This is part 3 The 3-legged stool of successful growing operations series. Click here to see Part 1 and here to see Part 2. Stay tuned for Part 4, coming next week.
The right construction
Aeroponic and hydroponic systems make plants grow at a very accelerated rate. A “clean room” type of construction approach is the best way to handle this type of grow operation. Starting with a structure that is completely free of any wood or porous material is a good start. Cellulose materials collect moisture and promote mold and mildew growth, regardless of the quality of the sealant.
We have seen grow spaces built with drywall on wooden posts and posts that look sealed and solid on the outside of the walls but when repaired for plumbing or other expansion work, they are black on the inside and covered in nasty mold that nobody wants near their grow space.
Building panels on steel frames or steel posts with skins is a safer and more sterile approach than retrofitting a wood frame. Panel construction offers the added benefit of rapid assembly and minimal labor costs. We’ve seen 300 light rooms put together in just a few days, so it’s very affordable and securely sealed for protected growth.
Size and count of rooms
If you have unlimited space, temperature and humidity management should determine the size of rooms in your facility. Square room sizes tend to be easier to maintain environmentally. Long, narrow rooms are good for fan airflow, but tend to be more expensive from a cooling and dehumidification standpoint. The larger the room, the more likely it is that you will get “microclimates” within the room that can challenge yield optimization.
Now, obviously, many farms are retrofits of existing facilities, so compromises may be needed. We have found that growers who have both very large and medium-sized rooms in the same facility (200 lights versus 70 lights) are increasingly successful in 70-light rooms. These “smaller rooms (~1,500 ft2) outperformed the yields and performance of larger rooms using the same genetics and grow plans. Compartmentalization also minimizes risk in the event that a calamity (e.g. an infestation of plague) affects the room. In a large room scenario, leaks can harm your operation. For this reason we recommend 70-100 light rooms/tubs as standard.
The rooms should also follow the economics of your nursery. By structuring your nursery to produce enough vegetable clones/plants for your next flower room, you avoid wasting plant material and resources. Breaking up a larger space into individual rooms means you need fewer green plants to fill your flower room that week. The best way to optimize this aspect is to have a number of rooms symmetrical with respect to the number 8 (typical 8 week breeding cycle).
With 8 rooms in flower, you can plant one room a week for 8 weeks. In the 9th week, you start again from room 1. This continuous collection process is highly labor efficient and minimizes the size of your mother’s room (cost center). Additional storage can be applied to your flower rooms. If you don’t have infinite space, dividers also work just as well; 2 or 4 rooms can be planted in sequence for the same optimization (for 2 room structures, harvest and replant 1 room every 4 weeks for example). The optimal structure (8, 16, 24 or more rooms) allows you to optimize profitability. If any of these need further explanation, just ask.
Within the choice of room, moving rows or columns of tubs/lights also provide optimal yields. Tubs/plants can be moved together for light use and a 3-foot aisle can be opened for plant maintenance. Shelving systems or mobile trays/tubs make it convenient nowadays.
Concrete floors offer pockets for bacteria to collect and burn. As such, they must be sealed. Proper application of your chosen sealant is required so that it does not peel or crack after sealing. There are many benefits to sealed floors discussed in the white paper. Floor drains are the equivalent of a portal to hell for a barren growing operation. Avoid them at all costs.
Fine-tuning or optimizing your grow rooms for an ideal flowering operation depends on your location. Our advice is to build and optimize your structure in stages with the expectation that nothing is perfect and you will learn improvements with each stage of expansion. The immediate benefit is production that you can promote in your sales channels and revenue that starts as early as possible to improve your profitability. This is also an excellent learning curve to apply to subsequent stanzas. Our happiest customers are the ones who learned about building improvements in the first few rooms that could be applied to subsequent rooms without a headache. Being able to focus on one or two rooms also allows you to get the recipe right rather than just relying on “wing it”.
Don’t rush to go green
Validate your water supplies and their stability. Check that the water in your aeroponic or hydroponic feeds that goes to your plants is clean and sterile. This is much easier in a step-by-step mode than in a crisis debug mode once production is underway. Be very wary of incoming clone supplies. We’ll talk more about this in the next chapter on integrated pest management, but the incoming clones are one of the main vectors of pests that can contaminate the entire facility.
Warehouse versus greenhouse growing spaces
In the beginning, controlling the environment is your most important concern. We have seen success in both indoor rooms and greenhouses. The decisive factor for success is humidity and temperature control. Modern sealed controlled environment (CEA) greenhouses do this well and CEA is somewhat of a given for indoor crops. More details on this in the white paper.
Packing these tips leads you to the perfect body shop for your Formula 1 race car. Now you’re ready to look into some of the mechanisms protecting your business from pesky little creatures and biological agents that can derail your business and undermine your engine.
Before we wrap up this week, I wanted to highlight the final build-out we’ve seen so far. Of course, there are plenty of challengers who have done it right, but at this point, FarmaGrowers in South Africa has the best thought out facility we’ve seen. They acquired Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and Good Agricultural & Collection Practice (GACP) certification at the start of their operations thanks to very well thought out projects. Today they export to global markets without irradiation. Certainly, many successful clients have well-thought-out operations and there are several upcoming structures offering tremendous planning that will challenge for this crown, but for now. FarmaGrowers leads the pack in this aspect. See here for a detailed procedure.
To download the complete guide and get to beef fast, request the full white paper High quality growing facilities here.
Stay tuned for Part 4 coming next week where we will talk about Integrated Pest Management.