A fresh food revolution has begun and the indoor gardening market has heavily influenced the spread of this concept. Urban greenhouses and growroom food-production facilities are springing up across major metros all over the country.
Some have the intention to provide poverty-stricken areas with high-quality produce; others are growing so they can sell organically grown and/or pesticide-free products local farmers’ markets. Either way, growers have transformed indoor gardening into a diverse and stylized set of skills that vary from person to person.
Hydroponics, soilless, coco, drip, ebb and flow, aero, wick—these words don’t seem to have the same meaning to everyone anymore. What you think is impossible is probably being executed with precision performance and success by someone somewhere.
There is an art to growing plants that is not restricted by method, and that is able to be expressed individually.
Color, variety, aroma, taste and texture can all be expressed through crop varietal and grower preference, and the combinations are endless.
Still, no matter how many different ways there are to grow, there is the distinct impression that these urban garden facilities are here to stay and that they’re only going to get bigger and more varied.
Chlorophyll’s new (and yet to be named) research and development lab, located in the heart of Denver, Colorado, is one of this sector’s latest additions. Custom designed from the ground up, the new space is outfitted for educational purposes and with the spectator in mind.
The public is welcome to walk in and see virtually every aspect involved with gardening, from plant propagation with seedlings and cuttings to flowering crops. Alternatively, the front of the room is completely encased by commercial-grade glass panes so that people can view everything in the room without actually having to enter.
Inside, 8,000 watts of HID light (which are broken up into two separate banks of four) hang from the ceiling to illuminate all available floor space. Each reflector alternates between halide- and sodium-style operations so that plants receive a wider and denser array of usable light. Each row also features a specific reflector design engineered for horticultural specific light dispersion to the canopy.
Custom 16-in. hard pipe manifolds feed through each row of lights to ensure the uniform cooling of each reflector with equalized pressure throughout the entire manifold system. Two 12-in., 2,050-CFM fans control the air-flow of the manifold, with one feeding and one dumping. This action is what induces equal pressure through each light so that there is a consistent temperature from hood to hood and throughout the room.
On top of state-of-the-art lighting, the lab also uses premium ventilation equipment to keep in-and-out air as clean as possible. Two different styles of HEPA filters are used to screen out all types of dusts, debris, pathogens, pollens, insects and fungal spores.
A 12-in., mushroom-shaped foam HEPA filter is used on the lighting manifolds so that the reflectors stay clean of contaminants and maintain high visibility through the lenses. Two 12-in. cone style HEPA filters, similar to those seen in the automotive industry, are used to cleanse passive fresh air into the garden itself.
Rather than use additional fans to project positive pressure, negative pressure is enforced through the sole exhaust for the grow room. Centrally mounted from the I-beam that runs down the middle of the room is 100 lb. or more of activated carbon wrapped up in an aluminum housing and Dacron (pre-filter). A 1,019 CFM dual-prop, high-velocity fan is used to pull air through the carbon filter and maintain clean air movement throughout the room.
It’s through this action that passive air is brought in through the HEPA filters, feeding the room so fresh air and CO2 exchange is kept at a high-efficiency turnover rate. There are also three 16-in. oscillating wall-mount fans setup in a triangular pattern on the walls to simulate natural wind currents and promote pollination rates.
One of the first hydroponic gardens to be executed in this new space is a well-known plug-and-play drip system that perfectly emulates the theory of square-foot gardening. Eight Dutch Bato buckets sit atop a 40-gal. reservoir and accept a nutrient solution projected via drip emitters 24 hours a day.
The slow drip rate and specific layering of specialized grow mediums (bottom to top: small-grade diatomite, triple-rinsed coconut coir, another layer of diatomite and finally a layer of grow rocks) within each bucket allow for excellent capillary properties throughout the root system, as well as high concentrations of dissolved oxygen.
Personally, I highly recommend this type of hydroponic system for the home hobby grower. It is a perfect explanation of hydroponic square-foot gardening and allows for multiple crop production within a restricted foot print.
The collage of plant varietals within a system can be a touchy experiment since you never know how plants will react together in the same nutrient solution; however, once dialed in, things grow rather nicely.
In the lab, we feature a special variety of cucumber, an early girl tomato variety, Genovese basil, lobster flowers to deter pests as a companion plant, and snap dragons for color and nutrient monitoring. So far, this type of system has proved to be a success in the new facility. It is productive and a great way to learn more about plant varietals in general, as well as gather information on nutrient solutions and their effect on different plant species.
Nonetheless, this system is just the first step. Slowly but surely, Chlorophyll will continue to grow into its new lab space and conduct further experiments with nutrient solutions, growing mediums, hydroponic methods and organic inputs. Be sure to come down and check out these new trials and experiments in the works.