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Indoor Farming 101

As the challenges of field agriculture become more pronounced, the positives for indoor farming become more appealing. With technology rapidly developing, the potential of indoor farms as a sustainable alternative to outdoor farms continues to rise. In this article, we’ll discuss the critical features of indoor farming.

What Is Indoor Farming?

Indoor farming isn’t new. Greenhouses have been around for centuries. Today, the global indoor farming market is nearly $40 billion, and it is expected to grow another 13.5% before 2030. Farms have traditionally considered growing plants a two-dimensional act, with seeds sown across a single layer. Since the introduction of vertical farming, farmers have understood crop cultivation in three dimensions, sowing seeds across multiple stacked layers.

An indoor hydroponic farming setup.
In outdoor farms, plants absorb light from the sun to convert to energy. To compensate for the lack of sunlight, indoor farms use high-efficiency lightbulbs, often with full spectrum coverage.

Benefits of Vertical Farming

Vertical farming is an increasingly common method. It allows farmers to think of growing plants in terms of volume rather than area. As a result, vertical farms grow more plants in smaller spaces than traditional agriculture. Some indoor farms use soil to grow crops, sowing seeds in containers or planters. Others use soilless methods, such as hydroponics. A hydroponic system delivers nutrients directly to plant roots via water rather than by using soil and fertilizers.

Understanding Aeroponics

Another soilless method of growing is aeroponics. An aeroponic system is similar to a hydroponic system but uses a nutrient-rich mist instead of water. The system either mists the exposed roots at certain intervals of time or keeps the roots exposed to the mist at all times. Many types of hydroponic and aeroponic systems exist, but because soil is not required, they are especially suited to vertical farming.

Artificial Light in Indoor Farms

Another hallmark feature of indoor farming is the use of artificial light. In outdoor farms, plants absorb light from the sun to convert to energy. To compensate for the lack of sunlight, indoor farms use high-efficiency lightbulbs, often with full spectrum coverage. Not all indoor farms use artificial light. Some, like greenhouses, are still able to use sunlight. Additionally, some indoor farms use artificial lighting to supplement natural light.

Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA)

The most beneficial aspect of farming indoors is the ability to control the growing environment. This is referred to as controlled environment agriculture (CEA). The great outdoors isn’t exactly reliable. Droughts, floods, extreme temperatures, changing seasons, tornadoes and other storms can destroy outdoor crops. Using CEA technology, indoor farms can control everything from temperature and humidity to carbon dioxide levels. The consistency and reliability of CEA help farmers have peace of mind and improve crop yields.

Types of Indoor Farms

Now that you have a basic understanding of indoor farming, let’s compare different types of farms:

Greenhouses

Greenhouses are transparent, enclosed structures with glass or polycarbonate walls and roofs. The transparency of greenhouses is crucial because it allows their crops access to natural sunlight. The natural sunlight also serves to heat the structure, keeping plants warm during colder weather. However, this heat can be detrimental in hotter weather or warmer climates. As a result, the farmer’s control over the environment is often limited.

Some greenhouses use soilless growing methods, while others use containers or raised bed growing techniques. Greenhouses also vary in size. They may be large with high-level production or small backyard solutions for hobbyists.

Tropicana lettuce growing in a hydroponic indoor farm.
Tropicana lettuce grows well in an indoor hydroponic container farm.

Warehouses

Converted warehouses are among the most prominent types of indoor farms. These farms produce comparable amounts of greens to large field farms. According to an article from the USDA, vertical farms in warehouses can expect 10-20 times the yield of traditional agriculture. These farms use the most advanced CEA technology to ensure high-quality, fast and reliable growth.

However, the economic sustainability of indoor farms of this size is questioned. Critics point out that keeping a warehouse well enough lit to grow many plants is incredibly costly. A 2017 agriculture report from Bayer estimated that industrial-sized farms spent an average of $8.02 per square foot on energy annually, accounting for one-quarter of the entire operating budget alone.

Indoor Farming at Home

Indoor farming is an excellent solution for people who live in urban or suburban areas without access to sufficient outdoor space. Farming in a converted spare bedroom, garage, shed, or even closet can feed a family or even produce enough to make an income. At home, farmers use vertical and hydroponic systems to maximize production. Some farmers construct their systems, while others purchase and install premade ones.

Indoor farming at home is excellent for those who are just getting started, but it can be limiting as you’re stuck with whatever property you already own. Beginner farmers will also experience a lot of trial and error as they try to figure out what works best for their situation.

Container Farms

Container farms combine the easy access of indoor farms with the CEA tech of warehouses. These farms are built out of repurposed shipping containers, allowing farmers to climate control a contained space. They use hydroponic and vertical farming systems to maximize production in such a compact space. Pure Greens Container Farms uses advanced CEA technology that gives farmers automated control over the growing environment from a smartphone app or your desktop.

Pure Greens Container Farms

Our container farms are accessible, arriving prebuilt. All you need to provide is a large enough space; electrical, water, and internet connections; and your choice of nutrient solution, growing medium and seeds.

Only some plants can be grown efficiently indoors, but the industry is constantly searching for improvement, and many specialty crops grow wonderfully indoors. For example, our Pure Greens Container Farms grows various herbs, flowers and microgreens. Tomatoes and leaf lettuce are common indoor crops for greenhouses and warehouse farms. Visit our website to learn more about container farms.