Vertical Farming, SPIN-Style

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK

Farming is inspiring a lot of creative thinking. Planners and academics are envisioning skyscraper farms costing millions of dollars. It remains to be seen whether any of these indoor systems will ever be built, or be sustainable. In the meantime, here’s one of my approaches to vertical farming.

  • Technology: wooden privacy screen trellis
  • Cost: A few hundred dollars, including labor
  • Growing space: 1/10 of a segment
  • Crop: cucumbers
  • Revenue target: $96 – $120 gross over several weeks of harvest

This isn’t going to get me on the cover of Fast Company. But it does illustrate SPIN’s improvisational, low-cost, quick-to-monetize style. It’s how small players can enter the urban agriculture scene, quickly and cheaply. They become the CEOs of their own businesses, without having to  make a huge investment, and they fill in the cracks of local supply and demand in a cost-effective way.

Gee-whiz agriculture is great for students who need to challenge their intellect, or planners looking to add some glitz to their portfolios. But if you want to make money growing food, check out cukes. The above revenue target is based on my conditions in zone 3.There are cukes that produce for a long period of time, and given conditions in different zones, the sky is literally the limit.

SF photo trellis and cucumbers

SEE ALSO: Curtis Stone’s post on how SPIN-Farming economics stack up to vertical farming here.

Vertical Bucket Farms

Courtesy of Didacus R. Haywood, CA

Here is something that is fascinating a lot of us in the SPIN Farming community–especially those with far off fields. Using buckets to grow vertical farms.

We cut a bucket off about 6-8 inches from the bottom. Then we take a full bucket, cut a 1″ hole on the bottom, stuff the whole with a wick–cloth, terry cloth or enough cotton cloth to plug the hole. The wick hangs about 12-18″ below the hole and at least 6″ above in order to wick water up into the bucket.

Drill 1 1/2″ a hole about 3″ from the bottom, and another hole about 6″ above it. The next 2 holes are about 3 1/2″ around the side–but start these 3″ from the top. So, each row is staggered 2 down, 2 up all the way around. A 5-gallon bucket will give you 20 holes per bucket.

That’s a lot of plants in a very small area. But wait! There’s more!

Put a lid on the bucket and stack them! You can stack at least 3 buckets easily and stably.

Two important points. Cut a port hole about 3″ from the bottom of the water reserve (bottom short bucket) so you can easily fill the reserve every few days as needed. And, cut about 20 small holes in the bottom of the upper bucket for drainage.

You can plant small plants like strawberries, lettuce and herbs in a 20-hole bucket. Fewer holes for bigger plants. Say, 4 holes for tomatoes, peppers etc.

If you don’t have buckets, perhaps you could build a 3-tier garden from clay?

We usually put about 1 cup of fertilizer in a sock (a nylon is perfect, but any cloth bag or sock will do) burried on the top of the bucket equal to the level of the 1st plants. When the water wicks up to it the fertilizer slowly releases. Worm poop works very well.

Enough of these going could make a micro-micro-farm right against the south facing wall of a home. That could save some walking.