For both home and commercial growers alike, managing garden space while maximizing yields can be a difficult task. This is especially true in urban areas, where the demand for marijuana is high—but so are the costs associated with renting, buying or building indoor space for cannabis cultivation.
For decades, the indoor horticulture industry has looked for ways to best utilize indoor garden space to maximize yields. Whether it be the giant flower farms of Holland, the sprawling vegetable greenhouses of Canada or the massive indoor commercial cannabis operations in the United States, many indoor growers are using vertical grow formats, whose popularity has been on the rise over the past few years with a new demographic: home growers.
Vertical grow systems are typically not do-it-yourself or build-your-own systems. Rather, commercially available vertical systems are purchased from hydroponic shops or wholesale distributors and then modified to the grower’s specific needs and space. Just like typical horizontal or flatbed grow systems, vertical grow systems can be used with almost any type of indoor grow technique, from hydroponics and aeroponics to soilless-medium methods. The latter is the least likely example one might find, though, as the weight of soil mediums—as well as the sheer volume—can make for cumbersome maintenance, less flexibility and lower functionality (more on this in a bit).
In traditional vertical grow systems, lights are hung vertically, usually on chains, with the plants placed around them in a cylindrical arrangement from floor to ceiling. A primary benefit of this arrangement is a better utilization of light, both in terms of energy efficiency and light absorption, by the encompassing plant canopy. The removal of reflectors creates a direct path for light energy, or photons, from bulb to plants and eliminates the conversion of light into heat that occurs when photons bounce off reflectors or are otherwise absorbed elsewhere and not by the plants. Additionally, when the vertical string of lights in these systems is adequately cooled (either by air-cooling tubes, water jackets or AC units), the plant canopy can sit within inches of the lights, thereby increasing the energy delivered to the plants.
While most vertical grow systems utilize this cylindrical arrangement to take better advantage of light placement and full photon absorption, alternatives to grow cylinders are becoming more popular, especially in large-format grows. Vertical rack systems are frequently used as commercial indoor growers look for lightweight, stackable grow systems that can deliver water and nutrients to plants quickly and effectively. These vertical grow systems mimic smaller horizontal hydro systems that can be stacked one on top of another from floor to ceiling with the required lighting placed in between each stackable tray or plant bed. Additionally, some vertical grow manufacturers claim that larger, shared beds in rack systems allow for better root systems, leading to larger yields. However, while the extra root-zone space lends itself to more developed roots, it also means each plant must share its food and water—and potential pests and diseases—with the other plants in its bed.
How They Work
Vertical grow systems work the same way horizontal systems do, as the principals of horticultural are constant. Rather, it is the logistics that change with the footprint of the system in the room. The smaller footprint, which can range in size from 6 to 8 feet in diameter for cylindrical units or can wrap around the room for wall units, allows for more garden space in a single room as all the area is utilized, from floor to ceiling.
This is why many of the original (as well as some current) vertical grow systems deploy a cylindrical shape, as this allows for several units to be placed in a single room. And because there is no space lost to overhead lighting, all the space from floor to ceiling is dedicated to plant canopy. In cylindrical systems such as the well-known Coliseum, plants are placed in netted pot containers held in place by plastic tiers, angled slightly downward toward the center light channel. Behind the tiers is a thick wall that can hold spray misters, foggers or irrigation tubes for drip lines. At the bottom of the system are larger reservoirs to catch the runoff, just like hydroponic table systems.
Other systems can be more of a hybrid between a cylindrical system and a wall system. Wall systems use either premade wall frames or the walls of a room to attach hanging grow systems. The EcoSystem, for example, uses a cylindrical plant arrangement with vertical lights down a center channel and doors that swing open to provide access to the grow chamber. However, instead of housing the system mechanics within its chamber walls, growers attach slabs of rockwool, hung vertically around the sides, to grow their plants. Spaghetti lines run directly to the medium, and the vertical chamber is run as a top-feed hydroponic system.
