In a previous post I discussed shipping container farms, but I didn’t get into the nuts and bolts of shipping container farm systems (i.e. how the plant or even mushrooms are grown). Growing plants indoors can be done in a variety of different ways, but it is neatly broken down into two main categories – growing plants in soil vs. no-soil (hydroponics). Hydroponics in turn is broken down into a variety of different techniques depending on whether a growing medium (often vermiculite) is used or if the roots are freely exposed to air (aeroponics).
Shipping container farm systems typically use some form of hydroponics because the plants tend to grow faster and have higher yields – both of which are extremely important when space is at a premium. Though hydroponics is named after the use of water, it also provides nutrients that a dissolved in the water. If you’ve ever used a liquid fertilizer, then you’re familiar with the nutrient solution that is required for hydroponic plant growth.
Hydroponics is only part of the equation for growing indoors. Plants also need light, and with the advances in super efficient light emitting diode (LED) lighting, it is more cost effective than never to grow indoors. These LED lights are not the typical bulbs you might find in a home. These LEDs emit a range of light wavelengths that mimic the light from the sun, and are specifically designed to grow plants.
So, hydroponics covers water and nutrients, LEDs provide light, but what about carbon dioxide? Plants need to breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen, so if the container was air tight the plants would eventually suffocate. So, there needs to be some venting and refreshing of air inside the container. And to go along with that, the plants also need to be kept at an optimal growing temperature, so an HVAC system is also required. As you can see, shipping container farm systems have multiple sub-systems that need to work together. Last but certainly not least, these farms are typically in urban areas where space is at a premium, so finding a good piece of micro real estate to grow and sell from is essential to actually make the farm into a successful business, and maybe with enough automation the shipping container farm system could become a passive income stream.