This week the lockdown restrictions in the UK were eased and with that we decided to reopen our rooftop vertical farm in Paddington! In today's blog, i'll explain what i've done to get the farm up and running again. With some food supply chains disrupted right now, we believe this is a great opportunity to provide local produce to our restaurant clients as they begin to slowly re-open their operations. It’s also a great time to experiment with making new hydroponic systems!
We are in a very fortunate position because although we are located in Central London, our farm is in fact quite isolated, being on a rooftop in Paddington Central. This makes social distancing easy to maintain. To be extra safe, I am also cycling in to work to avoid taking public transport.
Successful home farming
If you have been keeping up with my blogs, you may remember at the beginning of lockdown I took one of our seedling racks home to continue growing seedlings. I used our Flood and Drain system to grow Coriander, Basil, three varieties of Kale and two varieties of Parsley all through the lockdown so that they would be ready to transplant when we reopened the farm.
This system automatically watered the young plants twice a day and only needed to be filled with fresh nutrient solution once a week - easy work! I adapted the light schedule as the rack received so much sun in my conservatory - only supplementing with four hours of light in the evenings. This whole project was a great success, with over 1000 healthy seedlings making their way back to Paddington last week, ready to be transplanted into the main farm.
Getting the farm ready for the plants
Before I could get all of the plants into the farm, I needed to do lots of preparation to get it back up to spec! First and perhaps most important in hydroponics, I made sure to turn on the Reverse Osmosis (RO) filter so we have lots of clean fresh water for the farm ready.
After two months of no use, all of our equipment needed to be sterilised or sanitised.
I cleaned all of our flood trays, reservoirs, gutters and our modular hydroponic towers. I also sterilised the farm containers themselves, to get them ready for growing again.
The farm is now spick and span and ready for some plants!
With the farm ready for the plants, we immediately began transplanting all the young plants that I grew at home. Transplanting is the process of moving your plant to the location where it will grow to maturity. For a detailed explanation and tips on transplanting into both hydroponic and conventional growing environments, check out my transplanting blog!
After transplanting, the seedlings will grow in more favourable conditions, they’ll have more space to spread their roots, are given a higher concentration of nutrients and are lit by powerful LEDs. For our vertical system, we simply slotted the plug plants directly into the vertical system, planting over 1000 plants in 4 hours!
Sowing more seeds
This week I also started growing the next generation of seedlings, these will be ready to be transplanted in four to six weeks (depending on the crop). I filled trays with moist rockwool plugs and began to sow seeds into each plug. The rockwool plugs are our growing medium. After this I kept the trays in the shade for two days before moving into a Flood and Drain rack. For more information on sowing seeds, both for conventional and hydroponic systems, check out my seed sowing blog!
Creating a new living wall system
In addition to opening our vertical farm, I am also designing and building a new living wall. Using drip irrigation and mini reservoirs in each pot, this new hydroponic system will only need to be irrigated for a couple of hours every day. This high efficiency system saves a lot of water when growing vegetables and herbs, but also means we are spending less time adding more nutrient solution to the tank.
The system will be free-standing and designed to be grown outdoors with sunlight, but it can also be taken indoors and grown with LED lights. The pots are staggered from row to row to efficiently use the vertical space and so the plants don't compete for space or light with their neighbours.
So as you can see, the last couple weeks have been quite busy getting everything back to normal. Starting a farm up again is always more difficult than simply maintaining one because there is so much you must prepare to get it back up and running.
Right now the farm is thriving with over 1000 Kale, Coriander, Parsley and Basil plants growing. The next generation of seedlings have also been planted, with just over 800 Kale, Dill, Parsley and Basil seeds germinating as I write this.
Some of these plants will go into our new outdoor living wall, keep an eye out on our Instagram as we'll post updates on how these plants are doing. Let us know what you would grow if you had a living wall!
Square Mile Farms bring vertical, urban farming to city dwellers in their homes and in the workplace. We aim to bring people closer to food production and help to create a culture of healthy, sustainable living. Find out more about our offering and get in touch here with any queries. Sign up to our newsletter for tips on a healthy lifestyle and a round-up of relevant news. You can also follow us on social media to stay up to date with our journey, find us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Why not join our online Urban Growing Community for advice on growing at home and much more!