One of the most common irrigation methods used in vertical farming is hydroponics. This practice involves growing without using soil. All plants are nutrients so they can reach their full potential. It may seem complicated at first glance, but there is nothing to fear. In this guide, we walk you through nutrition in vertical farming, step by step.
Let’s start with the basics! Although growing plants in vertical hydroponic systems differ from traditional methods. However, this does not change the fact that plants still require the same elements to thrive. They need lighting, carbon dioxide, and water to grow properly. In addition, plants need specific micro and macro elements. The essential nutrients are:
➤ Molybdenum (Mo) – increases plant immunity. It is a vital element of proteins, chlorophyll, vitamins, hormones, and DNA. It participates in nitrogen metabolism.
➤ Manganese (Mn) – responsible for the main functions of the plant, i.e., photosynthesis, respiration, CO2 assimilation, and carbohydrate synthesis. It also promotes development of the root system by stimulating phosphorus uptake.
➤ Iron (Fe) – enables plants to carry out the process of photosynthesis and respiration. It has a direct effect on plant growth.
➤ Nickel (Ni) – regulates water and nutrient uptake.
➤ Copper (Cu) – responsible for stimulating the synthesis of mechanical tissues, the so-called lignin. Increases plant resistance against diseases and temperature sensitivity.
➤ Zinc (Zn) – takes part in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and phosphorus compounds. Immunizes the plant against short-term stress conditions. Influences the process of growth hormone synthesis.
➤ Boron (B) – plays a crucial role in plant metabolic processes. It affects flowering, respiration, and water management.
➤ Potassium (K) – in charge of building the structure and quality of the plant. It helps to uptake and transport water.
➤ Calcium (Ca) – helps plasma membranes function and ensures healthy growth.
➤ Magnesium (Mg) – strengthens the plant and helps with water management. It is a key component of chlorophyll, which is responsible for maintaining the plant’s green color.
➤ Nitrogen (N) – it is an essential building material of proteins and nucleic acids. It plays a key role in plant metabolism.
➤ Phosphorus (P) – influences the proper development of the root system and further growth cycles. It helps the plant to cope better with external stress conditions.
➤ Sulfur (S) – participates in the synthesis of proteins and fats. An important element in a plant’s growth.
➤ Carbon (C) – basic element of all organic compounds. It enables plant nutrition and is essential for the process of photosynthesis.
One of the essential rule in plant nutriotions is that the least present element is what determines plant development. What does it mean? Let’s say that farmers fertilize crops properly, with all the necessary micro and micro elements. Still, the plant won’t grow properly without access to things like water or light. Therefore, a holistic approach is crucial. Each of these elements plays a vital role in the plant life cycle, so providing all nutrients is necessary for a bountiful harvest. Balance is also important as any nutrient deficiencies and excesses will affect the final quality of the crop.
Any irregularities that occur during plant nutrition can negatively affect the entire crop cycle. They can result in lower crop yields and quality. Thus, it can lead to a decrease in profits. Therefore, it’s very important to keep an eye on crop production throughout the entire growing process. If nutrient deficiencies or excesses are detected quickly, it’s relatively easy to reverse the damage. Some of them are visible right away. For example, too little nitrogen inhibits growth and flowering, but a copper deficiency manifests itself in the abnormal yellowing of leaves and wilting.
Unfortunately, it’s often trickier to assess the condition of the crop. For that reason, it’s useful to know and distinguish the functionality of micro and macro elements in plant nutrition. Then, even with external observation, it’s possible to define the problem and apply appropriate preventive measures.
It’s crucital to pay attention to the pH of water we give to plants. The pH scale is used to measure the acidity of different substances. The scale goes from 0-14, with 0 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline. Most plants prefer a pH range of 6.0 – 7.0, as it allows them to absorb the majority of elements. A more acidic pH will make it harder for plants to take up nutrients, while a more basic pH could be harmful. For most plants, a neutral pH is best for growth. However, it is essential to remember that everything depends on the individual species.
One must also consider that the water source for farming can make a difference. If the water pH is insufficient, it can affect the quality of the crops. It is worth using a pH regulator for the water solution to avoid such situations. If you aren’t sure what the ideal pH is for your plants, you can easily test your solution and adjust it accordingly.
Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) is what makes vertical farming special. It allows for setting ideal parameters in an enclosed space. That means crops always get the right temperature, humidity, and gas concentration at the cultivation site. On top of it, it’s possible to precisely dose nutrient solutions thanks to intelligent automation systems.
At Hydropolis, we apply CEA solutions to our technology. We designed crop management software Grow Wizard which simulates environmental conditions indoor spaces. An intelligent nutrient-dosing system provides the perfect mix of nutrients for farmed plants.
Specially designed LED lamps illuminate plants. The system runs by smart algorithms and the use of cloud data. The continuous collection of data and reports makes it possible to improve plant growth and avoid the occurrence of abnormalities during a farming cycle. Such a setup optimizes and accelerates plant growth but also ensures high quality. In addition, crop automation allows the reclamation of the nutrient solution, which means greater resource efficiency.
If you wonder about the quality of plants that are grown vertically, we have an answer! You have nothing to worry about, as it can be even better than the regular one. With all parameters set accurately, they can surpass the quality of conventionally produced plants. Using farming methods, such as hydroponics is also great for plants, as the nutrient solutions go straight to the plant’s roots and provide everything needed for optimal growth. In turn, consumers can get a product that meets even the highest demands.
Vertical farming is a great way to save space while increasing yields. Although plant nutrition slightly differs from conventional farming methods, there are a few immutable rules to follow. Providing all the necessary elements during the crop cycle is key to achieving optimal yields. Knowing the basics of the macro and micro elements’ functions is essential to avoid crop irregularities. Controlled Environment Agriculture can guarantee optimal parameters and nutrient dosing for crops. Such a solution will help to achieve the highest quality harvest.
● Zofia Starck, Rola składników mineralnych w roślinie W: Fizjologia roślin, Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, 2002