Vertical Hydroponic Growing Systems

A high-density vertical system can be a cost effective food production alternative...

Vertical Growing System

The Center for Innovative Food Technology investigates alternative growing practices and methods allowing for unique production capacities for increased food production. One such example relates to a high density vertical growing system designed for non-traditional production locations. The system enables plants to grow in significantly smaller spaces and in varying ground covers from concrete to parking lots. The production potential can reach 1500 to 2000 pounds of strawberries per season to 1500 to 2000 heads of lettuce per month.

A vertical system can be constructed in various sizes from 4 stacks equating to 80 plants or upwards to a design for thousands of plants. The common reference is that in one acre this system supports plants that would traditionally require 8 acres of farm land. The options are endless from a small scale farm operation to research to commercial production or backyard gardening without soil. The vegetables or flowers are grown in a coconut potting medium with the primary purpose of holding moisture and maintaining the root base. The plants use a hydroponic system enabling nutrient application to the plants. Any vegetables can be grown with the exception of root crops.

Installed injectors allow for automatic watering by accessing barrels of a water and nutrient mixture. Rows can be upwards of 75 feet long to utilize the pressure compensated emitters. A typical commercial operation includes 96 towers of 5 pots high with 12 towers per row equating to approximately 29 feet by 48 feet ground cover and 2100 plants. The layout can be expanded or modified to fit the space allotted.

Due to the hydroponic application and the design of the towers which swivel on a plate, the labor input is very minimal. Upon completion of the construction elements, weekly monitoring of the water and nutrient supply is required. Minimal weeding is necessary. The bulk of the labor involves the harvesting of the produce upon maturity.

The vertical system is constructed outside and therefore susceptible to natural elements and standard growing seasons. However, it can be constructed within a greenhouse or hoop house structure to extend the season. An additional element to this unit involves the inclusion of an ozone generator. Occasionally a water source may not be appropriate for plant growth due to sulfur or similar elements. An ozone generator will eliminate the undesirable conditions and produce a clean water stream ensuring plant growth.

Vertical Growing System

For additional information on vertical growing systems, please visit CIFT's Vertical Hydroponic Growing Systems page.

Toledo Experiences Vertical Growing

The Center for Innovative Food Technology, CIFT, first introduced a high density, vertical growing system in 2008 as a demonstration project in conjunction with ProMedica’s Flower Hospital, Sylvania. With more than 2100 plants flourishing in the first year and providing the hospital cafeteria with fresh vegetables while having excess to donate to Sylvania Family Services, the concept of growing in this capacity planted the seeds and established roots for several other organizations. Each outlet has approached the need differently but will experience the benefits of fresh produce immediately.

The Aurora Gonzalez Family Resource Center has partnered with the Sophia Quintero gardens to host a system with the capacity for 128 plants largely consisting of tomatoes, peppers, onions, squash, zucchini, and beans. The produce generated through this effort will be available to members of the community who are searching for fresh, locally grown produce. The vertical garden complements the existing raised beds established through their community garden efforts.

This common theme will be realized with each location implementing a vertical garden into their operational structure. The Ella P. Stewart Academy for Girls has embraced the garden as an educational tool incorporating several course topics while gaining from the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of labor.

The produce grown at the Academy will be used at the school or by the families of the students. The students will be involved throughout the growing process and inclusion of a greenhouse structure is being investigated in an effort to extend the growing season to align with the academic year.

The Lucas County Health Department embraced a 64 plant vertical growing system as a method of providing educational insights on the importance of improved nutrition in a daily diet. Product grown will be partially used by the staff with the remaining being donated to local feeding programs.

Mayores Senior Center viewed inclusion of a 64 plant garden as a fit for their programming efforts while also enhancing the fresh food options provided at the center. The system design is conducive to minimal labor but also more readily adjusted for ease in bending. Therefore, seniors can become engaged in the process and participate in the growing.

For similar reasons, the Eleanor Kahle Senior Center pursued a larger system to serve as their garden. Product generated is intended for use within the community and for the benefit of all local residents. More than 2000 plants will produce a variety of lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, onions, beans, squash, and more to the neighbors and visitors.

Hearing and seeing the growing need for fresh produce on a daily basis led Toledo Seagate Food Bank to pursue a 1000 plant system. Hundreds of people are provided access to food, so this would seem to be a perfect location for growing produce.

Several staff and volunteers participated in the construction of the garden and have started to reap the rewards through the harvesting of peppers and lettuce.

Food For Thought collaborated with Clay High School in Oregon to fund a system to be used for educational purposes and community outreach. This 2000 plant unit will provide much desired fresh produce to local feeding programs and the community.

Finally, Toledo Area Ministries also embraced the alternative method of growing and constructed a 64 plant system to demonstrate how local communities, churches, organizations, and families can become engaged in growing produce in non-traditional locations.

Without the resources provided locally, these systems would not exist. Through their community service efforts, members of Local 50 Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Service Mechanics plumbed the water systems at the large installations. Their expertise proved valuable in securing lines that provide water and nutrients for the plants.

Several other organizations collectively participated in this growing endeavor. These include Bittersweet Farms of Whitehouse who started the seeds in a greenhouse in order to have healthy transplants for inclusion in the gardens upon completion of construction. Equally, Rupp Seeds provided technical assistance on appropriate varieties of seed for maximum performance within a hydroponic environment as well as seed for inclusion in the gardens.

The initial purpose of the demonstration was to highlight how a neighborhood or community could become involved in growing the food they consume. Based on the results of the second year, the goal of engagement is certainly being realized. The long term impacts associated with improved health, increased awareness of nutritional benefits of fresh produce, and ultimately economic impacts on produce sold and jobs created, are sure to follow.

Here's a list of Toledo area organizations using vertical growing systems.

Partner Organizations...

Our City in a Garden
5555 Airport Highway, Ste 100, Toledo, Ohio 43615-7320
419.535.6000       877.668.3472 (toll-free)
419.531.8465 (fax)
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A message from Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur...

''Food needs are rising for many people across our community due to economic conditions. Therefore in mid-February, with over 100 community participants, we held our first City in a Garden forum to discuss how our area could plan, organize, and begin to meet this need effectively and sustainably. We aim to explore how expanded deployment of innovative growing systems can meet rising local food needs and better nutrition, particularly in food-short areas.''

''Experimental efforts with innovative growing systems have been underway for nearly two years across our region. Most importantly, these structures can be replicated in urban areas. Thank you for the work you do every day to help our community become more humane, livable and civil.''

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur
US House of Representatives, 9th District - Ohio

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