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Vertical Cannabis Farming: 4 Steps to Get Growing

If you’re in the commercial cannabis cultivation industry, you’ve most likely heard the buzz around vertical farming. If you’re ready to maximize your growing space and yields, while having more efficient operations, you might be ready to switch to vertical growing.

If you are shifting to vertical shelf growing, it’s important to have all the facts since the growing process and requirements are slightly different. For instance, when growing cannabis in a smaller space, fewer nutrients are used per plant, and the vegetative stage is often shorter, allowing for quicker growth cycles and more frequent yields.

Below, we’ll provide a brief overview of getting started with vertical cannabis farming.

Why Choose Vertical Cannabis Farming?

In traditional single-level growing, both your plants and lights are set up on horizontal planes. There is nothing inherently wrong with a single-level setup, but it does not make the most effective use of your space and can come with higher operational costs per plant.

Converting to a vertical grow system can double your usable space – and increase yields by 50%

without investing in additional square footage. This is why vertical cannabis farming has exploded in the past few years. As an added bonus, when converting to the LEDs required for vertical growing, many growers also end up saving substantially on long-term energy costs if they’re switching from traditional HPS lights.

Four Steps To Get Growing With Vertical Farming


Select Your Lights

LED lights are required for vertical farming. Traditional HPS lighting will not work in a vertical setup. When working in a smaller space, you want light fixtures that don’t produce too much heat over the canopy. LEDs help reduce the heat in the canopy, especially if drivers are placed outside of the grow room. Plus, their narrow physical dimensions are ideal for maximizing space – essential in a vertical setup, where assembling equipment can sometimes be a challenge. Having LED fixtures that allow for spectrum control also allows you to fine-tune certain aspects of your final product by tweaking color settings throughout a plant’s life cycle. 

Spectrum control is an important advantage for vertical growers.

Unfamiliar with plant growth at different light spectrums? 

This not only allows you to achieve a better final product, but you can also create highly-customized strains to carve out a niche in the industry as a craft grower. Even if you’re just starting with vertical shelf growing, you may eventually want more freedom when it comes to customizing your yields.

California LightWorks offers a high-power LED lighting fixture option, the MegaDrive Vertical 800. It gives you 800 watts of high-efficiency LED power needed for vertical shelf growing to produce maximum yields and increased revenue. With flexible spectrum control, reduced heat, and lower fixture and installation costs, the MegaDrive Vertical 800 gives you everything you need in an LED lighting fixture to make the switch to vertical shelf growing easy and worth your while.

Specify Your Environmental Controls

Vertical cannabis farming means working in a very dense space. Therefore, controlling environmental factors such as humidity and temperature is vital to success. Automation is your friend here.

In smaller spaces, temperature and humidity fluctuations can be fast and dramatic. It can be taxing to manually adjust fans and ventilation while constantly monitoring a thermometer and hydrometer. Invest in heating and cooling systems with automated sensors that automatically adjust heat and humidity to keep levels ideal throughout the growth cycle.

In terms of air circulation and heat, most professionals recommend trying the “hoop-house” method often used in greenhouses.

Most growers use oscillating fans to circulate air across each shelf, however, this is difficult to get regular air flow in all areas. High heat and humidity under shelves is the number one challenge facing vertical growers. A new solution is to install vents that mount to the underside of the shelves and push air down into the canopy. You can also opt for using the California Lightwork’s MegaDrive power unit designed to reduce heat in the shelves and help you save on your HVAC system costs. Most LED fixtures include a high heat driver that must be mounted under the shelves or in the grow room. MegaDrive moves the direcers out of the grow room entirely.

Pick A Production Method

Keeping plants short is vital while growing in a vertical space. Your plants typically should not get taller than four feet, although the ideal size depends on your specific setup. Most professionals recommend using the sea of green (SOG) method for vertical shelf farms. SOG helps your plants widen while concentrating energy on the main cola, creating short, wide plants that thrive in smaller spaces. While SOG is not the only production method possible with vertical farming, it’s highly recommended – especially with a stacked setup.

The SOG method is a low-stress growing technique that involves forcing your plants into the flowering phase early to grow large numbers of shorter, lusher plants. Plants grow together in a tight space, forming a canopy or a “sea of green.”

SOG essentially comes down to manipulating light exposure to control when plants begin to flower. During the vegetative stage, start with 18 hours of light and 6 hours of darkness. This results in a much shorter vegetative cycle. Your plants should reach 10 to 12 inches in height within four to six weeks (some growers veg for only two to three weeks). At this point, switch to a 12 hours of light/12 hours of darkness cycle. This forces your plants to stretch to form a canopy rather than growing taller and taller.

Spectrum control is important for vertical growers. Spectrum control allows a grower to veg and flower on the same shelf by shifting the spectrum from veg to bloom automatically without relocating plants. This offers a major reduction in labor and grow space. 

All California Lightworks LED fixtures features digital spectrum control.

Obviously, there are some downsides to vertical growing on shelves. These include much higher equipment costs by adding shelving, additional light fixtures and more irrigation and air circulation equipment. Labor can also be an issue by having to work on a ladder or ledge to reach the higher shelves. As mentioned above, managing heat and humidity under shelves can be a major challenge!

This is a very brief summary, so you’ll want to do your own continued research before getting started. When using SOG, opt for plants with a shorter flowering time for best results. Indica varieties tend to grow shorter from a single primary cola, so that they may be the better option. If you go for sativas, top your plants several days before flowering.

Final Setup Notes

When setting up your system, you need to consider practical factors, such as pressure, drainage, lighting, electrical systems, and irrigation. For stacked vertical, you must also consider stationary versus rolling racks as well as the spacing between the racks. Rolling racks are typically ideal. Remember, workers will still be navigating your growing space, and they need adequate room to move around.

The Bottom Line

Vertical cannabis farms are skyrocketing in popularity – and for good reason. An efficient means of shortening your growth cycle, vertical farming can help exponentially increase your revenue without having to expand your retail footprint. While getting started can be daunting, it’ll ultimately be worth it once you begin harvesting larger yields. There’s even talk of True Vertical cannabis farming in the future, which would prove even more space-efficient.

Vertical cannabis farming may not be ideal for every grower, and this is just an introductory guide. You’ll have to spend some time doing your own research to determine if a vertical setup is feasible for you – and whether the pros would outweigh the cons. Even if a vertical setup is not within your means at the moment, you may be able to make the switch in a few years after establishing yourself with a traditional horizontal setup.

At California Lightworks, we pride ourselves on helping growers of all levels thrive. We’ve designed our MegaDrive Vertical 800 LED lighting fixture to help commercial growers maximize their vertical shelf growing in terms of efficiency, yield, and revenue. To learn more about our MegaDrive Vertical 800, please feel free to reach out here, and someone will be in touch with you shortly.


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