By Josh Fabian
Selecting a grow method and grow system were the first steps in getting the Glens Falls Urban Agriculture Project underway. We looked at other systems but ultimately, we chose a racking setup designed by Pipp Horticulture. Pipp was originally a mobile storage solutions company that designed shelving solutions. They currently set out to improve the racking systems provided to vertical farms.
Factors For Choosing Pipp’s Vertical Farming Racking System
A few things stood out about their system from the start, one being the robustness. The system is made out of metal and seems like it will hold up to the rigors of farming. Other systems we looked at had more plastic components, and we’ve come to realize that the lighter plastic components tend to get brittle and break. When this occurs, it becomes unsightly and can become ineffective, depending on the significance of the component.
The second element that stood out is the ability to move the entire racking side to side. This allows for one aisle to serve multiple racks. While we currently only have two rack systems built, we have plans for two more. Only having one aisle cuts down on wasted space inside the room, while not sacrificing the ability to access the crop from every angle.
"Other systems we looked at had more plastic components, and we’ve come to realize that the lighter plastic components tend to get brittle and break. When this occurs, it becomes unsightly and can become ineffective, depending on the significance of the component."
Selecting a Vertical Farm’s Growing Method
After determining the growing system, next was the growing method. Originally, I had planned to utilize a NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) gutter type system integrated into the Pipp racking. We were planning to feed the water from the center and cascade down each drip pan in 8’ sections of NFT trough. While this would have worked, the added expense of NFT troughs negates a lot of the benefit. Instead, we decided to utilize the drip pans and use emitters to feed 1020 trays. Due to the size of 1020 trays the entire drip pan is able to be filled with crops. Also, we can control how much the emitters feed each tray to allow for the roots to be submerged intermittently, while not being flooded constantly. This takes a lot of water flow out of the system.
Typically, in NFT systems the water is flowing nonstop. With good aeration, this can grow very healthy crops. However, it also makes the pump work much harder, adding to additional energy requirements. Another disadvantage is if the power goes out, or the pump fails, the entire racking system will begin to drain out and you need to be able to store or dispose of a large volume of water before having a flood situation.
"With us being on the third floor, every method to limit water leaks needs to be utilized. The individual tray concept allows us greater control over what each flat sees, less risk of leak, and also, we can sell by the tray and even reuse the trays after washing."
Glens Falls’ System Specs
Glens Falls has 2 racks
Each rack has 3 levels
Each level has 2 8’x4’ drip pans
Each drip pan contains 18 1020 trays
Each 1020 tray contains 18 individual sheet pots
Each sheet pot will contain 2 basil plants per pot
If the entire system is basil, it will contain:
(36 plants per tray) (18 trays per drip pan) (2 drip pans per level) (3 levels per rack) (2 racks) for a total capacity of
7,776 plants in a 12’x20’ footprint with 10’ ceilings
You can follow more insights from our partnership with Glens Falls and others committed to the Glens Falls Vertical Farm Public Pilot here.