Other vertical grow systems abandon the cylindrical geometry altogether and use structural walls, stackable racks or premade elements such as metal-pole frames from which to hang vertical grow systems. These systems range from NFT (nutrient film technique) and top-feed hydro systems to root mister/aeroponic systems. Normally, wall systems utilize narrow trays or troughs hung in a square arrangement on three or four walls with lights hanging vertically down the center, the same as cylindrical grow systems. All of these systems, whether square or cylindrical in design, do better with hydroponics rather than with soil systems, and each utilizes standard reservoirs and pump systems to deliver water and nutrients to plant sites.
Walls of Green
Aside from the physical characteristics that vertical grow systems share, they also utilize common grow theories and techniques. In almost every vertical grow system—and especially in cylindrical units—a “sea of green” (SOG) technique must be utilized.
SOG gardens comprise many smaller plants, rather than fewer larger plants. This style of growing was developed primarily for indoor and greenhouse growers who have less space to work with than outdoor farmers. In theory, having many smaller plants is a way to mitigate the smaller yields when not growing huge trees outdoors that can produce several pounds of cannabis each. Instead, indoor growers cultivate hundreds of densely packed smaller plants that, when taken as a sum, can actually yield as much or more than an outdoor garden (and with a few more harvests per year to boot).
In SOG gardens, plants are propagated either from seeds or cloning and then allowed to develop roots and vegetate for a week or two, and then moved right into flowering, thereby keeping plant size much smaller. To aid in this technique, cannabis growers keep internode lengths shorter, which is the distance between branches on the main stem. Having shorter internode lengths means more branching, which leads to more flowering sites for budding and better plant yields.
To do this, growers use bulbs heavier in the blue spectrum, which helps plants develop good branch stacking and keeps them squat and bushy. During the initial propagation phase and before transplanting into a vertical grow system, growers keep nursery plants under fluorescent bulbs, which emit light from the blue spectrum. These lamps also use less power and run extremely cool, allowing plants to remain very close to the light source.
Once the plants are ready to vegetate, growers will utilize metal-halide (MH) bulbs for the veg cycle. MH bulbs are much heavier in the blue spectrum than high-pressure sodium (HPS) bulbs, which are used during the flowering cycle.
While the most compelling argument for vertical grow systems is the increased efficiency in vertically integrated, 360-degree lighting, as well as the smart use of growroom space, some of today’s more modern vertical grow systems have inexplicably abandoned the vertical lighting element. Whereas cylindrical and wall-based systems continue to utilize vertical lights with the surrounding garden, some rack systems in use at large-format, commercial-grow facilities utilize vertical space simply by using racks to stack trays and lights, one on top of another, with several layers of trays and lights in each vertical column.
While these rack systems tend to maximize space, they are less effective in maximizing the efficiency of lighting systems. One likely culprit for the dismissal of vertically integrated high-intensity discharge (HID) lighting is the growing popularity of LED lamps. While these lighting systems offer convenience in size, energy consumption and reduced heat by-product, they lack in both light quality (spectrum) and quantity (strength), thereby lowering yields significantly.
However, newer LED models have begun to offset these factors by increasing both spectral range and light intensity. Still, these units are costly and bulky, and they lack many of the typical advantages associated with LEDs such as low power draw and heat emission. Still, some newer LED units are being fashioned to fit into vertical rack systems, but at a much higher cost, with the counterargument being they save money in the long run by not needing to be replaced nearly as often as HID systems. Other rack systems feature banks of fluorescent lamps, especially in nurseries, while large rack systems utilize HID lamps hung overhead with two or three levels of garden beds. The latter option is only realistic for large warehouses with high ceilings.
Another problematic issue shared by most vertical grow systems is the difficulty posed by bulb-to-canopy distance. Traditional gardens, as well as some large-format rack systems, that use overhead hanging lights can be adjusted to maintain the distance between light and canopy as the plants grow taller. But in vertical grow systems, where the lighting systems are stationary, growers must take extra care to ensure that lights are kept cool to touch, so that as plants grow closer to the light source they do not suffer light burn or overheating.
