«Recipes» of cultivation

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Automated vertical farms according to iFarm technologies allow growing of salads and spicy herbs in the city line, near the consumer. Our solutions allow city-farmers to quickly launch eco-friendly green production and get a delicious crop of various cropsall year round get a delicious harvest of various crops - the range available for cultivation already has dozens of names and will continue to grow.

Before entering industrial production, each crop passes a very serious selection in our research laboratories. We are working hard to guarantee to customers of vertical farms that on our "smart" iFarm beds they will grow the most delicious arugula, aromatic basil, crisp and resilient «Romano», useful superfood kale, mangold and other crops. We digitized the knowledge of an agronomist and packed the best research results into the software of iFarm Growtune from where it is available to farm owners anywhere in the globe. However, first things first.
Seeds
The first step in creating a product sheet
is to determine the seed producer and plant variety.
Only from good quality seeds a decent result is obtained, which then need to be turned into healthy seedlings - there are special seedlings on vertical iFarm farms where seeds germinate in optimal conditions. (Isolated rooms or dark cabinets - depending on the volume of production).
An important indicator of seed quality is germination. Some varieties do not germinate well (only 20-60% of seeds braird) and the result differs from batch to batch while being at the same producer. The task is to select seeds that always show stable germination. These seeds will be available for cultivation on our vertical farms. Agronomists record how long it takes to germinate, take into account the grade features of crops.
Not all seeds are suitable for cultivation in a closed room and on the substrates we use. In recent years, seed producers have paid increasing attention to vertical cultivation and they are beginning to develop special varieties for such production. This greatly simplifies the work of agronomists when creating a product sheet, as it is now necessary to select crops manually that can grow with artificial lighting or without sunlight.
Substrates and nutrition
For hydroponic cultivation are used different types of substrates:
vermiculite, granite gravel, mineral wool, holofiber, coconut mats, porolone and others.
The most common is peat, which is suitable for growing greens in pots. It operates most automated salad lines in conventional industrial greenhouses and vertical farms (in a sense by inheritance). However now, in iFarm we create equipment that will allow to grow not only greens in pots but also on different types of planting mats: in particular, they increase the area of planting and it is more convenient to use them for (multiple) cutting of leaves, from which popular salad mixes are formed.
Different crops, just like different substrates, come to one task: to allow a healthy root system to develop. A substrate is the environment where the root of a plant lives. The nutrient solution is supplied to a tray with a substrate from where the plant itself receives it. As in ordinary soil It receives it through the root and it consumes the basic ions necessary for full growth (all elements of the root nutrition can come with soluble mineral fertilizers into the nutrient solution, and the roots absorb not the whole molecules, but their halves - ions).
For a long time it was believed that plants only need seven major-nutrient element - nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur and iron. However, as the experimental base developed, scientists identified other necessary elements (they are called trace elements, as they are needed in very small quantities: 1 part per 10 million parts of water): boron, manganese, zinc, copper, molybdenum, etc.
A cation of hydrogen considered the «King» of ions, which in itself is not nutritious but has a huge influence on the absorption of all others. The concentration of hydrogen ions (or acidity of the solution) is related closely to the root nutrition of plants. Most plants develop with a neutral or weak acid reaction of the environment. The smaller the pH solution, the greater its acidity. Therefore, agronomists always measure the acidity of nutrient solutions which are supplied to substrates and then adjusting them if necessary.
Illumination
On vertical farms, plants live in a closed ecosystem without sunlight. This is a significant competitive advantage of the technology: the possibility of year-round production of crops without the influence of any natural factors.
It is believed that without the sun plants do not become tasty enough and do not contain as many useful substances like if they grew in a natural habitat. This myth is so strong that at the beginning we believed in it ourselves. However, experience suggests otherwise: we can recreate conditions in an artificial environment for the full growth of healthy plants. Moreover, in nature, plants are not provided with everything necessary: there is always something in excess, and something is missing. Vertical farming is better than organic farming. On our farms it is possible to control many criteria, including - the length of the light day and the spectrum of light, and, as a result, to obtain crops of the required quantity and quality.
In iFarm we experimented with a lot of different lamps available on the market until we began to produce our own - they are prepared according to the technical tasks of our engineers as part of contract production. We stopped at LED lamps with a spectrum optimal for most green crops. LED lamps not only allow growing a healthy full plant, but also are economical, environmentally friendly, and easy to mount, have little weight and generate very little heat, so they can be located on multi-tier structures in close proximity to plants.
We experiment with lighting parameters in laboratories: different spectra of lamps used, different intensity of illumination and duration of light day... For example, agronomists have found that the popular salad Romano grows worse if you give it a lot of light. For maximum harvest, this crop needs 14 hours of light per day of strictly defined intensity.
Density of planting
Recently we told about experiments with spinach,
for which optimal climatic conditions and nutrition was selected.
It doubled the yield of crops: from 1kg to more than 2 kg of greens from a square meter.
Further, agronomists increased the density of planting: it turned out that in such conditions spinach grows even better; but with this approach, it is necessary to collect young leaves (baby leaves technology) – otherwise the adult plant on the shelf will suffer a lack of space. In total, we tested seven varieties of spinach, selected two leaders in all parameters, and they will be grown on an industrial scale. In the meantime, strawberry spinach has grown.
It is also important how many seeds are put in the well. iFarm agronomists are experimenting with this. For example, at the very beginning of the research they sown about a hundred of arugula seeds in one pot. Arugula grew thick, strong, and it was beautiful, but it all occurred because its seeds are very small and you cannot collect them one seed at a time. However, we are learning too! Now agronomists put 40 seeds of arugula in a pot. However, such jokes will not pass with mangold: it has much larger seeds and it turns out that maximum of only three seeds can fit in one hole.
iFarm Growtune
When agronomists selected the best seeds, substrate, adjusted nutrition and microclimate,
tested the culture for taste and investigated the amount of useful macro- and microelements,
and, of course, tested the yield, they create the same product sheet: they record all the data in the software iFarm Growtune.
The app, available by subscription to all buyers of vertical iFarm farms, has an electronic catalogue of crops for cultivation. Their updates also appear here.
The product sheet contains more than 50 parameters: general descriptions of crops, images, data on weight at the output, information on cassettes for planting, their size, density of planting, stage of growth, how many and in what compartment the crops should be located. Also CO2 parameters, temperatures, humidity, composition of solution, schedule and mode of lighting.
Mode of operation for the final customer is simple: you do not need to keep an expensive agronomist in the staff. It is enough to select the plant in the catalogue, specify the desired crop volume, press the button and the system will automatically start the production of this crop. In addition, it will form an order for the purchase from iFarm of consumables for this planting: seeds, substrate, fertilizers, etc.
The system sets microclimate parameters, determines free cells for planting, checks product sheets for compatibility with crops that grow on adjacent shelves (conditions of microclimate, light, solution), issues clear instructions on further actions with planting throughout the growth cycle up to the stage of collection, sorting and packing of products.
The Growtune iFarm has a special check list that helps crop producers to manipulate in a certain sequence — the system reports where, in what quantity and what to plant, when and where to move, when to harvest… And if something is forgotten or done in error, it will send the appropriate notification to the production owner.
Oleg Kostenko
iFarm Product Director
Modern technologies significantly simplify the processes of human life, which used to consume a lot of money and time. Today we are creating new approaches to local food production in cities, providing the population with tasty and healthy food. Automated vertical farms are a great tool for city farmers whose number will keep increasing. After all, in order to grow plants, it is no longer necessary to know the subtleties of agronomy: we did it for you.

20/01/2020
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