How to Build a Shipping Container Farm

February 5, 2019

Leveraging a shipping container for vertical or advanced farms is a very interesting way to increase grow space and an easy way to bring better food to local communities of the farmers that choose to use them. And while it may seem straightforward to create one of these shipping container greenhouses or farms in a conex box, this article is dedicated to going over all of the pros and cons, as well as going over some details for creating your own shipping container greenhouse or container farm.

Interested in other farming ideas for conex containers? Check out this article.

Pros and Cons of Farming in a Conex Box

Before we get into the actual steps of building your very own farm in a box, we wanted to go over the pros and cons so you can weigh them for yourself. Any project using a storage container can get expensive, depending on what you’re doing, so we didn’t want anyone to jump in before they were ready.

Pros of Building a Shipping Container Farm

  1. New, vertical space for growing food for your family, local community, friends, or charity.
  2. Vertical space gives you more room with less square footage (one 320 sq ft container can grow as much as 1 acre of land) and has gained a lot of popularity in recent years for small spaces.
  3. Contained and secure, a shipping container can be locked up, keeping people with bad intentions out of your greenery.
  4. Modular containers can be stacked alongside each other or even on top of one another for maximum space efficiency.
  5. Protected and controlled climate allows you to keep plants away from pests as well as bad weather, while still allowing for natural temperature changes.
  6. Affordable storage containers can be a quick and easy way to expand your current operation.
  7. They’re mobile, so if you decide to change spaces, you can take the containers with you.
  8. Customizable shipping containers allow you to add more windows, doors, and even lighting for better access, lighting, or ventilation and you can have them professionally painted.
  9. Shipping containers are relatively easy to find and get delivered to you (as long as you keep your local rules and regulations in mind).
  10. It can be the ultimate DIY project to show off to your friends and family, while also providing food!

Cons to Creating a Container Farm

  1. While the containers are affordable, shipping container greenhouses can be expensive to get growing. They can cost a pretty penny to get them started with shelving, growing lights, hydroponic setups, etc.
  2. Underestimating the amount of work they will take creates problems for many gardeners down the line, thinking vertical means easy. Farming is still farming.
  3. Overestimating the amount of food these container greenhouses or container farms can produce is another problem many farmers face after they get theirs going. Be sure you know how much to expect and don’t overestimate your yields.
  4. Time can be another con to a DIY shipping container greenhouse garden. While they can be easy enough to get a hold of, it may take you more time to get all of the technology you need in order to start growing.
  5. These containers can be an eyesore, if you don’t have a way to hide them in plain sight, or otherwise paint or decorate them, which may cause problems with neighbors or even city officials, if you live in an urban or suburban environment.
  6. A lot of customization to the container for a greenhouse can cost a pretty penny from someone who knows how to get it done. Be sure to get lots of quotes for the work, if you don’t plan to do it yourself.

If you’re interested in “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” of shipping container farms, here is a in-depth article that you can read that goes over it all.

With all of that said, if you’re still ready to get started on your own farm in a box or container greenhouse, let’s go over the steps to take in order to make that dream a reality.

Building Your Farm in a Box

Many people, when deciding to build a farm in a box, choose to use hydroponic farming techniques to grow their food, but there are a few ways to utilize the space of a shipping container for farming. So we will go over both.

You can purchase pre-made hydroponic solutions such as the modfarm. At the time of this writing they do not have published pricing, however, they are selling a demo they used to sell their products and they list it for $45,000. We think everyone can agree that is a big investment, especially when you haven’t even bought plants, seeds, or other supplies.

However, you could get away with buying your own container and building your own hydroponic farming system inside of it for a much, much more affordable amount of money.

When it comes to building a shipping container greenhouse, things are a little less straightforward because you must customize the container by cutting and removing parts and pieces of the walls, to allow light to come in, and use other materials for keeping the weather out. Let’s go over it.

Building Your Shipping Container Greenhouse

There are many different ways for you to create -- or have someone build -- a shipping container greenhouse, like this one called a “urban farming unit” by Damien Chivialle.

Purchasing a container is the easy part, and making it easier, you can also have your container customized by having someone cut the top off of the container, while leaving the frame in place, so that it keeps its strength.

After the “roof” has been removed, you can add extended framing above the container, such as PVC or wood and corrugated plastic or plastic sheeting to create the greenhouse effect when the container is shut. Be sure to create a lift or pitch in your new “roof”, so you’ll be sure snow and rain can’t collect on top, creating too much weight and breaking your new greenhouse. You can look at any typical small backyard greenhouse roof to get the idea.

You’ll want to be sure it is well sealed so the moisture and warmth stay right where you want them to be for your plants. So plan to attach the corrugated plastic or plastic sheeting in a way that will not let heat and water escape. This can be easily accomplished by stapling the plastic to a wooden frame around the perimeter of your new green house roof.

The plusses to owning and creating a shipping container greenhouse are that the container is made for all kinds of weather and will last for years. The plastic and wooden roof can be easily replaced as needed for less money than replacing a brand new greenhouse every few years, as would be the case with cheaper greenhousing options.

If you’re interested in seeing someone else’s greenhouse, here’s a 15 minute time lapse video to show you just how Chris Thoreau and his friends made it happen. Whew! That’s a lot of work.

Interested in other ideas for a shipping container on the farm or ranch?

  • Get your own DIY wine cellar.
  • Build an above the ground “cheese cave”.
  • Create a container root cellar
  • Get extra crop overflow storage

When you’re ready to buy a shipping container from Oklahoma City to Little Rock, Tuff Boxes are ready to deliver to you. Give us a call at 855-861-2872 for your free quote.

Photo by Emil Bruckner on Unsplash

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