Square Foot/Intensive Gardening/Farm and Nurseries


QUESTION: My question is within your expertise but on a large scale.I would like to build an indoor farm or nursery (if you will)to grow CORN and SUGAR CANE utilizing artificial means, can you help me step by step?

ANSWER: Growing corn and sugar cane indoors is simple, but EXPENSIVE!  I DO NOT recommend it.  They both require a large amount of space for the amount of yield they produce.  Depending on the price of sugar, and perhaps the usefulness of the waste material, that might not be quite so costly, but neither are on my list of things I would consider growing indoors.

Simply maintain temperatures in the ideal growing range of 70-85 degrees F, water regularly (daily of using an artificial soil medium), and feed using the Mittleider Magic natural mineral balanced nutrient mixes, and you will have excellent crops.

Jim Kennard

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QUESTION: Thanks so much Jim and I understand your concern, but this type of project is very important to my project. My follow up question is based on your answer, about how much space I need to grow both corn and sugar cane?

How high the ceilings must be? and what about the lighting? is it a good ideal to have light on they 24 hours a day?

ANSWER: The amount of space you need depends on how many plants you want to grow.  We plant corn 8" apart, with two rows in an 18"-wide soil bed or or Grow-Box, which amounts to 92 plants in a 30'-long bed.  Aisles are 3' minimum, and in a greenhouse we would have them at least 3 1/2'.  The light required is DIRECT SUNLIGHT for at least 8 hours daily, and a greenhouse loses at least 10 % of the sunlight, so longer is better.  You can't have too much light, nor can you have it for too long.

If you are growing under Grow-Lights, you are using a MUCH REDUCED source of light.  Even growing seedlings this way requires 16 hours per day, and the lights need to be 1" from the surface of the leaves.  So, if you plan to mature a crop this way plan on MORE light than 16 hours - and maintain the light source very close to the leaves!  

Ceiling height must be enough to accommodate the height of your crops plus enough to accommodate the light source.  Corn can be as short is 4-5' or as tall as 7-8'.  Sugar cane stems can vary from 4' to more than 12', so you have a real challenge there!

It takes about 66 lbs. of sugar to provide for one person per year. This would require about 220 (about .3# per stalk) stalks of sugarcane. Cane is propagated from cuttings, and planted in two rows close together, with 3 1/2' aisles.  Planting a cutting every 6" would yield about 30,000 (254 30'-long beds) stalks per acre, and one acre would thus supply sugar for roughly 137 people for a year.

Jim Kennard

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QUESTION: That was a very good answer Mr. Kennard, thank you very much for your wisdom. But what if I told you that the area of soil bed is 500 feet by 500 feet with a ceiling heigth of 10 feet.

how can I plant as many stalks as possible in this amount of area and how can I get the most amount of ears of corn on each stalk?

And how many floors can a greenhouse have?

You still haven't told me if you are getting light from the sun, or from all artificial light, or some combination.  Light is ALL IMPORTANT, and the number of stalks of corn OR sugar cane are going to be determined by the amount of LIGHT they will receive.

These plants grown in full sun can be planted as I described previously, and will produce well.  If they have REDUCED sunlight, or are in ONLY ARTIFICIAL light, you cannot plant them as close together, and they will not produce as well.

The number of ears of corn on a stalk is mostly a factor of the variety, and you need to research that and then weigh the number of ears versus the flavor, etc., so that you get the greatest financial return.

With a 10' ceiling you need to find a sugar cane variety that is less than 10' tall.

The size of your greenhouse does not change anything, except the SCALE of everything increases.  5 1/2 acres "under glass" is big, and you certainly don't want to guess on ANYTHING.

Hopefully you have your watering totally figured out.  And feeding is very important as well.

You ask how many floors a greenhouse can have, which makes me wonder.  If you are counting on sunlight, you can only have one floor (direct sunlight).  If you are depending on artificial light you can have multiple levels.  However, your costs are tremendously increased with more than one level, because you must replicate everything on the second level PLUS building something STRONG enough to support the WEIGHT of a total crop plus the soil, water, people, etc., etc.

Jim Kennard

Square Foot/Intensive Gardening

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Jim Kennard


I can answer questions on vegetable gardening - Raised Beds, Container, Soil-Beds, "Poor Man's Hydroponics", Organic, etc.


Gardened using The Mittleider Method for 30 years. Conducted seminars, college-level training programs, produced 80 video lectures, written hundreds of gardening articles, answered thousands of gardening questions, created a gardening website www.foodforeveryone.org with free ebook, free greenhouse plans, FAQ section with 355 gardening articles.

Food For Everyone Foundation - President - Mission is "Teaching the world to grow food one family at a time."

Numerous website publications

Taught personally for 20 years by Dr. Jacob R. Mittleider, "The Garden Doctor", assisted him in creating and conducting major gardening training projects in America and Russia.

Awards and Honors
Master Mittleider Gardening Instructor

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