Keeping the bulb-to-canopy distance consistent throughout a plant’s life cycle provides for more a natural and stable grow environment, a benefit that is often lost in vertical grow systems. In vertical systems with stationary light systems, the distance from bulb to plant inevitably changes as the plant grows and changes shape. This can cause problems in a plant’s physiological development and biorhythm. This is why it is important for growers to choose strains that grow short and squat and to pay close attention to how they raise their young seedlings and clones through the vegetative stage. Plants that remain squat will do much better in vertical grow systems with a fixed bulb-to-canopy distance.
Making Up the Difference
In order to work well with the height limitation on plant growth and the impact it might have on yields, good vertical grow systems offer the ability for plants to develop expansive root systems. As a complement to the SOG technique, vertical growers should choose systems that offer ample space for a garden’s root zone.
The root structure acts as energy storage for the plant. While the plant is creating food (glucose) during the light cycle via photosynthesis, the roots are storing that energy for use during the dark cycles and for developing buds during the flowering cycle. The size of the root structure is directly proportional to the yield potential of each plant.
Vertical grow systems utilizing fixed medium sizes such as rockwool slabs may limit the garden’s ability for larger yields. Many of the most successful vertical grow systems utilize open-air walls, allowing for extensive root systems to grow out from each plant site and down throughout the back side of the system, sometimes reaching the reservoir or floor at the bottom of the chamber.
Other mediums that limit root growth are not as desirable as well. Plant sites that use netted pots and allow roots to grow out into the air will be more successful in terms of yield than a system which limits root growth either by limited medium volume or too much medium. Packing a cylindrical unit with a soil or soilless medium not only affects where the roots can grow, but it also significantly cuts down on oxygen in the root zone, which roots need to grow healthy and strong.
Five Important Considerations for Vertical Grows
By Hue Gielder
There are essentially five issues to keep in mind that the heedless grower will quickly discover about vertical grows. Knowing them in advance will improve system design and results.
- Clean Your Dirty Pipes: Reservoirs should always be fully clean in order to guarantee that your plants are not being fed garbage (salt buildup, algae, etc.). System designers who would prefer to automate their watering should expect to replace all plumbing between the reservoir and spigots every few cycles in order to ensure a clean delivery of nutrients and desired biologicals. To facilitate this, use as much low-cost flexible tubing as you can. Also, when dealing with vertical hydro systems, it is important to note that pinching irrigation lines can severely impact a system’s water pressure. This is especially true with a vertical “backbone” pipe, where lessening the width of tubing (for example, via T-joints or clamp valves) beyond most pumps’ half-to-full-inch output will limit the pressure seen at each vertical grow tier incrementally, as the water ascends. It’s best to reduce the line width at the actual spigots (if absolutely necessary) and abide by the pump manufacturer’s recommendations when pumping vertically.
- Ditch the Dirt on the Dank: When growing vertically, there is always a risk that fluids or wet media will spill over onto mature or otherwise innocent buds below. Whether or not this is an issue will largely be determined by the watering system’s throughput and the medium’s rate of fluid absorption, as well as how the tiers of grow sites are stacked. Shared beds filled with soil will drain better by adding perlite, while hydroton (HEC) may be too heavy for some shared-bed systems.
- Are You Penetrating Your Canopy? All plants prefer to be isolated and alone so that they can hoard all of the resources they desire. When growing plants within a confined space, anything that can be done to penetrate the canopy in an even manner in terms of light, carbon dioxide and fresh-air exchange will maximize individual plant health and yields.
- T5s vs. Light Skirts: Plants need evenly distributed low-intensity lighting during transplant to minimize transplant shock. Shade cloths can be wrapped like skirts around grow lights or tubes, but this plastic material also easily melts. To avoid melting plastic and potential house fires, the vertical grower can create a ring out of electrical conduit or non-electrical flex wire to wrap the shade cloth around and drape down the lighting tube. However, this approach may not block sufficient light to fully eliminate transplant stress if a grower is firing numerous bulbs of high wattage. An alternative approach is to strap fluorescent T5s to the light tubes for the purpose of maintaining the proper photoperiod during transplant with much less light intensity (not to mention pretty broad spectrum as well).
