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Become a Vertical farmer in 2021

2021 Grower’s Launch

Become a Vertical Farmer in 2021

  • Do you have a passion for technology?
  • Are you a farmer looking to diversify? 
  • Would you like help getting into Vertical Farming?
  • Would you like a years FREE experience? 

Wednesday

February 17th

5PM

Tech Tyfu are looking for two “Growers”, to work with the project for one year.  Each grower will be provided with a Vertical Farm unit, technical support and will join our ongoing programme of workshops and webinars.

If you are interested in vertical farming and would like to be considered for the 2021 project.  Join us on our Online Launch Event.  To register & join click the link below:

 

Guest Speaker: Chris Nelson.

Chris is the founder & a Director of Growing Underground and is also the Managing Director of GrowStack.co.uk

Introduction to Microgreens

What are microgreens?
Microgreens are a relatively new culinary trend of using small delicate salad leaves to elegantly garnish dishes. They have grown in popularity, especially in fine dining circles, often used to add vibrant colour, unique textures and extraordinary flavours to meals. 

“Microgreens” is a marketing term for vegetables or herbs that have not yet matured. They are the middle ground between sprouts and baby greens. Harvesting usually takes place around the onset of photosynthetic sustainability, within 2-4 weeks, when the seedling is in transition from a sprouted embryo reliant on its seed store, to a ‘stand-alone’ organism. As a result, the very young plant has a unique blend of phytochemicals which gives it a different flavour combination. Microgreens are harvested above the soil line. They are usually no taller than 5cm, but tiny as they are, they deliver intense flavour.

Micro-Greens growing

Common microgreens include radish, kale, broccoli, cabbage, mustard, parsley, beet leaves, celery and pea shoots. The taste provided by microgreens is usually strong, indicating their high antioxidant and phytochemical content. They vary in taste from fresh and delicate pea shoots to the fiery radish and mustard microgreens. 

How are microgreens grown?

Microgreens can be grown indoors or out, in soil or hydroponically. The micro plants are ready to harvest as soon as they produce little true leaves. A hydroponic system will require a growing medium such as hemp mats, coconut coir or wool. Seeds are planed more densely than you would for full-growing plants.

Where can you find microgreens?
You might be able to find microgreens at farmers’ markets or some grocery shops. They can also be purchased online. They do need to be used right away, and most will only last a week under the best of conditions, which is why many consumers decide to grow them at home. Microgreens can be sold in their growing medium, allowing the consumer to snip them off at the stem. They can be stored in a refrigerator.

Health benefits of microgreens
In general, microgreens contain a higher concentration of vitamins than fully grown versions of the same plants. The mineral content is also higher. Microgreen lettuce has more calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and manganese that the fully mature plants. Although only a small amount is needed, they will certainly pack a nutritional punch!

As there is limited research available beyond the nutritional content of microgreens, it’s hard to say for sure that eating any microgreens will produce any specific health benefits. There are no studies that look at microgreen consumption in humans, but it makes sense that microgreens from plants high in healthy phytochemicals and adding a few more vitamins and minerals to a balanced diet could have positive health benefits.

How to use microgreens?
Microgreens can be served in a variety of different ways. They can be used alongside any dish. Topping a pea risotto with fresh pea shoots will elevate the dish, adding flavour and texture, as will topping a pesto and mozzarella pizza with arugula microgreens. Adding beet microgreens will add a vibrant reddish colour to a dish.  Microgreens can also be added to a sandwich or a wrap instead of lettuce or used in place of herbs. The secret is to choose colours and flavours that fit your individual taste buds.

Reaching the Market

By Geraint Hughes

“Cnoi cil” gyda #TechTyfu “Food for thought” – Reaching the Market

Growing in a vertical farm is relatively straight forward. We know that producing quality crops consistently is possible and it’s a matter of learning and in some cases erseverance and creative thinking.

 

Selling your produce to a market place sustainably and for a profit is the challenge with vertical farming. This is very much the focus of the TechTyfu project and as we see growers starting to learn their trade with various vertical farming designs, we will increasingly be shifting our focus to developing the local supply chains.

