Mars Exchange
Food for Mars: The First Harvest

Food for Mars: The First Harvest

by Natasha Schön on Thursday, 7th May 2015 in Food for Mars, People, Wieger Wamelink

Thursday is ‘scoring’ day. All changes are compared to the previous week and are recorded for later analyses. In the first experiment we immediately had to abandon this weekly schedule, because rye and garden cress germinated within 24 hours, as did quinoa in the present 2.0 experiment. Though it took only leek and chives longer than one week to germinate, we did keep to the weekly schedule since this time the objective is food production. Of course, germination is still essential, but from the first experiment we know that the species will germinate and there is no need for a labour-intensive daily (including weekends) inspection. This is the third post in a blog series about experiments conducted 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. Make sure to read our first and second blog posts!

Last Thursday, 30th of April, was a special day. I started at 7.30am that morning to have a skype call about growing crops on Mars with eleven year old children from The International School of Koje, South Korea. They had all kinds of questions ranging from: ‘Is the soil content on Mars similar to any other planet in the solar system?, will the colonists take any compost or fertiliser with them from Earth?, do you think it would be possible to send a Mars Rover or robot to plant the crops before the colonists arrive?', till ‘do you have any influence on where the colonists will live on Mars?, is it fun working on this project?, and would you like to go to Mars in the future?’. The answer to the second last question is a big Yes!, and the answer to the last question is a big No! I know some of the Mars One enthusiasts think totally different on this, but I like to provide the knowledge to make this epic journey possible, but for me it ends there. Colleague and Mars One ambassador Leo Marcelis got the same question for his interview with the ‘De Volkskrant’ a major national Dutch newspaper about the Mars One adventure and he mentioned our experiment, published that Thursday. By the way, his answer to will you go to Mars, was no as well. On that Thursday, an interview I gave two days before about the presence of the experiment on the World Expo 2015 in Milan was published as well.

All this did cost a lot of time that day, so I could only leave for the greenhouse, about 1km from my office, at the end of the day. I then conducted the first ‘harvest’ of radish on the earth control soil and garden rocket on the Mars soil simulant. Although, it was just thinning so the plants remaining can grow to give a better harvest, it felt good, the first proper harvest ever from the experiments. The garden rocket had that nice spicy smell, and I went home longing for a meal with the flavours of the rocket.

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

More Information

Garden rocket on Mars soil simulant after three weeks, just before removing part of the seedlings to give the other plants more space to grow (the second row of plants from the bottom)

Harvest after three weeks drying in the sun in the window-ledge.

Overview of the experiment: in the front we have compost rich earth soil, in the middle Mars simulant soil, and on top moon simulant soil after three weeks.

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