Aponix’ Vertical Barrel systems have been on the market for a while now, and since their conception, they have offered an alternative to rack systems as a way of making use of three-dimensional growing spaces. Aponix is releasing some new additions to make the system even more easy to use. A new adapter to simplify irrigation with the Barrel, and a new larger and soil-based XL Vertical Barrel. Marco Tidona with Aponix: “We wanted to come with a solution that would make irrigation foolproof, so we built an adapter.”

Water Adapter
Irrigation in the cylinders requires a different approach than growers are used to. “To irrigate with the barrel all you have to do is put liquid on the inside surface at the highest point, gravity will pull it down and the wing system inside will make sure is an even spread,” says Marco. “We have been testing with different kinds of irrigation methods. One simple method is to just attach an inverted sprinkler, but these additions and sprinklers needed to be used with caution, but some users didn’t. Most of the users had irrigation cycles that lasted for too long and so there was too much liquid and they drowned their plants.”

In order to come up with a solution “We wanted to come with a solution that would make irrigation foolproof, so we built an adapter. The adapter can be integrated with all Netafim spraying mechanisms. It allows us to fix the drip stop to the lid of the barrel, and then the grower can define the flowrate using the Netafim equipment.”

Lego pieces
The Vertical Barrel system is a cylindrical alternative to the typical vertical farming solution of racks. “The Barrel is constructed of individual pieces, each ring consists of 6 pieces that click into each other like Lego pieces,” says Marco, emphasizing the ease of use of the system. “The rings can be stacked on top of each other to create the barrel, this way you can define the height of the barrel yourself. We have several different pieces that are suited for different types of produce so you can configure for different types of plants to optimize cultivation area. The cultivation area is the outside of the cylinders, and with the variable height and the possibility to chain multiple of these units, the idea is to have an alternative for a rack system in vertical farming.”

So what are the benefits of growing with the cylindrical surface of the Barrel? “When you build racks, you cannot use natural sunlight,” says Marco. “On top of that you also get microclimate issues – plus when you go very high you need these scissor lifts or climbing equipment. The Barrel is an alternative that allows you to grow vertically in a greenhouse and use natural light.”

Though the system is already quite complete, a lot of additions are being planned in order to get it technologically up to par with other vertical farming solutions. “We are also expanding the system to have plant trellis holders left and right of the grow spaces,” says Marco. “Also we are working on ways to manage the microclimate, there will be an area where you can attach an airhole next to the grow spaces which can finetune the humidity and could also fertigate CO2. These things are necessary to compete with all the high-tech solutions that are already out there.”

It can be quite difficult to get your foot in the door with a new product in the horticultural industry. “It took a lot of time to get slight credibility,” says Marco. “I remember the first year I was presenting this new technique at GreenTech, people thought it was just a gadget for your living room – they didn’t take it seriously. They didn’t see it as serious growing equipment, because it wasn’t what they knew – it wasn’t gutters and tables. So I am now trying to get this credibility by integrating and getting a lot of help from Gakon.”

According to Marco, Gakon are a very important partner for Aponix. “Gakon are helping me to add all these gadgets and functions that they know from the standard equipment they are using for large scale production. We are collecting ideas from them for the practical side, and we are translating them for vertical barrels. Gakon have been a major help for getting taken seriously. They have their partner companies, with whom they discuss our products. One such partner company is Hortilux, for lighting. With the help of Gakon, Hortilux are creating lighting plans for use with our barrels.”

The future
Marco believes that there is still a lot of future potential for the Vertical Barrels, and these new accessories are a step forward. “All the processes that are normally part of larger commercial operations are missing,” he says. “This product has the potential, but I need to find strategic partners who actually have the experience in the market and want to have a future alternative to racks. More and more big players in the industry are understanding the value of my product and inviting me to talk to them.”

Marco continues: “I had an interesting conversation with a company from the UK. They are building this robot that you can put over your raised beds and it functions like an agricultural printer: it irrigates, plants seeds, it takes care of your plants, and it’s fully automatic. This company is thinking about putting one of these robots, but with a circular arm, on top of my barrels. So it’s not using a flat surface like you have in a raised bed, but the round surface coming from the top and circling around. The future is looking exciting, but I am still looking for more people that believe in my product and want to support it in ways that I alone cannot.”

For more information:
Marco Tidona