Tech Tyfu

Food for thought

“Cnoi cil” gyda #TechTyfu “Food for thought” – Supporting Pupil Success with Vertical

Research has long shown the positive effect of school gardening programmes on pupils, and vertical farming has the potential to make it even easier to cultivate and grow plants in a classroom. https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/syllabi/435/Articles/Klemmer.pdf

Vertical farming can teach pupils the basics of food production as well as developing Curriculum aspects within areas of learning and experience (AoLE) such as science and technology, mathematics and numeracy, languages, literacy and communication and health and wellbeing. It also has the added bonus that it can provide pupils with a supply of fresh microgreens, strawberries, lettuce or herbs every week!

Vertical Farming provides and excellent opportunity to support the four purposes of the new curriculum for Wales:
• Ambitious, capable learners who are ready to learn throughout their lives.

• Enterprising, creative contributors who are ready to play a full part in life and work.

• Ethical, informed citizens who are ready to be citizens of Wales and the world.

• Healthy, confident individuals who are ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.

6 reasons vertical farms score an A*

1. Engage pupils with hands on, project-based learning experiences, which are in line with the four purposes of the curriculum.

2. Grow with ease in a classroom, with a lower likelihood of crop diseases, due to growing hydroponically rather than using soil.

3. Promote healthy eating by growing and highlighting the benefits of various crops.

4. Grow indoor all year round rather than during the summer term.

5. Focus on sustainability and energy efficiency of vertical farming and raise pupil awareness of cutting-edge scientific technology.

6. Study marketing and economic trends by establishing routes to market and selling produce grown.

The Tech Tyfu Twf project is pioneering the use of vertical farming systems in schools, and project staff can provide support and materials to support the new curriculum for Wales.

Further information about Tech Tyfu Twf, which inludes a lesson pack for Progression Step 3 in Primary schools, can be found via this link:
https://techtyfu.com/tech-tyfu-twf/

Further information about the Tech Tyfu project can be found on https://techtyfu.com.

Growing Medium

“Cnoi cil” gyda #TechTyfu “Food for thought” Growing medium

 

To maximise the performance of Vertical Farming systems based on hydroponics, it is important to make efficient use of space and resources, such as water, nutrients and growing media.
For example, the growing medium needs to offer space for the roots to grow and can affect the water-economy of the plant and its ability to utilize nutrients.

It’s therefore important to consider which growing medium offers the best performance technically and economically for your system and the crops you plan to grow.

 

Questions to consider includes:
• Which growing medium provides the best results for various crops?
• What are the options available on the market with reasonable delivery costs?
• What are the growing medium costs per kilogram of produced crop?
• Can the growing medium be recycled?
• How much does the fertilizing need to be adjusted in different growing medium?

 

Tech Tyfu have been working with two Vertical Farming systems since early 2020 – a “flood and drain” system and a “nutrient film technique” (NFT) system.

 

Considering the texture of the growing medium as well as their ability to retain water and nutrients has been a key part of managing both systems. Here is some first-hand information on how different media performed, which will hopefully be a starting point for growers when it comes to choosing the best growing medium.

 

“Flood and Drain” System

The “flood and drain” systems were used to grow various microgreens such as pea shoots, wheatgrass, micro leek and radish. We learned that microgreens that are typically harvested between day 7 and day 16 do not need any nutrients added to the water. Nature has already taken care of the nutrient requirements of young seedlings by provisioning it in the seed store. There is also doubt whether young seedlings can absorb any nutrients from water in their infancy.

The best growing medium results we obtained in 2020 for microgreens was the Growfelt Wool matting by a company called Growfelt. Growers found this to have good water absorption and retention, with a good germination rate and lower bacterial growth. A cheaper alternative, Growfelt Purple also performed well, but was outperformed by the Growefelt Wool when it came to water absorption and retention. Growfelt provide a 1m x 10m sample for £25.00. (Based on 2020 figures.) https://growfelt.com/growing-media/

 

Despite being made from 100% hemp and being free of any additives and fully compostable, the German Hemp matting by Schneiderfilz did not perform as well when it came to germinating. It seemed to accommodate bacterial growth more than other materials we used. We also found that individual fibres were prone to separating from the matting causing clogging issues in the systems draining pipes. This could create further issues for the pump later on if we’d left it for longer.

https://www.schneiderfilz.de/en/products/natural-fibers.html

An European Innovation Partnership scoping study, titled ‘Consideration for the application of Vertical Farming’ by Dr Williams Stiles (2020) of IBERS, Aberystwyth University (see https://businesswales.gov.wales/farmingconnect/business/european-innovation-partnership-eip-wales ), highlighted coconut coir as an excellent growing medium, as well as rock wool.

“In an experiment undertaken by Khander & Kotzen (2018), chicory (Cichorium intybus) and basil (Ocimum basilicum) were used as model organisms to test the relative differences between a range of substrate types. For both the basil and chicory plants, coconut fibre was shown to perform best, and rock wool was shown to be second best. However, some additional challenges were reported for both substrates, including the blocking of irrigation systems by the coconut fibre material and the lack of recyclability of rock wool, reducing sustainability.”

