The Secret Behind Plant Factories
Plant factories have become a rising star of the farming industry in the recent years. The concept of plant factories is simple and easy to understand – they are the indoor facilities where plants are grown in large scale like how goods are produced in typical factories. The unique point of plant factories is the vertical farming approach that greatly increases the production of plants. We explained how plant factories work and the reasons why we need plant factories in the previous posts.
The technologies such as vertical farming, controlled environment and hydroponics are the frequently publicised growing methods for plant factories. However, the overlapping terms and technologies may blur together for grocery-store shoppers who are simply trying to decipher where their food comes from.
In order to clear up this confusion, it is useful to begin with an explanation of hydroponics —the method of production that Vegetory uses to best provide for its customers.
What Is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is an engineered way of growing plants that uses a soil-less growth medium and an optimised nutrient solution in order to deliver the calculated resources that a plant requires. Owing to this, plants are theoretically able to uptake the maximum amount of nutrients that they can, in the most efficient way to subsequently achieve their best possible health and fastest growth.
Research on hydroponics began to develop in the mid-1800s, as botanists and plant nutritionists sought to determine methods of quickly producing healthy food without relying on the weather or access to soil. Over time, improvements in the composition of growth mediums and nutrient cultures, as well as in the understanding of what plants are best grown hydroponically, have led to hydroponics being applied to large-scale agriculture.
Today, hydroponic farming has gained popularity as a result of the successes of scientists and commercial growing operations. These groups have worked to position the technology as a possible solution for feeding the increasing global population, as well as for addressing the environmental issues caused by conventional agriculture.
Types of Hydroponic Systems
Fundamentally, hydroponic systems work by applying an engineered nutrient solution to the root system of a plant. There are several types of hydroponic systems and here we briefly introduce three types.
Deep Water Culture
Deep water culture is a simple yet effective hydroponics system that works by suspending the plants’ roots directly into a highly oxygenated nutrient solution. This is also the method that Vegetory is presently adopting in our plant factory.
Nutrient solution held in a reservoir is run through individual tubes to each plant, dripping over the roots and re-circulated back to the reservoir.
Plants are suspended in the air while nutrient solution is sprayed or misted over the roots of plants.
A question that most people will ask when it comes to hydroponics.
The most significant advantage of using hydroponic system is zero pesticide. Vegetables grown hydroponically in an indoor clean environment do not require any pesticides as there are no attacks from soil-borne insects, nematodes and fungus. There is also no need for weeding like conventional farming does. Therefore, no herbicides, insecticides and pesticides are necessary for this type of growing system.
Next, hydroponics offers plants with expedited growth. Compared to traditional farming using soil, hydroponics provides plants with extra oxygen in the growth phase, which stimulates root growth. Plants that have ample oxygen in the root area are able to absorb nutrients much faster.
Additionally, the nutrients in a hydroponic system are mixed with water and sent directly to the root system, whereas a plant grown in soil would have to take the time to search for the same nutrients from within the soil.
This advantage helps solve the impending issue of food scarcity by increasing the plant production.
Another reason to adopt hydroponic system as a growing method is growers could control exactly what type of nutrients are going in. A hydroponic nutrient solution contains all the same nutrients as in soil. Too much or too little of the same nutrient can lead to a deficiency, and the ability to control nutrients instantly in hydroponic systems allows growers the ability to correct deficiencies quickly and easily. Discovering any deficiencies is also significantly simpler than detecting them in soil-based plants.
This could allow growers to monitor certain nutrient levels in vegetables that consumers are concerning about, such as nitrate level.
Plants suitable to be grown using hydroponics include vegetables and herbs. Currently, the fresh herbs and vegetables offered by Vegetory are red oak leaf, caramel romaine, batavian lettuce, green ocean lettuce, rocket salad and basil. More varieties will be available in the near future.
Lastly, it is necessary to highlight that hydroponics is a technological method that works in conjunction with controlled environment system to grow plants and therefore, food. Without the controlled environment, many of the positive aspects of hydroponic growing never actually come to fruition. These innovations are the secret weapons of Vegetory as the first plant factory in Malaysia. We integrate all these technologies in our plant factory to provide the healthiest, most delicious and freshest leafy greens to the community that cares about healthy diet.
Author: Christine S.H. Lee