Mars Exchange
Food for Mars: Harvest and Tomatoes

Food for Mars: Harvest and Tomatoes

by Natasha Schön on Sunday, 6th September 2015 in Food for Mars, People, Wieger Wamelink

This blog was going to be about the pros and cons of going to Mars versus the moon, on special request of Arno Wielders, Mars One's co-founder and Chief Technical Officer. However, this will have to wait because all kinds of exciting things happened in the experiment including first results. This is the ninth post in a blog series about experiments conducted by a team of ecologists and crop scientists of Wageningen UR. The goal of these experiments is a proof of concepts for providing the first (human) Martians with ‘own-grown’ fresh food. Find the links to our first eight blog posts below!

The first exciting news is that the tomato plants on the Mars soil simulant have formed their first fruits. There are four of them so far and they are starting to colour from green to red, so soon there will be ripe tomatoes! Even more plants are flowering so we expect plenty more in due course. That is, if we would continue the experiment. Unfortunately, we are out of money and the experiment was supposed to run until September. We will continue till the first ‘Martian’ tomatoes are ripe, but soon after that it will be the final harvest. When the ‘Martian’ tomatoes are ripe we will launch another press offensive to finalize this season's campaign. The tweet about the green tomatoes has already triggered the Dutch television program EenVandaag (on average 1 million viewers) to get in touch; as a result they filmed the experiment extensively and it will soon be broadcasted. Combined with press release we will begin a crowdfunding campaign; one of the projects we will be looking for money for will be the heavy metal analyses of the harvest crops.

The second piece of news is that we weighed the harvest that has been retrieved up until now. We could already see (just by looking) that there were differences in biomass production, and I estimated that the biomass growth on Mars was about 25-30% of the earth control. The real results were slightly different.

Biomass formed per tray (average) up till now: Earth control 101 g, Mars soil simulant 51 g and moon soil simulant 37 g, all dry mass (e.g. after one week of being dried out in the oven).

So the harvest is better than I thought and the production levels achieved from the Mars soil simulant is (a very encouraging) 50% of the weights recorded from the earth control, (using very nutrient rich and highly organic soil). We are getting there! It already shows that adding the biomass to the soil at the beginning of the experiment really worked, which means that in principle it is possible to enrich the soil with nitrogen, via legumes such as the peas, beans and clovers in the form of ‘green manure’.

Story contributed by Wieger Wamelink, a Senior Ecologist at Alterra. 

More Information:

The first tomato’s on Mars soil simulant.

Ripe tomato’s after harvest on the Earth control soil.

Weighing the harvested biomass.

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