 

With this in mind, here are 5 key thoughts we need to bear in mind whilst trying to unlock the potential of vertical farming in Gwynedd and Anglesey.

    1. Doing our research – This is going to be an essential step for any vertical farmer who wants to establish a successful business. Conducting thorough market research to identify gaps in the market will let you know the direction your vertical farm should go in, who your customers are and what their needs are? Ways of doing this can include engaging with and listening to experienced operators in the supply chain, reading exhaustively about the fresh produce trade, observing trends, conducting surveys, maintaining an open mindset and keep looking for opportunities to “replicate and duplicate” smart ideas seen working in other places or even other countries.
    2. Understand what the market wants and growing it – Many growers are understandably tempted to grow the produce they like or have had success with, regardless of whether the market likes it or not. It’s human nature. If a restaurant wants uniformed, trimmed and cleaned kale then it is unlikely they will be interested in a supply of full kale stems. A chef may want his/her pea shoots between 2.5” and 3” long, not shorter, nor longer. Understanding what the market wants and is prepared to pay for is vital intelligence. We need to be ready to respond to market needs and this requires discipline – if you can’t sell it, don’t grow it.
    3. Building long-term relationships – Identifying your target audience will be key in your approach to reaching the market. Knowing who your customers are will help you match products to meet their needs. Successful vertical farming is not just about growing. You must be prepared to spend time building positive relationships within the supply chain. Restaurants, hotels, shops, distributors, suppliers and fellow growers are all key partners for a vertical farm. Collaborating with these businesses is a brilliant way of not only reaching the market but developing your brand through sustainable long-term partnerships.
    4. Solving logistics – In addition to growing the produce the market demands, an  equally important link in the chain is to know how you will deliver your goods to the customer. Identifying who your customers are and what their delivery requirements are will help to create your distribution
      plan. If you’re selling direct to restaurants and hotels then you ideally want to be located nearby to save travelling time. Alternatively, could you distribute your goods through a wholesaler or a distribution agent, and by doing so gaining volume and efficiency? There are pros and cons to all options, and the sooner this aspect is considered the better. Failing to come up with a sustainable method of delivering has been the downfall of many similar efforts in the past.
    5. Communication – Without clear and concise communication in place, reaching the market becomes more challenging. Regular communication between suppliers, distributors and customers is essential so that everyone understands what is going on. This is invaluable when you may encounter a problem and may not be able to satisfy an order. Communicate regularly and openly with customers and they will understand and adapt accordingly. Oftentimes this strengthens the relationship between the grower and customers. We could carry on listing considerations, and we’re sure there are many different opinions out there on what the “top 5” should be. However, the main message is that to make vertical farming work in Gwynedd and Anglesey, we need to crack the whole supply chain, not just the growing.

Pros and Cons of Hydroponics

By Geraint Hughes

“Cnoi cil” gyda TechTyfu “Food for thought” – Advantages and drawbacks of hydroponics

 

Hydroponics is a technique for growing crops without soil, and is very common on a global level. Nutrients are provided in dissolved form in the water whilst light, air and heat can either be provided
naturally or artificially.

 

The potential advantages of using hydroponics within a vertical farming system are:

1. The extended growing season offers a wider window for production and marketing fresh
produce to local customers.
2. Hydroponics allows growers to produce a wider array of fresh produce because the system
can create the conditions for optimum growth without having to depend on soil and to a
lesser extent the weather.
3. It makes more efficient use of inputs, in particular water and energy.
4. The quality of hydroponic produce can be as good, or even better than crops grown
conventionally in the open, in both taste and nutrient density. Hydroponic crops tend to be
cleaner than field crops.
5. Hydroponics should make pest management easier.
6. Higher yields are achievable in a hydroponic system in less time compared to a soil-based
system.
7. Continuous crop production is possible as there’s no need to rotate land or rest soils.
8. Less labour is usually required with hydroponic production.

