Growing Vertically

I started growing crops vertically in 2022, and made a few improvements over the course of 2023. Here are my results so far.

Growing Vertically

With most traditional farming, a single "layer" of crops are grown in large fields. KTech Farms is quite limited in the amount of space available though, so I have to change things up a bit and incorporate vertical growing methods into my operation.

There are two main ways of growing vertically:

  1. Utilizing shelving to stack multiple layers of plants
  2. Grow crops upward in a column as opposed to horizontally in a row.

I use both of these methods, but for now I want to discuss the second method.

Initial Attempt

My first attempt at growing vertically didn't work out so well. I had used net pots for growing hydroponically in the past, and decided to place multiple net pots into downspouts at a slight angle. Using a pump, nutrient was pumped to the top of a downspout and would drip to the bottom, where it would fill up the reservoir again.

The concept was good, but there were a couple problems that I encountered. First, the downspouts were mounted with paracord, which got dripped on by the drip emitters at the top. Over time, this caused mold on the paracord.

Another issue was that the crops dried out over time. While the top pots did better than the bottom, they all eventually arrived at the same fate. Some of it could have been due to insufficient flow, but I think it also had to do with the fact that the net pots didn't retain enough moisture and nutrients. The water would splash the top couple and run along the back of the downspout, missing everything else.

The third issue I ran into was that doing this in my garage caused a large amount of flies to show up.

Enter ZipGrow

After the abysmal results of my first attempt, I decided to try out some towers from a company called ZipGrow. I wouldn't consider the towers "cheap" to get started with, but I think they're still affordable for home use or personal projects, especially on a small scale. After a bit of research, I got my feet wet with a pack of 4 5' towers and a custom built rack.

These ended up going in a small 5x5 grow tent and were used to grow basil and arugula. Initially they had a few LED lights attached for lighting, but I don't believe the lights worked all that well for growing plants.

Eventually I decided to switch to an LED board by AC Infinity, which I really like and works quite well. There were no pest issues and, over time, the entire wall became covered in basil

Expanding my Grow Area

Needless to say, I was pretty impressed with the results from my 4-tower experiment and decided to purchase some additional towers for my new greenhouse around mid-year. This time, I built 3 different systems so I could grow multiple crops at once and have the appropriate PH and nutrient levels for each. My first attempt included basil, romaine, and strawberries.

Initially, things went really well - The romaine was beautiful and the basil did great again. Once the thick of summer hit though, I started running into some problems.

  • I grew all of the lettuce at one time and didn't have any succession plantings, so those towers just sat there after my initial harvest.
  • The actual strawberry plants started off well, generating a lot of flowers and baby strawberries. The berries never matured though, and the plants eventually became covered with aphids / ants
  • The lettuce had aphids, but using neem oil helped get rid of them.
  • Once it got in the low - mid 90's, the water reservoir would be empty or nearly empty around 2 or 3 pm each day
  • Again, because of the heat, the basil started going to seed much earlier than I would have preferred

Expectations for 2024

This year, I'll be using the greenhouse again with a total of 32 towers split into 5 separate systems to grow the following:

  • Basil
  • Kale
  • Romaine
  • Green Leaf
  • Red Leaf
  • Strawberries

Hopefully with some extra / better management practices, I'll be able to eliminate some of the issues I ran into last year!