As with hemp, coconut fibre is considered a viable choice for minimising waste from a growing system. It cannot be produced in Wales nor even in Europe as far as we’re aware, which does unfortunately raise questions about the impact of transporting it long distances. Coconut Coir has excellent water retention and possesses good aeration properties, which leads to stronger roots and good overall health because of its neutral pH level. This sterile grow medium is bacteria free which will prevent plants from developing diseases, pest infestations, or fungus growth.

Image 2 – Growfelt Purple used as a medium for growing micro leeks
Image 3 -Pea shoots growing on Growfelt Wool matting
Image 4 – Micro radish on hemp matting

 

In 2020, a Tech Tyfu pioneer grower successfully cultivated multiple harvests of watercress in a “flood and drain” system. The crop needed more depth to accommodate greater root space and better drainage and was grown in shallow baskets of clay balls. James Hooton at Hooton’s Homegrown successfully grew ‘Anglesey Watercress’ in his vertical farm using this growing medium.

Crops that will need a number of weeks or months to grow generally perform better in such medium, with matting suitable for short term crops that are ready in days or 2-3 weeks.

 

Nutrient Film Technique System (NFT) – Salad leaves and strawberries

In the NFT units, Tech Tyfu pioneer growers have used rockwool grow cubes or plugs. Rockwool holds water and air which encourages fast rooting and growth. Rockwool is finely spun and can be provided with a hole in the top of the cubes, which is ideal for starting off seeds or rooting cuttings.

Strawberries and salad leaves were grown successfully in the NFT system using rockwool plugs, available from suppliers such as Hydrogarden (www.hydrogarden.com) and GroWell (www.growell.co.uk)

Grodan is the leading brand for rockwool based growing medium. See www.grodan.com

 

One of the highlights in 2020 for Tech Tyfu was the trial conducted by Glynllifon College using raw wool plugs in their NFT system.

The team at Glynllifon cleaned and carded the fleece before inserting the grow plugs in small holding baskets in the NFT growing channels. The initial results were very promising, with the wool providing good water retention and aeration for plant growth. The photograph shows a young strawberry rootstock growing in a NFT system and supported by the wool plug. Could this be an innovative and much needed new application for local wool?

 

 

 

REFERENCE:
Khandaker, M., & Kotzen, B. (2018). The potential for combining living wall and vertical farming systems with aquaponics with special emphasis on substrates. Aquaculture research, 49(4), 1454-1468.

“Food for thought” – 3 crops for commercial vertical farming

Pea shoots, watercress & cereal grasses (wheat/barley)

There is no shortage of options for fresh produce that can be grown hydroponically. Here, we highlight 3 possible crops that are relatively straight forward to cultivate and harvest, and can also be commercially viable in Wales with the right route to market in place.

The food market in the UK is largely influenced by three main trends.

  1. Demand for convenience.
  2. Concerns over health impact of diet.
  3. Desire for high quality at good value.

Following 2020 trials, here are three crops we would highlight as having good potential for generating a profit for a new entrant to vertical farming.

CROP 1: Pea Shoots
Pea shoots are pea plant harvested at a very young stage of growing, and typically includes 2- 4 leaf pairs and immature tendrils. They have a subtle pea flavour and a light, crunchy texture. They have grown in popularity especially in fine-dining circles, and are now entering more mainstream eating locations.

Growing: Pea shoots can be easily propagated from seed. Pea seeds will need soaking before being placed on a pre-moistened growing medium. It is important to double the volume of water to seed as they expend during soaking period. Sowing rate up to 2kg/m2.
Harvest: Most pea shoots will be ready to harvest within 2-3 weeks. Yields of up to 2kg/m2 can be expected. They need good airflow in order to avoid mould growth. Processing and getting to the market: Shoots could be cut with a sharp knife/scissors or be prepared in their growing medium. Shoots need to be dry when harvested for best shelf life to be achieved. Shelf-life potential can be up to 10 days chilled. Further value can be added through adding as a compliment to other products such as salad leaves or processed to make innovative products such as pea shoot pesto. In 2020, Tech Tyfu distributed samples of fresh pea shoots to a number of leading restaurants on Anglesey, and within less than a day, 3 out of the 5 were asking how to order more. Tech Tyfu has developed a logo that growers can use to brand their freshly grown pea shoots – contact for more details.

 

CROP 2: Watercress
Watercress is famous for its characteristic flavour, and as the name suggest, is a waterloving crop that can be grown very successfully in hydroponic systems.