 

There are however certain drawbacks associated with hydroponics:

1. Hydroponic cultivation requires good agronomy and technical skills. Growers lacking in
experience need to start by choosing simple growing systems to start off, and cultivating crops
that are relatively easy to grow such as salad leaves, microgreens and various oriental
vegetables.
2. Although cheap to run, hydroponics can involve a significant capital investment at the
beginning. This has been identified as a barrier for new growers.
3. Despite having a lower pest and disease pressure, growers need to be vigilant of any
outbreaks, as pest and disease problems tend to spread quickly in a vertical farming system,
especially if located under protection.
4. Some species are better suited for hydroponics than others. Experience and reading about
hydroponics is possibly the best way of learning what varieties grows best in hydroponics.
5. The assumption that a polytunnel or even glasshouse is required has been another barrier in
the past for starting out in vertical farming. So, would we recommend hydroponics? Absolutely!

 

Vertical Farm example (Tech Tyfu)As with any other things in life, there are downsides. However, most of these can be overcome by
planning and experience.


The systems that are currently available on the market for start-up growers have been designed to
operate within existing locations such as sheds, redundant farm building or even in a moderately sized
garden shed. There is no need to invest in new infrastructure.

 

Even the basic systems nowadays allow the grower to control the nutrient level and lights, with more
advanced systems allowing the grower to directly control the growing temperature.


Hydroponics offers practical advantages which can support a wider range of horticultural crops. With
only 7% of Welsh land classified in the top 3 grades for cultivation, hydroponic systems offer a mean
to increase horticultural production and to meeting the growing demand for fresh produce

Foundation for profitable growing

(This bulletin features a number of extracts from a recent publication titled “Top 10 Vegetable Crops for Anglesey,” written by Geraint Hughes under Medwyn and Alwyn Williams’ authorship for ‘Arloesi Môn’ in 2017.)

Quality + Passion + Knowledge + Relationships = Profitable growing

When it comes to growing crops, underpinning everything is quality. Quality can be defined in many ways, including appearance, taste, colour, texture, cleanliness, shape, size and healthiness. Successful growing starts with producing quality produce consistently, week in week out.

 

Another key ingredient for succeeding is a passion for growing crops. Selling micro crops will generate cash in a short period of time, which will aid cash flow. However, the task can sometimes be hard, and problems along the way are inevitable. Passion, combined with good knowledge can take a grower through these tricky periods,


“There are no short cuts in growing. A good grower knows how a crop behaves and can manipulate that to his/her benefit.”   Medwyn Williams, well-known and award-winning grower from Anglesey.


Establishing a growing system that will produce a regular supply of crops needs knowledge from the offset, of how and when crops are sown. When putting a growing plan together, the challenge will be to gauge the supply and demand pattern. Having a regular supply of a crop is important to develop a good relationship with a customer. However, there will be times of unexpected over-supply. Growers should therefore build their base of alternative selling channels for their produce. Growers don’t necessarily need to get involved in adding value themselves. With a vibrant food sector in Gwynedd and Ynys Môn, there are several condiment makers and chefs who may be interested in stocking up or producing a pea shoot pesto. They may even end up becoming an important regular customer.
Finally, a successful growing enterprise needs to be willing and ready to invest time in building good relationships with other partners in the supply chain. Customers – be they hotels, restaurants, shops – are key partners for a growing business, as are suppliers, fellow growers and family and friends. Everybody has a role to play, and regular communication is essential to ensure everybody understands what’s going on. This can be priceless when a grower faces an unexpected problem. A restaurant will not easily forgive a grower who fails to deliver without notice. However, if they are informed of a supply issue in advance, the vast majority will understand and adapt accordingly. Very often, these kinds of episodes can strengthen the trust between a grower and his/her customer.


High-end eating venues and chefs are always on the lookout for exciting produce to experiment with and to add a point of difference to their own menu. Using microgreens can make them stand out from the crowd. Having a good relationship with all partners and knowing what the latest in food trends are is vital intelligence when it comes to achieving success and profitable growing.

Technical lowdown of Vertical Farming

By Geraint Hughes

Hydroponics = The technology that makes ‘Vertical Farming’ possible

Hydroponic systems are usually classified based on the method they use to distribute the nutrients to the roots.  There are 3 main types: 

 

 Nutrient film technique (NFT) 

Nutrient Film TechniqueThis is the simplest and cheapest in terms of initial capital outlay.   

