If humans successfully colonize Mars, farmers will play a vital role in feeding those who live there.
Tomatoes, peas and leeks are just a few of the vegetables they could potentially grow on the red planet, according to a new study at a Dutch university. Scientists at Wageningen University & Research tried to grow ten different crops in simulated Lunar and Martian soil, as well as “normal” Earth soil. The soils simulated regolith, a layer of inorganic material on the top of Mars and the Moon that covers the rock below.
Researchers found that nine of the crops grew well, but spinach did not. They were able to harvest edible produce from the plants that thrived, which included quinoa, radishes and tomatoes. The crops grown in the Earth soil and Martian regolith did better than those in the Lunar tests.
“We were thrilled when we saw the first tomatoes ever grown on Mars soil simulant turning red. It meant that the next step towards a sustainable closed agricultural ecosystem had been taken,” said Wieger Wamelink, one of the study’s researchers.
The study, published in Open Agriculture, also found that seeds could be produced for radishes, garden cress and rye.
Last month, two planetary scientists published a paper that examined what it would take to feed 1 million residents of Mars. They found such a food system would need a century to become self-sufficient and that in the meantime, people would have to transport large amounts of produce from Earth.
Those scientists said insect farming and cellular agriculture would be large parts of feeding a Martian population. Any plants would have to be grown inside due to outdoor conditions on Mars.
Researchers at Wageningen University & Research found that hydroponics and aeroponics could be used to grow produce on Mars or the Moon, but that growing vegetables in regolith would mean only seeds would need to be transported from Earth, in addition to the general equipment needed to farm.
The other crops researchers were able to successfully grow in the Martian soil included garden cress, arugula and chives.