The right structure
Aeroponic and hydroponic systems grow plants at a very accelerated rate. A ‘clean room’ type of construction approach is the best way to manage this type of grow operation. Starting with a facility that is completely free of wood or materials that are porous is a good place to start. Cellulose materials collect moisture and encourage mold growth, no matter how good the caulk is.
We’ve seen grow rooms built of dry walls over wooden post structures and studs that look sealed and sturdy on the outside of the walls, but when they’re repaired for plumbing or other extension work, they’re black inside and covered in nasty mold where nobody wants to be around their grow room.
Panel construction over steel frames or steel studs with skins is a safer, more sterile approach than retrofitting wood construction. Panel construction offers the added benefit of quick assembly and minimal labor costs. We put together 300 bright rooms in a few days, so it’s both very cost-effective and securely sealed for protected growth.
Room sizes and number
If you have unlimited space, temperature and humidity management should dictate the size of the rooms in your facility. Square-sized room sizes are typically easier to maintain from an environmental point of view. 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 ‘microclimates’ will form in the room, which can be a challenge for optimizing yield.
Now, of course, many crops are retrofits of existing structures, so compromises may be necessary. We have found that growers who have both very large and medium sized rooms in the same facility (200 lights versus 70 lights) are consistently more successful in the 70 bright rooms. These “smaller rooms (~1,500 ft2) yielded more and outperformed the larger rooms with the same genetics and grow plans. Compartmentalization also minimizes risk in the event that a calamity (i.e. vermin) strikes the space. In a large room scenario, the losses could hurt your business. For this reason we recommend 70-100 light/cockpit rooms as standard.
Rooms should also follow your nursery economy. By structuring your nursery to produce just enough clones/vegetables for your next flower room, you avoid wasting plant material and resources. By dividing a larger space into separate rooms, you’ll need fewer vegetable plants to fill your flower room that week. The best way to optimize this is to have a number of chambers that are symmetrical with the number 8 (typical 8 week cycle genetics).
With 8 flowering chambers you can plant one chamber per week for 8 weeks. At the 9e week you start again at room 1. This continuous harvesting process is very efficient from a labor point of view and minimizes the size of your mother’s room (cost center). Extra space can be applied to your flower rooms. If you don’t have infinite space, even divisors work just as well; 2 or 4 chambers can be planted in a row for the same optimization (for 2 chamber structures, harvest and replant 1 chamber every 4 weeks, for example). The optimal structure (8, 16, 24 or more rooms) allows you to optimize your profitability. If any of these need further explanation, just ask.
Within your choice of room, movable rows or columns of tubs/lamps also ensure optimum efficiency. Tubs/plants can be moved together for light usage efficiency and one 90 cm aisle can be opened for plant maintenance. Rack systems or movable trays/tubs make that convenient these days.
Concrete floors provide pockets for bacteria to collect and smolder. As such, they should 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 that are discussed in the white paper. Floor drains are the equivalent of a gateway to hell for a sterile culture operation. Avoid them at all costs.
Tuning or optimizing your grow spaces for ideal flowering depends on your location. Our advice is that you build and optimize your facility in stages with the expectation that nothing is perfect and that you learn improvements at each stage of expansion. The immediate benefit is production that you can promote to your sales channels and revenue that starts as soon as possible to improve your profitability. This is also an excellent learning curve to apply to subsequent rooms. Our happiest customers are those who learned construction improvements in early rooms that could be applied to subsequent rooms without headaches. The ability to focus on one or two rooms also allows you to get the recipe correct rather than just relying on “winging it”.
Don’t be in a rush to go green
Validate your water resources and their stability. Check that the water in your aeroponic or hydroponic feeds reaching your plants is clean and sterile. This step by step is much easier than in a crisis debug mode once production is up and running. Be very careful with incoming clone stocks. We’ll talk more about this in the next chapter on Integrated Pest Management, but incoming clones are a major pest vector that can infect your entire facility.
Warehouse versus greenhouse growing rooms
As we started, controlling your environment is your main concern. We have seen success in both indoor rooms and greenhouses. The decisive success factor is controlling humidity and temperature. Modern closed controlled environment (CEA) greenhouses do this well and CEA is more or less self-evident for indoor growing. More details about this in the white paper.
By packing these recommendations, you will get the perfect body for your Formula 1 racing car. Now you’re ready to look at some mechanisms to protect your operation from nasty little critters and biological factors that can derail your operation and weaken your engine.
Before we sign off this week, I wanted to highlight the ultimate buildout we’ve seen so far. Of course there are many challengers who have done this well, but at the moment Pharma Growers in South Africa has the best thought out facility we’ve seen. They have obtained Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) & Good Agricultural & Collection Practice (GACP) certification early in their operations due to very well thought out designs. They are exporting to the world markets today without irradiation. Sure, many successful clients have beautifully thought-out operations and there are several upcoming facilities that offer great planning that will challenge this crown, but for now. FarmaGrowers is at the forefront of this. Look here for a walk-through.
Request the full white paper to download the complete guide and get to the beef quickly Top quality growing facilities here.
Stay tuned for Part 4 coming out next week where we’ll discuss Integrated Pest Management.