However, newer LED models have begun to offset these factors by increasing both spectral range and light intensity. Still, these units are costly and bulky, and they lack many of the typical advantages associated with LEDs such as low power draw and heat emission. Still, some newer LED units are being fashioned to fit into vertical rack systems, but at a much higher cost, with the counterargument being they save money in the long run by not needing to be replaced nearly as often as HID systems. Other rack systems feature banks of fluorescent lamps, especially in nurseries, while large rack systems utilize HID lamps hung overhead with two or three levels of garden beds. The latter option is only realistic for large warehouses with high ceilings.
Other vertical grow systems abandon the cylindrical geometry altogether and use structural walls, stackable racks or premade elements such as metal-pole frames from which to hang vertical grow systems. These systems range from NFT (nutrient film technique) and top-feed hydro systems to root mister/aeroponic systems. Normally, wall systems utilize narrow trays or troughs hung in a square arrangement on three or four walls with lights hanging vertically down the center, the same as cylindrical grow systems. All of these systems, whether square or cylindrical in design, do better with hydroponics rather than with soil systems, and each utilizes standard reservoirs and pump systems to deliver water and nutrients to plant sites.
Other systems can be more of a hybrid between a cylindrical system and a wall system. Wall systems use either premade wall frames or the walls of a room to attach hanging grow systems. The EcoSystem, for example, uses a cylindrical plant arrangement with vertical lights down a center channel and doors that swing open to provide access to the grow chamber. However, instead of housing the system mechanics within its chamber walls, growers attach slabs of rockwool, hung vertically around the sides, to grow their plants. Spaghetti lines run directly to the medium, and the vertical chamber is run as a top-feed hydroponic system.
In traditional vertical grow systems, lights are hung vertically, usually on chains, with the plants placed around them in a cylindrical arrangement from floor to ceiling. A primary benefit of this arrangement is a better utilization of light, both in terms of energy efficiency and light absorption, by the encompassing plant canopy. The removal of reflectors creates a direct path for light energy, or photons, from bulb to plants and eliminates the conversion of light into heat that occurs when photons bounce off reflectors or are otherwise absorbed elsewhere and not by the plants. Additionally, when the vertical string of lights in these systems is adequately cooled (either by air-cooling tubes, water jackets or AC units), the plant canopy can sit within inches of the lights, thereby increasing the energy delivered to the plants.
Keeping the bulb-to-canopy distance consistent throughout a plant’s life cycle provides for more a natural and stable grow environment, a benefit that is often lost in vertical grow systems. In vertical systems with stationary light systems, the distance from bulb to plant inevitably changes as the plant grows and changes shape. This can cause problems in a plant’s physiological development and biorhythm. This is why it is important for growers to choose strains that grow short and squat and to pay close attention to how they raise their young seedlings and clones through the vegetative stage. Plants that remain squat will do much better in vertical grow systems with a fixed bulb-to-canopy distance.
To do this, growers use bulbs heavier in the blue spectrum, which helps plants develop good branch stacking and keeps them squat and bushy. During the initial propagation phase and before transplanting into a vertical grow system, growers keep nursery plants under fluorescent bulbs, which emit light from the blue spectrum. These lamps also use less power and run extremely cool, allowing plants to remain very close to the light source.
How They Work
Vertical grow systems are typically not do-it-yourself or build-your-own systems. Rather, commercially available vertical systems are purchased from hydroponic shops or wholesale distributors and then modified to the grower’s specific needs and space. Just like typical horizontal or flatbed grow systems, vertical grow systems can be used with almost any type of indoor grow technique, from hydroponics and aeroponics to soilless-medium methods. The latter is the least likely example one might find, though, as the weight of soil mediums—as well as the sheer volume—can make for cumbersome maintenance, less flexibility and lower functionality (more on this in a bit).
The root structure acts as energy storage for the plant. While the plant is creating food (glucose) during the light cycle via photosynthesis, the roots are storing that energy for use during the dark cycles and for developing buds during the flowering cycle. The size of the root structure is directly proportional to the yield potential of each plant.
When sourcing your vertical system, make sure to consider irrigation pressure, drainage, and electrical. You’ll also have to choose between rolling or stationary racks. We recommend rolling for ease-of-use, but if you do choose stationary make sure there’s room for your employees to work.
As for airflow, simply push your air down the open areas of your racking system while pulling it out from the other end. This method is similar to small greenhouses known as hoop-houses.
Vertical farming space is limited in most vertical grow systems, so you’ll want to keep plants short. This is like the Sea of Green (SOG) method. Only instead of a “Sea”, you will have many “Ponds” of Green. Your plants should not get more than 4-feet tall and will remain in their vegetative stage for a short amount of time.
How to Start Vertical Cannabis Farming
There has certainly been some hesitation to going vertical that’s due to the many difficulties that are associated with a tiered system. By now, many farmers have learned from others that have failed, and by following a solid production plan you too can be successful at vertical cannabis farming.
Your vertical grow system, also known as vertical racking or simply “racks”, is a great place to start. Any quality vertical grow system generally comes standard as a 4-foot by 8-foot palletized rack.
Step 2 – Select Your LED Grow Lights
BarLight Targeted (Pink) Spectrum (above) and BarLight Hybrid (White) Spectrum (Below)
Think of your grow system as a manufacturing facility. Speed becomes even more valuable once you’re producing twice the amount of product you were before.