Growing: Watercress can be easily propagated from seed. Seeds will need to be soaked before sowing on the surface of a pre-moistened growing medium in a “ebb and flow” system. As the seeds germinate freely, they should be sown thinly. An alternative approach to growing on matting is to sow 10-20 seeds per 2-inch net pot.  Harvest – Seed  sually germinate within 3-5 days. Watercress plants will continue to grow and can be repeatedly harvested over many months. After the flower buds appear, the leaves become flavourless and inedible. Good ventilation is essential with a fan system required to stop leaf burn during the summer and to stir young seedlings for at least 2 hours every day to stimulate shorter, sturdier, and more natural plant habit. Nutrient requirements is relatively low.
Processing and market – Watercress can be sold fresh for culinary uses or various salad leaves could be combined to create a healthy salad mix. Watercress does not have a long shelf-life. In a fridge, they can last for 2-3 days. Rockwool grown plants can be harvested and sold with roots still intact in growing medium. In 2020, local grower James Hooton from Hooton’s Homegrown, Brynsiencyn, successfully cultivated and harvested a crop of vertically farmed watercress. Branded as ‘Anglesey Watercress,’ each harvest was sold out at his popular farmshop. A 100g bag of freshly unwashed watercress retailed at the farmshop for £1.99. James is pictured below with Dr Luke Tyler of Tech Tyfu.

 

CROP 3: Cereal Grasses – Wheatgrass/Barley
Cereal grasses are considered to be very healthy and nutritious. They are a popular addition to many health juices as well as smoothies and other beverages. A wheatgrass ‘shot’ is made from juicing freshly cut wheat grass to produce a 40-50ml shot that can sold for £2.50- 3.50. A fresh shot is nutrient-dense and packed with vitamins and will contain various antioxidants and is one of the best sources of living chlorophyll.
Growing – wheatgrass/Barley can be easily propagated from seed. Seeds should be soaked before sowing on pre-moistened growing medium. Harvest – Cereal grasses will be ready to harvest within 7-10 days. Yields of up to 650g/m2 can be expected. Although the shoots will regrow, this is not recommended, as the nutrients in the second harvest won’t be as high as that of the first. Processing and market – Shoots could be cut with a sharp knife/scissors or be sold growing in their growing medium. Shelf-life potential is usually 7-8 days when kept refrigerated. Alternatively, freshly harvested cereal grasses could be juiced immediately and sold as ‘shots.’ Fresh juice can be kept in the fridge for up to a week.

Respond to BREXIT with Vertical farming

Respond to BREXIT with Vertical Farming

Vertical farming can play a leading role in facing-up to the challenges faced by a post-Brexit rural economy according to the team behind the Tech Tyfu project.


Launching their latest recruitment drive for growers who are interested to “test drive” a vertical farming production unit, Dr Luke Tyler who leads the Tech Tyfu delivery shared how the innovative growing system can respond to the need for more local growing.


“A key part of the Tech Tyfu project is to facilitate better relationships and understanding across the fresh produce supply chain,” he explained. “We know that local chefs and distributors want to trade more local produce, and we know we have eager growers. Our challenge is to bring all these links together to make the chain work profitably.”


“Set against the current challenges and opportunities of Brexit, we think vertical farming offers a way to produce a range of fresh produce reliably, economically and to the highquality specification expected by customers.”


Tech Tyfu is a vertical farming pilot project for Gwynedd and Ynys Môn is looking to recruit growers for the second year. It can offer new growers a complete vertical farming unit for free for up to one year to learn about the technology and to trial their own market opportunities for crops such as speciality leaves, microgreens, pea shoots, watercress, strawberry and a range of oriental vegetables.


“Vertical farming is part of the solution to grow more of our own food, contributing to the circular economy and reducing our food miles,” explained Luke.


“We estimate the market for pea shoots is worth about £40-50k in Gwynedd and Ynys Môn alone,” noted Luke. “And by growing them locally, a grower would be able to offer unbeatable freshness. We have already had prominent local chefs asking where they could purchase local pea shoots.”


Last year, local grower James Hooton of Hooton’s Homegrown at Brynsiencyn, Ynys Môn successfully used the Tech Tyfu pilot kit to grow bags of watercress that were sold at his farmshop.


“We have been using hydroponics to cultivate crops for many years, such as with the tabletop strawberries you’ll see at our ‘pick-your-own’ site. However, this is the first time we’ve used a vertical farm system.” said James Hooton.


“The success of our Anglesey watercress’ proves that there is demand for fresh, local produce,” he added. Tech Tyfu are looking for two new growers for 2022. Each grower will be provided with a vertical farm unit, technical support and will join Tech Tyfu’s ongoing programme of workshops and webinars.


A Tech Tyfu event titled ‘Becoming a Vertical Farmer in 2021’, will be held virtually on Wednesday, 17th February, where the Tech Tyfu team will share information on opportunities available to work in partnership with the project. This will include a presentation by Chris Nelson, founder, and co-director of the famous London vertical farm, ‘Growing Underground’ and Managing Director of GrowStack.


“GrowStack came together in 2016 when we realised that the vertical farming market was about to explode. I look forward to sharing our experience of building a largescale bespoke vertical farm deep under-ground in London.” said Chris Nelson, who has worked in the industry for the last 40 years.


The virtual session is open for all, and anyone interested in the programme is encouraged to attend and register via the following link in advance.


“Do get in touch with us if you are interested in vertical farming,” said Luke. “E-mail me at luke@mentermon.com, have a look at our website www.techtyfu.com or connect via our Tech Tyfu Facebook page.”


TechTyfu has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

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.