a very short distance. Besides, while their price is decreasing, their efficiency is increasing, which makes LEDs the common choice for growers willing to set up a vertical cannabis grow.
Types of Vertical Growing
Typical one-level horizontal grow systems are becoming less common as commercial growers keep looking for new ways to optimize yields, reduce costs and improve the efficiency of their grows. If you also want to go vertical, have a look at these:
- Stacked vertically
Stacking plants vertically is the most common type of vertical setup: plants arranged in different levels with LED lights above each rack. Plants are topped and defoliated in the lower part to keep them short and bud-packed.
- Vertical column
Plants grow on one side of the column and the water/nutrient mix drips down from above (some popular setups are those of ZipGrow and Tower Garden). Within the column, a hybrid method brings together the nutrient film technique (NFT), where nutrient water passes directly over the roots, and aeroponics, a soilless grow method where roots hang in the air.
- Cylindrical column with central lights
Another way to grow plants vertically is by using a cylindrical hydroponic system with hanging lights right in the middle. It is very much like growing in SOG, where clones start the flowering approx. two weeks after the vegging. This forces them to produce a huge main central cola. To maximize the yield with SOG, a true green ocean is formed, for which lots of clones are needed.
Vertical growing uses this amazing technique to its advantage and allows growers to obtain an awful lot of plants arranged on cascade-like slopes. The great thing about this method is that it can also be used by small growers willing to grow just a few plants. It's actually the best way to maximize a small grow space: plants arranged in different levels around a central light.
Benefits of Going Vertical
Vertical growing is increasingly common in the States. Normally arranged in two, but also in three, four or even more levels, they require the use of special LED lights specifically designed for these setups, for a stacking grow.
For example, the Canadian company AgMedica said that "it would require four times more HPS lights than LED lights to achieve the same brightness and spectrum in these vertical grow rooms". "This is a quarter of the usage, which is a huge saving. It's obviously very interesting from the cost savings, but also from the sustainability," said the Chief Operating Officer of AgMedica, Jeremy Buitenhuis. AgMedica claims to have cut its energy consumption by approx. 75% and to turn lights on at night when the hydro grid is less expensive.
They also recycle all their water in mixing tanks. Everything is computerized. Plants receive the exact amount of water they need daily, an underground systems collects excess water and drives it back to the irrigation system after going through an ozonization process aimed at removing any impurities so it can be reused again.
Drawbacks of Going Vertical
Although vertical growing offers almost nothing but advantages, it does have some cons too:
- Hard-to-control environmental conditions
Keeping the temperature, moisture and air circulation at optimal levels is difficult in any kind of cannabis grow, but it's even trickier in vertical growing because plants are more numerous and closer to one another and so the variability in environmental conditions is harder to control.
Most commercial growers use a single temperature/humidity sensor for the entire room, when setting up several sensors would allow them to monitor moisture, temperature, air pressure, CO2 levels, lighting power (kW)… much more accurately.
- Expensive to set up and to maintain
While it's true that vertical grows allow growers to obtain better yields per light and to make the most of the space available, the use of artificial lighting, climate controllers, extra infrastructure (ladders, sensors, and more)… could increase costs greatly. That's why it's so necessary to focus on long-term profitability. Nowadays it's widely used by vegetable commercial growers so... why wouldn't it be great for cannabis too?
- Dangerous work
Vertically-grown pot needs a lot of attention. Not only in terms of intensive monitoring but also of physical work both during the vegging and blooming stages. The height of cannabis plants must be controlled on a regular basis, for which growers may have to climb ladders or scaffolding to reach the plant canopy. It's possible that these tasks need to be carried out by qualified staff in security protocols.
- Some strains work better than others
The great majority of cannabis strains are believed to thrive in vertical grows. It's common knowledge, though, that some genetics prefer longer vegging periods and tend to grow taller than others. To encourage horizontal growth, trimming and trellising (SCROG, LST…) are sure to be necessary. This way, even the tallest strains will stay in the limits.
A Booming Growing Practice
Growing outdoors is still the most sustainable way to grow weed for a source of free energy is used. Believe it or not, though, vertical growing makes a great alternative, especially for indoor growers willing to make better use of the resources by reducing the use of water of electricity.
The cannabis industry is definitely booming and so the available growing space is going to be key. The future of cannabis and of many other crops also in high demand is poised to move upward always looking for other ways to improve efficiency and reduce costs per sq. meter.