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This industry standard left unquestioned could cost you money.
Vertical farming can be done in many different places: warehouses, shipping containers, and greenhouses to name a few. If you ever thought about having a vertical farm in a greenhouse, probably one of the first factoids you came across is that greenhouses should be oriented to face east/west.
But why is that?
Well, large commercial greenhouses are usually gutter-connected structures. This essentially means that each greenhouse itself is a modular unit that can attach to other buildings by a ridge/gutter up along the top of the wall and removing a wall.
This is usually great; it means that farmers can start small and build out the physical structure of their greenhouse as the farm business grows – something we should be doing in all types of vertical farming too.
But why do gutter-connected greenhouses still need to face east/west? Because in the northern hemisphere, most (~85%) of our light comes from the south. So if a gutter-connected structure faced south, the ridges that connect the structures would cast shadows on the floor. The shadows would move very little throughout the day and would create uneven plant growth.
Uniformity is extremely important for growing and selling at scale with strict standards enforced by wholesale purchasers (a big part of why there is so much wasted food in the country). This is primarily the market large complexes of gutter-connected greenhouses service.
And you said something about wasting money?
So let’s say you’re building a greenhouse on a roof with limited opportunity for modular expansion. In this case it would actually benefit you to orient your structure north/south for the same reason (85% of light) that gutter-connected structures would avoid it: to take advantage of more free solar energy, which is better for heating and lighting. The same applies if you were designing a passively heated solar greenhouse, a hoophouse, or anything else too.
Though, at the end of the day, there is no universally right or wrong way to orient your greenhouse. However, it’s important to understand why best practices are in place and how you can create efficiencies over your competitors by ignoring them.
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