The importance of grow systems cannot be over-emphasized when it comes to indoor growing. Yes you can throw some shelves together, add some grow lights to get started, but if you intend to grow a successful commercial operation, you will need professional grow equipment to increase or maintain product quality in the volume needed and to reduce the overall labor costs which can be significant as the operation is expanded.
There are a number water/nuterient delivery systems in use in the hydroponic growing industry the use of which depends on the product one is growing:
NFT (Nutrient Film Technique)
A hydroponic technique wherein a very shallow stream of water containing all the dissolved nutrients required for plant growth is re-circulated past the bare roots of plants in a watertight gully, also known as channels.
A properly designed NFT system is based on using the right channel slope, the right flow rate, and the right channel length. The plant roots are exposed to adequate supplies of water, oxygen and nutrients. In earlier production systems, there was a conflict between the supply of these requirements, since excessive or deficient amounts of one results in an imbalance of one or both of the others.
Ebb & Flow
Ebb and Flow is a form of hydroponics that is known for its simplicity, reliability of operation and low initial investment cost. Pots or trays are filled with an inert medium which does not function like soil or contribute nutrition to the plants but which anchors the roots and functions as a temporary reserve of water and solvent mineral nutrients. The hydroponic solution alternately floods the system and is allowed to ebb away.
Under this system a water-tight growing bed, containing a rooting medium, is periodically flooded for a short period (5 to 10 minutes) with a nutrient solution pumped from a supply tank. By placing the nutrient solution supply tank below the growing bed, the nutrient solution can drain back by gravity.
Drip irrigation systems involve having one or more drip emitters that drip a mix of water and nutrient solution onto the surface of the grow media, rather than spraying it on or washing it over the roots in larger quantities.
Drip systems can be set up using grow containers, where each plant has its own pot to sit in and has its own emitter, or in grow beds, where the plants all share the same root zone area.
Drip systems are simple to set up and economical to run because they reduce the amount of water that is lost through evaporation, leaching, and runoff. In other words, plants are given only what they need, and make good use of what they are given.
An indoor gardening practice in which plants are grown and nourished by suspending their root structures in air and regularly spraying them with a nutrient and water solution.
Soil is not used for aeroponics, because the plants can thrive when their roots are constantly or periodically exposed to a nutrient-rich mist.
Aeroponics offers an efficient means to grow plants, including fruits and vegetables, without potting and repotting them to replenish their access to nutrient-rich soil.
Deep Water Culture
A method of growing plants hydroponically while the roots are suspended in a nutrient solution throughout the entire grow cycle.
A net pot or grow cup is suspended from the center of the lid, the roots are suspended in the nutrient solution, in a reservoir under the lid containing the nutrient solution. Air is pumped into the reservoir with the use of an air pump and an air delivery device such as an air stone. This keeps the water supplied with the amount of oxygen needed for the roots of the plant. The grow pot or net cup is filled with a grow media such as gravel, clay pellets, lava rock, etc. and is suspended in the nutrient solution.
Indoor growing is all about "plants per square foot". In other words how many plants can I grow in each square foot of grow space? Following is a couple of examples.
Table Top Systems
A grow system that utilizes flood tables to deliver water and nutrients to the plants (Ebb & Flow).
Shown here is our greenhouse operation for growing microgreens in Las Vegas. Each of the flood tables are 42' x 5' and support over 200 half flats (10x10 trays). This facility could grow over 1500 trays at a time.
The down side of these systems is space! Expansion can only occur horizontally - in this case, if you need more growing space, you have add more greenhouses.
Vertical Grow Systems
The solution to grow space limitations and indoor growing is the vertical grow system. This system stacks the grow tables/channels one above the other with each shelf independently equipped with grow lights.
These grow shelves dramatically change the nature and economics of urban farming.
1. 1 acre of land (43,560 sq. ft.) producing 25,000 heads of lettuce can be reduced to 1,100 sq. ft. of vertical grow space (allowing for room to tend and harvest the plants).
2. A 42' x 5' (210 sq. ft.) table top grow system holding 200 microgreen trays can be reduced to 32 sq. ft.
The increased operational costs due to lighting is easily offset by the lower cost of space (rent/mortgage) and the efficiency of the grow systems (20% to 30% lower labor costs).
There is no commercially recognized category for hydroponically grown food. Organic produce is grown in soil. Hydroponic produce is grown in water or a soilless medium such as coconut coir. Because it is not prone to the various potential infestations resulting from soil-grown food, we simply call it "Beyond Organics!"
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