Vertical farming is the key to growing food indoors.

Most people do a double-take when we tell them that the Greenery–totaling just a humble 320 sq. ft.–operates at a commercial scale, growing tons of food a year. 

“How?!” they ask, with quizzical looks. 

“It’s simple,” we reply, “Vertical farming.”

If you're scratching your head, not to worry! In the following blog post, we’ll explain exactly how vertical farming works and how the Greenery uses vertical farming techniques to maximize the space inside the 40-foot shipping container. We’ll even go one step further and explain how you can use vertical farming to get consistent and plentiful harvests all year long.

A Brief Overview of Vertical Farming

For pretty much all of Time, plants have been confined to growing in soil, and therefore have had to grow horizontally–roots down, stems and leaves up. The advent and popularization of hydroponics changed all that. By isolating the nutrients and minerals from the soil and adding them directly into water, plants were able to grow freely away from the ground, giving rise to the practice of “vertical farming”. 

As we see in the Greenery, the biggest benefit of vertical farming is its power to transform small spaces into plant production powerhouses. By taking advantage of a third dimension (height), the shipping container can suddenly hold thousands more plants than would grow in the basic two dimensions (length and width).

4-week Green Butterhead lettuce growing vertically in the Greenery’s 5-channel plant panel.

4-week Green Butterhead lettuce growing vertically in the Greenery’s 5-channel plant panel.

Using Horizontal and Vertical Systems Together

The Greenery is divided into two sections: the Nursery Station (for seedlings) and the Cultivation Area (for maturing crops). The main difference between the two is that the Nursery Station incubates young plants horizontally in two irrigated troughs, while the Cultivation Area is a true vertical set up, with the older plants held securely in 88 individual plant panels–separated into four rows. 

You may be wondering: why the switch? If vertical farming is so efficient, why house seedlings in a horizontal system? This is done strategically to ensure the highest rate of plant success. Growing ‘out’, instead of ‘up’, puts more of a strain on the plant’s stem because it needs to fight gravity in a more extreme way. As a result, putting seedlings directly into the vertical arrangement can cause damage to the young stems and negatively impact their development.

The Nursery Station

The story of your bountiful harvest actually begins here, in the nursery station. This is where newly-planted seeds begin the journey towards the healthy plants you will eventually sell and serve, so it’s essential to plan your seeding schedule to guarantee consistent yields every week (keep reading to learn how!).

Freight Farms_Vertical Farming_Nursery Station

From the moment you plant your seed, you need to start providing the ideal environment for the plant. The seed is planted in a peat moss grow plug, which absorbs nutrient rich water like a sponge so the seedling can easily ‘drink’ its nutrients. Seeding is based on available tray capacity. The Greenery holds sixteen seedling trays, each with 200 or 288 cells (depending on the tray design you use). Cumulatively, this means the nursery station can support up to 4,608 baby plants at a time. The plants remain in the nursery station for approximately 21 days. At that point, they’ve gotten enough nutrients and light to develop sturdy stems and small leaves – they’re ready to move into their next home: the Cultivation Area.

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The Plant Panel

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The Greenery’s cultivation area houses 88 high-density five-channel plant panels. More than any other feature, these panels maximize usable space in the farm to unlock new crop possibilities, farming styles, and yield potentials. The lightweight and sturdy removable panels are shaped from food-safe, high-impact polystyrene. All five channels are paired with a reticulated foam growing medium and an anti-drip wicking strip, which gives plants a structure on which to grow, while making sure moisture remains at the root. 

The five-channel design also allows you to maximize the Greenery’s production by activating unused space between the plants as well:

For example, while large plants occupy channels 1-3-5, the operator can use the remaining channels 2 and 4 for intercropping small root vegetables. Alternatively, you can plant small crops can be planted in every single row, also taking advantage of all the linear growing space.

Row planting  for bigger crops in channels 1, 3, 5

Row planting for bigger crops in channels 1, 3, 5

Linear planting  for smaller crops in all channels (1-5)

Linear planting for smaller crops in all channels (1-5)

Intercropping  alternating large crops (channels 1, 3, 5) & roots (2, 4)

Intercropping alternating large crops (channels 1, 3, 5) & roots (2, 4)

Get consistent harvests with crop scheduling

Crop scheduling in the Greenery requires a little bit of simple math and some forethought about what you want to grow. There may ultimately be hundreds of crop scheduling variations, the basics are consistent for any method. Today we’ll cover two common scenarios so you can start to get the idea.