Plants are propagated in growing blocks made out of materials such as rockwool, cocoa fibre or jute fibre, and are typically placed in channels that look similar to house guttering.  A thin film of water circulates along the bottom of the channels and returns to a reservoir tank at the bottom of the run.  The water is then pumped back to the top of the channel where it flows back again by gravity through the roots. 

 

In a NFT system the plants’ roots are constantly in a stream of nutrient solution.  The flow of nutrients is governed by the slope.  Too fast a flow will damage the roots, whilst a sluggish flow will cause pooling along the joints of the channels.  A 2% gradient is usually required to run a NFT system correctly. 

Several channels can be connected together that run from the same water reservoir.  As the crop matures, the grower can adjust the nutrient levels accordingly. 

Pyramid formation or a double deck is commonly used to optimise space.  Some companies offer NFT systems in columns, which are referred to as “3D growing systems” because of the highly efficient use of space both horizontally and vertically.  

 

Flood and drain systems

Flood and drain Vertical Farm systemAlso known as “Ebb and Flow” systems.  Crops in a flood and drain system are typically grown in an aggregate such as clay pebbles, perlite or vermiculite.  It is also possible to place plants grown in rockwool plugs into aggregate material. 
However, most of the modern systems are designed to grow microgreens using the flood and drain system, typically on a growing mat made out of recycled synthetic carpets or a combination of wool and carpets.  Crops can be grown in shallow trays where the water and nutrients will be delivered via a pump connected to a timer, and then allowed to drain before another circulation. 

 

The rooting system will therefore be periodically submerged by water and then left to drain away back to the reservoir.  The flooding frequency is controlled by a timer and ensures that the plant is supplied with ample amounts of water and nutrients. 

Flooding and draining forces a continuous cycle of air circulation around the roots as new air replaces the pockets left by the draining water.  

 

Aeroponics 

Aeroponics growing systemAeroponics is one of the most efficient systems, but also the most challenging technically, especially for a novice grower.  zNo growing medium is used as the plants are grown in caged holes above a tank that houses a network of mist sprayers.  The fine mist creates a very efficient environment for the suspended roots, with plenty of oxygen, water and nutrients available.   

 

Aeroponics suffered several drawbacks in its early years as engineers struggled to develop a reliable system for pumping the water at high pressure through the sprayer nozzles.   

 

Technical requirements:

The following headings summarise some of the most important aspects when managing a hydroponic vertical farming system: 

 

  1. Growing mediums– These are required for ‘Nutrient Film Technique’ systems for example.  Rockwool (usually marketed under the name ‘Grodan’) growing blocks work well under most conditions, from propagating seed to growing in channels.  Many favour rockwool because it’s chemically inert and stable in most hydroponic solutions, and it can provide adequate water and air holding capacities.  
  2. Nutrients– Most hydroponic suppliers will provide nutrients in powder or liquid from as part ‘A’ and ‘B’ for growth and part ‘A’ and ‘B’ for bloom.  Nutrients are sold in a double combination of ‘A’ and ‘B’ because some nutrients need to be stored separate.  The growth nutrients should be added to the water during the vegetative stage, and the bloom nutrients during flowering.  The main difference between growth and bloom is the higher nitrogen content in growth solutions.  Modern ready prepared solutions can provide all the nutrients a crop requires. 
  3. Ventilation– Adequate ventilation is very important as day temperatures increase.  Salad leaves, microgreens and some herbs in particular require excellent airflow.   
  4. Lighting– Lighting may be required for access and safety purposes. Supplementary lighting to support growth comes as part of each micro pilot growing unit for TechTyfu.
  5. Meters– The pH of the water needs to be monitored every day.  Different crops will have different requirements, but most will grow at their best if the pH is between pH6.0-6.5.   Likewise, the nutrient level should be monitored and adjusted accordingly on a daily basis.  Charts specifying the nutrient requirements of different plants at different stages should be used when growing crops.