How can we grow fresh vegetables in space or if we ever live on Mars? That is one of the research questions during a large-scale European project on Antarctica. Researchers from the business unit Greenhouse Horticulture at Wageningen University & Research monitor the vegetables on a daily basis, with dozens of cameras.
Antarctica resident trained as a grower
Nine residents of the research station Neumayer III spend the winter on Antarctica. They have been shut down for more than six months from the outside world and need fresh vegetables every day. One of the residents has been trained as a grower by WUR. In addition, the Business Unit Horticulture developed cultivation recipes and selected vegetable crops for this mission.
To support the grower on Antarctica, the container is packed with dozens of cameras. Every day images from those cameras are sent to the research center of the German Aerospace Center in Bremen. More often is not possible due to the low bandwidth on Antarctica.
WUR researchers give instructions
WUR can download these images. Special software monitors deviations in the growth pattern. In the case of deviations from the expectation, the grower at Antarctica receives instructions. The software can be further developed to combine the images with other variables, such as air humidity and temperature, and compare them with plant models.
More Antarctic growers in 2019
The first part of the project has ended. Next year, the Neumayer III will get other residents. Then there is not only one employee fulltime responsible for the cultivation, but a few employees (including the doctor), for a maximum of 20 hours a week in total. Then remote monitoring by WUR becomes even more important. Not only for the research, but also for the fresh food supply of the residents: there is only one transport per year to Antarctica.
Workshop in March 2019
The knowledge gained by WUR is not only applicable for space travel, but also for growing at a distance in terrestrial conditions and for example vertical farming. That is why on March 13, 2019, a workshop will be held at Wageningen University & Research, BU Horticulture in Bleiswijk. One of the speakers is then the current grower on Antarctica.
Funders of this project are EU Horizon 2020 and Top Sector Horticulture & Starting Materials.