Scientists Harvest First Vegetables Grown Without Earth or Sunlight

Apr 10, 2018 by


It’s a test run for growing plants in space—and combating vegetable shortages in harsh climates.

German scientists in Antarctica have harvested their first vegetables to be grown without earth or daylight.
Photo Credit: DLR

Cucumbers, radishes and lettuce are just some of the green delights that have been thriving in the experimental EDEN-ISS greenhouse in Antarctica. The project follows in the footsteps of successful US operations cultivating crops in the harsh climate.

Despite temperatures in Antarctica falling below -20 degrees Celsius (-4 F) and the sun barely coming above the horizon, the first harvest from the project led by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) demonstrates how astronauts on the moon and Mars could be supplied with fresh food in the future.

After the first three weeks, DLR engineer and Antarctic gardener Paul Zabel had gathered 3.6 kilograms (7.9 pounds) of lettuce, 70 radishes and 18 cucumbers.

He spends about three to four hours a day tending to the Antarctic garden.

“After sowing the seeds in mid-February, I had to deal with some unexpected problems, such as minor system failures and the strongest storm in more than a year,” Zabel said. “Fortunately, all these things could be fixed and overcome.”

“We have learned a lot about self-sufficient plant breeding in the last few weeks, it has become clear that Antarctica is an ideal test field for our research,” said project manager Daniel Schubert.

So far, all of the planned plants have grown successfully in the greenhouse, including radishes, salad leaves, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and herbs including basil, parsley, chives and coriander.

But, Schubert said, “You have to be patient when growing strawberries. Here we are still waiting for successful sowing.”

The project is being carried out with the Alfred Wegener Institute and the greenhouse is located about 400 meters (1300 feet) from the institute’s Neumeyer Station III.

‘Fresh from the garden’

There are currently 10 people toughing out the winter at Neumeyer Station III and the Antarctic harvest came just in time — the fresh vegetables from the last delivery at the end of February had been used up.

“It was something special to see the first fresh salad from Antarctica,” said station manager Bernhard Gropp. “It tasted as if we had harvested it fresh from the garden.”

Louisa Wright is a journalist based in Cologne, Germany, currently writing for Deutsche Welle. Follow her on Twitter @louisa_wright.

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