- How Hard Is It to Swap Your Spectrum? Vertical growers use light tubes to move bulb heat up and out of the room before it can affect canopy temperature. However, chains of lights in glass tubes can greatly complicate the swap of bulbs that frequently accompany the switch to flower. The problem is that light tubes are generally not designed for ease of access. When connecting together individual light tubes to create a single light string, it’s recommended that the grower pay special attention to the creation of a custom system of access that is convenient for maintenance. Attaching light tubes to rails of light movers so that they can slide in and out of vertical systems is a good idea. Another consideration is to fully veg plants before transplanting them into vertical systems and give them only a few days of veg cycle (using your HPS bulbs) before flipping to the 12/12 flowering stage.
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1. What is CBD? What is CBD Oil?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally occurring constituent of industrial hemp/cannabis. Its formula is C21H30O2 and it has a molecular mass of 314.4636. It is the most abundant non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis, and is being scientifically investigated for various reasons.
CBD oil is a cannabis oil (whether derived from marijuana or industrial hemp, as the word cannabis is the latin genus name for both) that has significant amounts of cannabidiol (CBD) contained within it. Our CBD products and extracts are derived from industrial hemp, so they could be considered CBD-rich hemp oil, hemp derived CBD oil, CBD-rich cannabis oil, or plainly “hemp extracts” since they typically contain much more than just CBD. Again, cannabis doesn’t mean marijuana, but is the genus name, and general umbrella term which all forms of marijuana and hemp fall under. The form of cannabis we use for our CBD and hemp extracts is industrial hemp; we do not sell marijuana.
2. If a hemp extract is 40% cannabinoids, what’s the other 60%? What’s in your hemp extracts besides the naturally occurring cannabinoids?
Our Kentucky hemp extracts contain over 80 different phyto-cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD), CBC, CBG, CBN, etc.. In addition to the cannabinoids naturally present in our agricultural hemp extracts, there are also many other types of natural molecules and phyto-chemical compounds such as amino acids, carbohydrates, vitamins (including B1, B2, B6, D), fatty acids (including omega 3 & 6), trace minerals (including iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, potassium), beta-carotene, chlorophyll, flavanoids, ketones, nitrogenous compounds, alkanes, glycosides, pigments, water, and terpenes. The most common terpenes in our hemp extracts are Myrcene, Beta-caryophyllene, Terpinolene, Linalool, alpha-Pinene, beta-Pinene, Nerolidol og Phytol, trans-alpha-Bergamotene, Limonene/ beta-Phellandrene (Co-elution), and alpha-Humulene.
3. What’s the difference between Hemp and Marijuana?
Scientifically, industrial Hemp and Marijuana are the same plant, with a genus and species name of Cannabis Sativa. They have a drastically different genetic profile though. Industrial Hemp is always a strain of Cannabis sativa, while marijuana can be Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, or Cannabis ruderalis. The major difference is how industrial hemp has been bred compared to a marijuana form of Cannabis sativa. Typically speaking, industrial hemp is very fibrous, with long strong stalks, and barely has any flowering buds, while a marijuana strain of Cannabis sativa will be smaller, bushier, and full of flowering buds. However, newer industrial hemp varieties in the USA are being bred to have more flowers and higher yields of cannabinoids and terpenes, such as our Kentucky hemp we’re now using!
99% of the time marijuana has a high amount of THC and only a very low amount of CBD. Hemp, on the other hand, naturally has a very high amount of CBD in most instances, and only a trace amount of THC. Fortunately, the cannabinoid profile of hemp is ideal for people looking for benefits from cannabis without the ‘high.’ Hemp is used for making herbal supplements, food, fiber, rope, paper, bricks, oil, natural plastic, and so much more, whereas marijuana is usually used just recreationally, spiritually, and medicinally. The term cannabis oil can refer to either a marijuana or hemp derived oil, since marijuana and hemp are two different forms of cannabis.
