Though indoor and vertical farming are relatively new trends in the world of agriculture, there is enough data to know that proper airflow and air management are crucial to success. One of the most common problems encountered by indoor and vertical growers, particularly those working in multi-tiered controlled environment agriculture (CEA) facilities, is that of microclimates.
Microclimates can form in any number of spaces throughout a grow room, though multi-tiered facilities are particularly vulnerable as racks and lighting can impede on proper airflow. As the maximization of space is essential for growers working in an indoor environment, it must be understood that growing vertically can come at a cost if the facility isn't properly designed and managed.
As indoor cultivation has spread, thanks in no small part to the easement of cannabis legislation throughout the country, growers have recognized the need to utilize every available square foot of their facilities. This naturally led to the inclusion of racks in grow rooms to create space for plants to grow up off of the floor. In addition, through the use of cool-running LED lighting, growers are now able to grow from floor to ceiling without risking sun bleaching or burning their plants.
Without uniform conditions in the grow room, plants can vary wildly from tier to tier and even from one to the next. Maintaining uniform conditions throughout the entire grow facility is the only way to ensure a homogenous crop, and microclimate formation can be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in a multi-tiered facility.
Here we'll discuss how microclimates can form and how they can be avoided. First, though, let's define and identify the problem so that you can properly understand microclimates yourself.
The term microclimate refers to any set of atmospheric conditions that differ from the climate surrounding it. In CEA, it refers to the same phenomenon on a small scale.
Microclimates in CEA facilities typically develop from a lack of air circulation. Air will accumulate in one particular region in the room, and due to lack of proper circulation, it will remain there along with the plants growing in that space. When exposed to light and heat, plants will respirate, releasing moisture into the air. Without adequate circulation to carry this humid air away, plants can essentially form their own miniature ecosystem or a microclimate.
Because CEA facilities are essentially extensive, carefully-curated microclimates, it's easy to see how the formation of separate, smaller microclimates within a facility can be damaging. Crops exposed to different conditions will react differently, leading to variations within a single crop during a single run. Clearly, it's in a grower's best interest to avoid the development of microclimates when possible.
In traditional grow rooms, greenhouses and other CEA facilities, plants are grown in a single layer at ground level. With the use of HVAC systems and an adequate number of fans, decent air circulation is generally not difficult to achieve. As growers have looked for ways to maximize their space effectively, however, other factors have come into play that can limit airflow.
As CEA facilities have become increasingly viable options for agriculture, the maximization of space has become a necessity for many growers, too. Thanks to cool-running LED grow lights, many CEA facilities are now designed as vertical or tiered facilities. While an excellent alternative for those limited by space, tiered facilities come with their own unique set of challenges, the development of microclimates among them.
In most tiered CEA facilities, heavy-duty racks are erected to house crops and grow lights. This configuration situates plants very near to grow lights, easily creating favorable conditions for transpiration and increased humidity.
Additionally, the proximity of plants to equipment in a tiered facility can create blockages in airflow, impeding on the efficiency of the facility's HVAC system and fans while also allowing the formation of microclimates. The opportunity for microclimates to develop increases with each tier and each additional rack housed inside of a facility.
While the development of multi-tiered facilities has undoubtedly expanded the range of possibilities for indoor agriculture, the issue of air management within such facilities was a problem that needed a solution.
At TSRgrow, we recognized early on the need for viable solutions to problems such as these. Traditionally, growers working in controlled facilities have relied solely on HVAC systems and fans for their air circulation needs. While these are both necessary elements even in modern facilities, we knew that there were ways to use this equipment more efficiently, particularly in tiered facilities.
That led us to develop our GROWHub™ environmental monitoring software, a comprehensive tool for allowing real-time monitoring of grow room conditions. Incorporating sensors placed throughout the grow room, our GROWHub™ software detects fluctuations in temperature and humidity, as well as other parameters.
Active monitoring allows growers to recognize the development of microclimates before they begin affecting plant health and make necessary adjustments. Often, the location of these developing microclimates is inaccessible due to racks, lighting and other equipment, leaving the grower unaware that a problem is even developing. Our remotely located sensors solve that problem, allowing growers to track conditions in even the most hard-to-reach areas of their room.
Knowledge of potential microclimate zones can offer a grower the opportunity to take corrective measures, such as repositioning fans or adjusting the height of shelving. However, as many growers know, identifying a problem too late can have disastrous consequences. Our GROWHub™ software actively monitors for these potential microclimate zones, alerting the grower at the earliest detection of any fluctuation.
Our GROWHub™ software is only one element of TSRgrow's approach to indoor horticulture. We don't stop with just monitoring your grow room, though; we aim to create a TOTALgrow™; Solution to make your growing experience as intuitive and comprehensive as possible.
Our GROWHub™ software incorporates seamlessly into our TOTALgrow™ Solution. Partnered with our Lighting as a Platform™ (LaaP) technology, our TOTALGrow™ Solution consists of our ultra-efficient advanced LED grow lights working in tandem with our environmental monitoring systems. Combined, these technologies deliver a grow room experience and performance unlike any other.
If you're looking to design or improve a CEA facility, allow us to share our expertise with you. Our GROWHub™ software is second to none at tracking and monitoring your grow room, ensuring that your crops receive the perfect conditions to produce the most bountiful harvests. Visit us online at TSRgrow.com, stop by our blog, or check out our increasingly popular podcast, Grow Sessions. We'd love the chance to help you develop your very own TOTALGrow™ Solution.