Vertical Farming FAQ: 19 Things to Know

The first question that often comes up about vertical farming is “What are the benefits?” Vertical farms provide a number of sustainability advantages. They reduce the amount of land and water needed for agriculture, while using less energy and providing more food per square foot than traditional farming methods. Here’s what you need to know about vertical farming in order to understand how it works.

What Can Be Grown in a Vertical Farm?

As this list shows, most crops could be grown in a vertical farm with enough supplemental light:

  • Leafy greens: red leaf lettuce, romaine, butter head
  • Herbs: chives, mint
  • Root vegetables: Carrots, onions
  • Basils: sweet, lemony, cinnamon
  • Small woody plants: rosemary, oregano, thyme
  • Wide leaves: spinach, chard, collard greens

Can You Grow Coffee Using Vertical Farming?

You can grow coffee using vertical farming techniques, but you’ll need to give it plenty of time to mature. Gardening specialist John Stephens believes that it can take upwards of 4-5 years for a transplanted seedling to turn into a full-sized plant.

Can You Grow Soybeans Using Vertical Farming?

Soybeans are quickly becoming one of the most talked about crops in the vertical farming space, and it’s quite possible to grow it. Some startup companies focus exclusively on them.

Is Vertical Farming Healthy?

Foods grown on vertical farms are indistinguishable from those grown in the ground, though they might be lacking in some nutrients. The controversy surrounding vertical farms has more to do with issues related to environmental preservation and pollution.

What Are the Advantages of Vertical Farming?

Advantages include:

  • Resistant to weather
  • Grows all year long
  • Low land use
  • Could be grown anywhere
  • Droughts don’t effect vertical farms much

What Are the Disadvantages of Vertical Farming?

Perhaps the biggest downsides are:

  • High energy usage
  • Not economical, especially when power and water are factored into the equation
  • Could contribute to greenhouse gas emissions
  • Some vertical farms rely on GMOs

Why Vertical Farming Is Bad?

So little sunlight hits the plants on most dedicated vertical farms that it’s necessary for growers to use massive lights in order to supplement the sun. Bruce Bugbee, director of the Crop Physiology Laboratory at Utah State University, feels that vertical farms couldn’t even be competitive with traditional farms that are lit by the sun.

How Expensive Is Vertical Farming?

Small hobbyists could start a vertical farm for just a few hundred dollars if they just wanted to grow things for themselves. Those who plan on doing so commercially could spend anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions depending on the scale involved in their operations.

Is Vertical Farming Cheaper Than Traditional Farming?

Due to the energy and fertilizer usage necessary to sustain vertical farms, they’re actually much more expensive than traditional ones.

Can Rice Be Grown in Vertical Farms?

Rice can be grown in vertical farms, but it takes a certain type of hydroponic frame to grow it properly. Most growers have to be fairly cautious about how they germinate rice if they plan on growing it in this way.

Can Wheat Be Grown in Vertical Farms?

Wheat is grown at least somewhat easily in vertical farms, which is why it’s one of the more commonly discussed crops in the space.

Can Potatoes Grow in Vertical Farming?

It takes more effort to grow potatoes in vertical farming frames, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. You simply need to provide sufficient supplies of light and water in a way that will allow it to flourish.

How Do I Start a Small Vertical Farm?

Start by dedicating an area for nothing both growth and then follow these tips:

  1. Sanitize your frame and assemble it to provide a structure for the farm
  2. Situate the frame in a way that gets at least some natural light if possible
  3. Construct a light supply and delivery system
  4. Add a nutrient mix to the water for your farm
  5. Circulate the water through the structure you’ve put together
  6. Introduce seedlings to the system
  7. Provide support for the seedlings and remove any diseased or dying tissue
  8. Reorient the farm structure if the plants aren’t receiving enough resources
  9. Only fertilize when necessary
  10. Harvest periodically in much the same way you might with a microgreen farm

Why Do Vertical Farms Not Require Pesticides?

Since vertical farms are self-contained and exist inside buildings, there’s usually no need to use pesticides or even traditional herbicides. Health advocates praise this aspect of the vertical farming approach.

How Many Types of Vertical Farming Are There?

There are four primary types of vertical farms. Hydroponic farms are probably the most common, and use water with nutrients in it to feed plants sitting in a mix.

Aeroponics, which was developed by NASA researchers, use an even leaner mix with no traditional substrate at all to grow plants. Controlled-environment agriculture farms are closer to traditional greenhouses than they are other vertical farms.

Aquaponics is a newer technology and integrates animals like catfish into the equation so that plants have a ready supply of carbon dioxide in which to feed on.

Do Vertical Farms Use Soil?

Relatively few vertical farming solutions integrate soil into their workflows. Those that do are essentially traditional greenhouses that are built upward.

Is Vertical Farming the Future?

The answer to this question depends on who you ask. Vertical farming proponents claim that it’s a great way to minimize land usage while the opposition often claims that crop yields were actually greater before the introduction of certain modern farming practices.

How Much Water Is Used in Vertical Farming?

According to the Vertical Farm Institute, a properly maintained vertical farm may use 70-95 percent less water than an equivalent sized farm that grows the same amount of crops within a season.

How Much Money Can You Make Vertical Farming?

The amount of money would be equal for a traditional farm of the same size, though this is complicated somewhat by the fact that energy use figures are usually much greater for those who manage vertical farms. This may be offset by reduced property takes, however.