In the USA the legal definition of “industrial hemp,” per Section 7606 of the Agricultural Appropriations Act of 2014, is “INDUSTRIAL HEMP — The term ‘‘industrial hemp’’ means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”
4. Are hemp derived cannabinoids such as CBD as good as CBD from marijuana?
The short answer is yes. CBD is CBD, whether from marijuana or hemp. Most marijuana has a very low non-psychoactive cannabinoid profile (like CBD, CBC, CBG), so most of the time hemp would be much more preferable for anything besides THC. Marijuana is usually very high in THC (gives people the high) but usually very low in other non-psychoactive cannabinoids.
Nowadays in the USA, many farmers are growing industrial hemp flowers that are just as beautiful, odor-producing, and terpene rich as the best marijuana strains, such as our partnered farmers in Kentucky.
5. Why don’t you source your Hemp and CBD from within Colorado?
We feel that the hemp program in Kentucky is more well suited for our company in regards to growing hemp, and that because it’s 100% compliant with Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill (and the 2016 Agricultural Appropriations Act), procuring it from there is perfectly legal at the federal level. Kentucky’s ecology is perfect for hemp just as it is for tobacco. The growing season is longer than in Colorado, and the soil is richer, so the quality of the hemp and the yields are better.
6. What’s the percentage of cannabinoids and CBD in your product?
Our raw extracts have varying percentages of cannabinoid and cannabidiol (CBD) content, the range being 10%-99%. Each product has a unique formulation and uses varying ratios of our extract types. Our CBD Isolate is over 99% pure CBD.
7. What is the best method of use?
For our dietary supplements we can only recommend them for internal consumption. Our CBD isolate is for research purposes only. If you don’t like the flavor of the oil supplements, you can mix with something sweet like apple sauce or honey to cut through the flavor.
8. What’s the ideal serving size for me, and how often should I take it?
There is no easy answer to this. Our starting recommended serving size is 15 drops but we generally recommend experimenting to see what feels best to you. Some prefer 5 drops, some prefer over 50 drops per day.
9. What is the safety of your hemp extracts? Are there negative side effects?
Hemp is considered by many to be generally safe. We’ve never seen or heard of any significant or negative side effects in our years in the industry. That said, we can’t rule them out. Please consult with your physician before using any dietary supplement including Hemp extract supplements.
10. Which of your CBD and hemp products should I get?
As a company who sells various dietary and food supplements, we can’t suggest any of our products for the prevention, treatment or cure of any disease or ailment.
When considering our different dietary hemp products, know that they all come in two strengths. Our Original Hemp blends (Classic Hemp Blend, Hemp Complete, Brainpower oil, & Signature Blend) all have 250+mg of cannabinoids per fluid ounce, and our concentrated blends have 1,500+mg per fluid ounce, six times the potency of our traditional oils. We’ve found that sometimes less is more, but nevertheless, some people like to take very large serving sizes of our hemp extracts.
The main difference between the four Original Blends is the additional herbal ingredients besides hemp. We suggest you research the separate components of each blend to determine which product may be most appealing to add to your dietary regimen. If you know it’s solely the hemp extract that you are looking for, with no additional ingredients, then Classic Hemp Blend or Classic Hemp 6x is what you’re looking for.
For dabbing and vaporizing or for research you can try our CBD Isolate.
THOSE WHO SUSPECT THEY MAY HAVE A DISEASE OR ARE SEEKING HELP FOR A DISEASE SHOULD CONSULT A QUALIFIED MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL.
11. Why do people use Hemp Extracts and CBD? What are the benefits and uses of CBD?
In accordance with federal regulations we cannot make health claims regarding our dietary supplement products. We can only recommend our products for general wellness.
12. Is a standard hemp seed oil the same as a high-CBD hemp extract?
Absolutely not. Standard hemp oil, which can be found very cheaply at a grocery store, is a much different product than our CO2 hemp extracts (not from seed). Standard hemp oil is produced by cold pressing the seeds, whereas our hemp extract is a supercritical CO2 extraction of the hemp plant itself, not the seeds. Hemp seed oil is considered to be a great nutritive food, but it doesn’t have the naturally occurring terpenes, cannabinoids and other components that our extracts do have.