First, we need to be aware of the constants:

  • 1 Greenery cultivation area = 88 plant panels

  • 1 plant panel = 5 growing channels

  • 1 Greenery = (88 panels x 5 channels each) = 440 growing channels total 

  • 1 Greenery nursery station = 16 seedling trays

  • 1 seedling tray = 200 or 288 cells (This depends on which trays you choose to purchase–288 cell trays are standard for the Greenery, so we will be using this number below)

  • All seedlings spend 3 weeks in the nursery station.

  • The length of time the plant spends in the cultivation area is the number you use to determine how much of your farm you will harvest at a time. For example, 4 weeks in the cultivation area = 4 plant sections.

Next, we need to determine…

#1 What do you want to grow?

Harvest Crops: You will harvest these as a whole plant with the root-ball. Includes all varieties of lettuces and root vegetables.

Trim Crops: You will trim mature leaves, leaving the roots and immature leaves intact. After about 4 harvests, the entire plant is harvested. Includes all varieties of leafy greens (kale, Swiss chard, arugula, etc.) and herbs.

#2 with lettuce, Are you growing for weight or volume?

This is ultimately a business decision when growing lettuce: Are you selling a salad mix or heads of lettuce? Are you charging per ounce or per head? You get the most heads at 3 weeks and the heaviest heads at 5 weeks in the plant panel. This is where it is helpful to have your business plan developed and customers lined up before you start planting.

Finally, you’re ready to do some quick math and start growing!

Scenario 1: 4-Week Lettuce

Once you determine the length of time your lettuce will stay in the plant panel (4 weeks in this case), you know that you have to divide your cultivation area into four equal section, guaranteeing consistent weekly harvests.

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At four weeks maturity, lettuce heads are too big to be fit in all five growing channels. Therefore, you will be using only three growing channels (1,3,5) per panel.

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The standard spacing for lettuce is 15 plants per channel.

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With a average plant success rate of 95%, you can plan on harvesting about 940 plants a week.

Now that you have determined the final number of plants you can harvest using the 4-week cultivation area rotation, you can work backwards to determine how many seeds you need to plant to support you harvest goal.

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So, now you know the following. You need to seed 4 trays a week in order to plant ¼ of your farm and harvest up to 990 plants a week.

Here’s what it looks like on a weekly basis:

Keep in mind: When you’re starting you will have to wait 7 weeks before your first full harvest (the time it takes your first seeds to mature: three weeks in the nursery station, four weeks in the cultivation area). After that, you’ll be able to harvest weekly, providing that you stick to the schedule.

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Scenario 2: Trimming Arugula

Arugula is a popular trimming crop that is trimmed for 3 weeks and then harvested. As a result, each plant stays in the cultivation area for a total of 8 weeks (4 weeks to mature, 3 weeks of trimming, and harvesting on the 8th week), so the area is divided into 8 sections.

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Arugula grows small and compact, so it can be planted in all five of the panel’s growing channels.

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The standard spacing for arugula is also 15 plants per channel. 

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With an average plant success rate of 95%, you can plan on trimming 785 plants a week in each section.

Once you have determined the final number of plants you can trim using the 8-week rotation, you can work backward to determine how many seeds you need to plant to support your harvest goal.

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To recap: You need to seed 3 trays a week in order to plant ⅛ of your farm and trim around 800 plants a week. As with the 4-week lettuce model you will have to wait 7 weeks before your first trim. Each plant will be harvested 10 weeks after it is seeded.

Here’s what it looks like on a weekly basis:

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This is just the tip of the iceberg

After training and a few months of growing under your belt, you’ll be able to combine multiple vertical farming and crop scheduling techniques to fine-tune your Greenery to grow exactly what you want, when you want.

Interested in learning more about the Greenery? Download our comprehensive product booklet and explore all of the Greenery’s innovative features.