Vertical hydroponic systems are a groundbreaking hydroponic garden method that allows you to grow tremendous yields per square foot. These vertical systems provide optimal usage of all available space and will only become more and more relevant as we work harder to solve the world’s growing food crisis.
Keep reading to learn all about this unique hydroponic system and why it’s so sought after!
What Is Vertical Hydroponics?
Vertical hydroponics is the utilization of both hydroponic and vertical growing methods.
Hydroponic growing is a method in which no soil is used. Instead, a substrate holds your plants in place, with the roots gathering nutrients from the nutrient-enriched water below.
Meanwhile, vertical growing is just as it sounds- growing plants in vertical columns rather than in horizontal rows. Vertical growing is becoming more and more essential as farmers and gardeners alike are learning to best utilize their limited spaces in order to produce high yields to feed a growing world.
How Does Vertical Hydroponics Work?
The two main designs of vertical hydroponics systems include the vertical hydroponic tower and zig-zag vertical hydroponic systems.
Both designs use the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT). NFT is a hydroponic system in which there is a constant, shallow flow of water and nutrients flowing through your plants’ suspended root systems.
Vertical Hydroponic Tower
Vertical hydroponic towers are probably what come to mind when you think of vertical farming.
You’ll find a reservoir of water at the bottom of the tower. A water pump pumps the water up to the top of the tower. The tower uses gravity to let water flow through a tube back down into the water reservoir, where it’s recycled for further use.
In order to encourage the most nutrient absorption, plants are suspended in net ups at a 45 degree angle within the tubes. The water flows through the roots on its journey back into the water reservoir.
Zig-Zag Vertical Hydroponic System
The zig-zag vertical grow system is a design that uses many pipes on a trellis situated at diagonal angles rather than creating a tower.
The pipes are in a tight zig-zag pattern with the net cups suspended at 90 degrees. Again, the water flows through the plant roots on the way back down to the reservoir as a version of the traditional NFT system.
Benefits of Vertical Hydroponics
Let’s discuss some of the benefits of this break-through form of farming.
Utilizes Space Well
The ingenious utilization of space is one of the many reasons that vertical hydroponic systems are being looked at as the future of farming.
This makes sense on both a small and large scale. On the one hand, your average home grower can supply themselves with higher yields in less space. On the other hand, commercial growers can fully utilize their square footage for gigantic, efficient yields.
Higher commercial yields combined with a higher production of produce per household is the perfect solution to potential droughts, supply chain issues, and food shortages.
You Don’t Need Soil
This one simple thing sets hydroponic gardening apart from all other types of gardening: no soil is required! A lack of soil means no weeds or soil-borne diseases and pests.
Vertical hydroponics- and hydroponic systems in general- are highly efficient because you’re in complete control of the growing environment. Thanks to this, you can dial in all the factors to create the optimal growing conditions for your plants. Perfect growing conditions lead to prolific plant growth and higher yields.
Vertical hydroponic systems are generally considered “closed systems”. This means that the resources are being continuously recycled.
Because of this, there is no nutrient runoff or loss of water. Both resources are used to their fullest capacity.
Disadvantages of Vertical Hydroponics
Of course, vertical hydroponics has some disadvantages too.
Lighting is obviously one of the most important factors of plant growth, as it provides the energy needed to undergo photosynthesis.
When all of your plants are on the same horizontal plane, lighting is pretty simple. You simply put your lights above your plants, set some timers, and you’re good to go.
But when you have multiple levels of plants, your lighting setup gets a little more complicated. You need to use multiple lighting panels at strategically-placed angles to ensure that all of your plants are receiving an equal amount of light. And on top of that, you need to dial in the intensity, distance, and timing of the lights.
You have to get the water flow just right in order for all of your plants to receive the same amount of nutrients.
Your water pumps need to be strong enough to deliver water all the way to the top layer of your tower. Your pipes all need to be at equal angles so that water flows at the same rate in each pipe. Lastly, it’s important that water doesn’t pool in the lower levels of your system and drown your plants.
How to Build a Vertical Hydroponics Tower
To build a vertical hydroponics tower, you need to construct:
- A support frame
- Water supply/return
The support frame is made out of PVC pipe, including main legs, a support top, and a support bottom.
The towers/return are made out of the towers and water return.
The water supply/return is made out of PEX and is situated to be as efficient as possible.
What Can I Grow With Vertical Hydroponics?
You can grow nearly any crop or flower with vertical hydroponics.
You probably just think of heads of lettuce in vertical towers. But with the right setup you can support peppers, tomatoes, squash, and more. With enough creativity, the possibilities are endless!
Don’t just limit yourself to vegetables, either. Have you ever considered having a beautiful tower of flowers in your living room?
We do have bad news, though. Don’t count on growing potatoes in your vertical hydroponics tower. Potatoes can be grown hydroponically, but they need a very specific setup.
Is Vertical Hydroponics Easy?
Vertical hydroponics is not as easy as other hydroponic systems. More can go wrong because the design is complex. A particular pain point is dialing in the lighting.
If you’re a seasoned hydroponics grower and are looking for a challenge, vertical hydroponics is a great option for you! But if you’re a beginner, starting with vertical hydroponics is certainly a bold move.
Which Is Better Vertical Or Horizontal Hydroponic System?
Vertical hydroponic systems utilize space more effectively than horizontal hydroponic systems. You get a higher yield per square foot, which is vital as we search for the most sustainable and resource-efficient ways to grow food.
On the other hand, horizontal hydroponic systems are easier to setup and maintain. They’re also cheaper and more beginner-friendly.
How to DIY Vertical Hydroponics
To DIY vertical hydroponics, you need to construct: a support frame, towers/return, and water supply/return. There are many online guides and blueprints to follow.
Vertical hydroponic systems are one of the most interesting hydroponic systems out there. They’re truly ingenious in design and will play a major role in our ever-evolving food system! While they provide some more challenges than other systems, the payoff is huge.
Check out the rest of our blog to learn more about unique hydroponic topics!