Fresh, local produce may be a rarity in Antarctica, but one indoor farm near a research station there just welcomed their first harvest. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) said the experimental greenhouse EDEN-ISS, at Alfred Wegener Institute‘s Neumayer-Station III, recently harvested 18 cucumbers, 70 radishes, and nearly eight pounds of lettuce.
The EDEN-ISS indoor farm serves two purposes: first, to provide fresh produce for the Neumayer-Station III’s wintering crew. Second, to act as a test run for growing food in harsh climates, not just on Earth, but for missions to the Moon and Mars in the future. Scientists planted the seeds in the middle of February, and the first harvest was a success.
There’s no soil necessary in this indoor garden, where scientists grow plants with a closed water cycle and optimized light. DLR engineer Paul Zabel, one of the few people on Earth who can now add ‘Antarctic gardener’ to their resume, said they had to overcome some unexpected issues like minor system failures and the “strongest storm for more than a year,” but he was able to solve the problems and harvested the first crops.
EDEN-ISS is around 1,312 feet away from Neumayer-Station III, and DLR said Zabel spends around three to four hours a day in the greenhouse. He’s also able to communicate with a DLR Institute for Space Systems control center, located in Bremen, which can remotely monitor plant growth — and can monitor it entirely on stormy days when Zabel can’t make it to the farm. DRL said this “bridging is possible for up to three days.”
Scientists wintering at the station had used up their vegetables from their last delivery near February’s end, so they welcomed fresh produce from EDEN-ISS. Station manager Bernhard Gropp said in DLR’s statement, “It was special to have the first fresh salad of the Antarctic…it tasted as if we had harvested it fresh in the garden.”
Correction: Title updated on 4/5/18 at 2PM to reflect that other research stations have grown produce in hydroponic gardens over the years. This is the first harvest at the EDEN-ISS indoor garden.