13. Do I need to move to Colorado to get your Hemp Extracts and CBD? Where do you ship?
No. We actually source our hemp from Kentucky, as it’s legal to ship across state lines. Many people are under the impression that the only way to acquire hemp extracts and CBD for themselves or a loved one is to move to Colorado or another cannabis-friendly state. Many major news outlets are misinformed and are unfortunately spreading the idea that you can only get CBD oil in the states where medical marijuana has been legalized. This is simply not the case though. Because our extracts comes from hemp instead of marijuana, we can and do ship to all fifty states, and no medical marijuana card is needed. There are some exceptions, like with Indiana, Missouri and South Dakota we can’t sell our concentrated products due to state legislation.
We also ship to Japan, Australia, the EU, Switzerland, and Brazil. For all EU orders contact our exclusive distributor there, Cannawell.
14. Is your Hemp Extract Oil similar to Rick Simpson Hemp Oil?
Not quite. Ours are from hemp and RSHO is usually using marijuana, a different form of cannabis than industrial hemp. Our industrial hemp extracts are more standardized and will usually have a much higher content of non-psychoactive cannabinoids like CBD than one produced through the Rick Simpson method. And oils produced through his method will usually have a much higher THC content, as it’s typically marijuana that is used for RSHO.†
Generally speaking, most marijuana producers and sellers (especially on the black market) don’t test for contaminants (metals, pesticides, bacteria, etc.). Rick Simpson Hemp Oil is actually more a method of extraction than it is a specific product. People use the Rick Simpson method with hundreds of different strains of marijuana, so the THC, CBD and other cannabinoid content of the final oil is always varying greatly, depending on the cannabis the consumers are acquiring. Usually what’s used for Rick Simpson oil is a strain with an inferior CBD content (and high THC), because that’s what the vast amount of marijuana is nowadays.
15. Where do you source your hemp and CBD from?
We have partners in Kentucky who grew a dedicated plot for us this year (2016) which is being used in our products now. We also currently source from Europe but we’ll be changing that soon.
16. What kind of testing/analysis is performed on your products?
We have an industry leading quality control system, and we have third party laboratories analyze all of our hemp extracts and our final products for cannabinoid potency, heavy metals, bacterial and microbial life, mycotoxins (fungus), and pesticides.
17. What is CO2 extraction? What’s the difference between subcritical and supercritical CO2 extractions?
CO2 extraction is an extraction process that uses pressurized carbon dioxide to extract phyto-chemicals (such as CBD, CBG, or terpenes, flavonoids, etc.) from a plant. CO2 at certain temperatures and pressures acts like a solvent, without the dangers of actually being one. It is the most expensive extraction method, and is widely considered the most effective and safest plant extraction method in the world.
Many hemp and CBD companies boast about their supercritical CO2 extractions, but that’s actually only one (and perhaps an inferior) method of using a CO2 extraction machine. There are also subcritical CO2 extractions, and ‘mid-critical’, a general range between subcritical and supercritical. Subcritical (low temp, low pressure) CO2 extractions take more time and produce smaller yields than super-critical, but they retain the essential oils, terpenes, and other sensitive chemicals within the plant. Supercritical, on the other hand, is a high pressure and high temperature process that damages most terpenes and heat sensitive chemicals, but can extract much larger molecules such as lipids (omega 3 and 6), chlorophyll, and waxes. A truly full-spectrum CO2 extract includes first performing a subcritical extraction, separating the extracted oil, and then extracting the same plant material using supercritical pressure, and then homogenizing both oil extracts into one. In the essential oil industry, an extract made using this specific process is referred to as a CO2 Total.
18. What is the endocannabinoid system (ECS)?
“The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a group of endogenous cannabinoid receptors located in the mammalian brain and throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems, consisting of neuromodulatory lipids and their receptors.” Wikipedia
There are two main types of receptors in the ECS, CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are primarily located in the central nervous system and brains of mammals, and CB2 are generally found in the peripheral nervous system. There are two main cannabinoids mammals produce- 2AG and Anandamide (named after the Sanskrit term “ananda” which translates to “peace”).
For hundreds of millions of years every vertebrate on Earth has been equipped with this ECS, a crucial system in the body, and it has been known about in the scientific and medical communities since the 1980’s. However, it’s still not taught about in most medical schools.