Benefits of the vertical growing shift

Added July 7, 2022

Evolving technology and climate change are transforming how and why we grow in greenhouses and, more recently, warehouses and shipping containers. A vertical growing trend is capitalizing on this ecological shift, creating a larger opportunity to fill valuable space—from floor to ceiling—with plants and vegetables.

Traditionally, greenhouse crops are grown on a horizontal plane, either on benches or floors. Growers with space constraints started a slow trend toward going vertical. Toss in a pandemic, supply chain issues, and a rising “buy local” focus, and many more owners have begun rethinking their own processes to see if vertical growing makes sense for their operations.

Greenhouses are way ahead of the recent shift to vertical growing since the technology needed to succeed relies on temperature, light, and humidity control—elements already well-established in a greenhouse setting. But horticultural entrepreneurs are not far behind.

Common vertical growing methods

Vertical growing can maximize space and double or triple the inventory within your greenhouse since you're using nearly every square foot when you garden up-and-down, not just side-to-side. How it's done can be simple.

Typically, vertical plant growth is structured using shelving, vertical planters, or vertical hydroponic systems.

  • Shelving: For vertical growing, your shelving should be constructed in multiple tiers with the highest tier on the wall opposite the side of the greenhouse that gets the most sunlight. By doing this, plants on the top shelves won't shade out plants set lower in the greenhouse.

  • Vertical planters: Vertical planters usually use potting soil. Water these planters from the top. Gravity does the rest. Strawberries and lettuce are two crops commonly grown in vertical planters with great success.

  • Vertical hydroponic systems: Vertical hydroponic systems use soilless gardening. Most are recirculating systems, so the nutrient solution is collected and reused. The solution is delivered to the top plant modules and gravity flows it to the bottom.

No matter which vertical method you use, your greenhouse provides the optimal controlled environment and can provide bottom-line benefits including higher productivity in the same space, healthier yields, shorter growing times, and lower water use.

Vegetable gardening moves indoors, closer to metro areas

There's a continuing consumer demand for farm-to-table food options. While you might picture open fields as the source for this food, it has also led to a rise in the practice of growing vegetables in environmentally controlled spaces such as warehouses, shipping containers, and greenhouses.

These growing spaces can often operate closer to major metropolitan areas so the product can flow into supermarkets more quickly. This can more easily allow crops to be harvested, packaged, and stocked on a store shelf in less than a day. Consumers enjoy the fresh food, and businesses enjoy a quick return on their products with less opportunity for spoilage.

With an increase in community-centered and local area sales, businesses can also avoid some of the challenges they face when transporting products long distances. It can reduce transportation costs and delays—and product losses related to the latter.

AppHarvest operates a 60-acre greenhouse in Morehead, Kentucky, growing hydroponic tomatoes up to the ceiling. The company uses a hydroponic system that relies on manmade fertilizers (without pesticides). It also incorporates innovations like robotics and AI to better predict crop health and yield. The facility is expected to produce about 45 million pounds of tomatoes each year from about 720,000 tomato plants.

Advantages of indoor vegetable growing:

  • Greenhouse technology: The technology required to create climate-controlled environments inside greenhouses, or any viable enclosure, creates ideal conditions for plants or crops, providing increased yields, and reduced labor and resource costs.

  • Sustainability: In a hydroponic vertical space, water is recycled through the system, so a minimal amount of fresh water is needed once the system is running. On average, a greenhouse can use nearly 98 percent less water than traditional growing.

  • Year-round crop production: Since the environment is under your control, you can create the optimal climate conditions for plant growth year-round and grow more plants inside per square foot than growing seasonal crops outside in an open field.

  • Reduced risk: Volatility decreases the closer you get to the supermarket shelf. There's also less need to transport your inventory and utilize your fleets.

Your insurance provider is also part of the vertical shift

If you anticipate your business shifting into vertical growing, ask your insurance provider for guidance, especially when it comes to protecting your investment. We offer crop insurance for plants grown in climate-controlled structures and have the experience and knowledge to assess risks horticultural businesses like yours face, including risks that could impact your greenhouse growing conditions.

If you have questions or would like to learn more about our full range of horticultural business insurance services, contact us. We’re here to help you keep your crops and assets safe.

Related links:

As your greenhouse, nursery, or garden center relies more on technology, its online vulnerabilities increase. This guide provides details about common types of cybercrime and how you can help prevent them.

To help you identify new or changing hazards at your business, request a safety visit from your insurance provider.

Check out the top risks for horticultural businesses like yours, and review the insurance coverages that can help protect you.

Indoor Vegetable Gardening

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