On Mars, scientists explore how to improve crop yields

Reuters.com

In their experiments, the researchers grew cherry tomatoes, peas and carrots together in pots.
Tomatoes grown in this manner produced about double the yield of tomatoes grown alone – or “monocropped” – in the same simulated Martian soil, with more and bigger fruit.
It can be different species, more species, different ratio of species,” Gonçalves added.
The crops were grown in simulated Martian regolith – soil with no organic matter – developed by NASA researchers that is a near-perfect physical and chemical match to real Martian soil.
They also controlled the gases, temperature and humidity inside the greenhouse to match conditions expected in a Martian greenhouse.
You do not want to end up on Mars without anything to eat, like in the film ‘The Martian.’
Overall, the tomatoes, peas and carrots grew well, though not as well as in Earth soil in the same greenhouse.
The researchers did not taste these vegetables grown in the simulated Martian soil because they had to undergo certain testing.

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May 1 (Reuters) – Having a consistent supply of food grown on site will be essential for any future human settlements or bases on Mars to be viable. Depending on rocket deliveries to supply colonists with food would just be too expensive and dangerous. In light of this, researchers are looking into ways to maximize space farming.

A technique known as “intercropping,” which was first used by ancient Maya farmers, has now been found by researchers to potentially increase crop yields in simulated Martian soil when tested in a controlled greenhouse at Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands.

In these trials, the scientists co-planted carrots, peas, and cherry tomatoes. This method of growing tomatoes yielded more fruit that was both bigger and roughly twice as much as tomatoes grown alone, or “monocropped,” in the same soil that was meant to simulate Mars. Along with having thicker stems and bearing more fruit per plant, the tomatoes also flowered and matured earlier.

Intercropping did not result in higher pea and carrot yields.

The lead author of the study, astrobiologist Rebeca Gonçalves, stated, “We really didn’t know what to expect since this is pioneering research, where this intercropping technique is applied to space agriculture for the first time.” The study was published on Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONENew Tab, opens new tab.

“And it was a significant discovery that it was effective for one of the three species, on which we can now conduct additional research. All that’s left to do is modify the experimental setup until the most ideal system is discovered. It could be an altered species ratio, an increased number of species, or something else entirely, Gonçalves continued.

NASA researchers created simulated Martian regolith, or soil devoid of organic matter, which is almost an exact physical and chemical replica of actual Martian soil, and this is how the crops were grown. Nutrients and good bacteria were added by the researchers. In order to simulate conditions found in a Martian greenhouse, they also adjusted the greenhouse’s humidity, temperature, and gas composition.

Although we frequently see human bases on Mars in films, they still belong in the category of science fiction. However, the U. s. NASA, for example, is building the tools required to land humans on Mars in the 2030s.

“Mars is a long way away. Currently, a flight would take roughly nine months. Grow your own crops at the site if you want to live there as humans,” study co-author Wieger Wamelink, a Wageningen plant ecologist and CEO of B, stated. 1. S. I. E. construction of greenhouses on Mars and the Moon.

“Food flying is extremely expensive and risky. You do not want to become foodless on Mars like the main character did in the movie The Martian. “Our primary objective is to utilize as many of the site’s resources as we can,” Wamelink continued.

The practice of intercropping entails growing plants with complementary traits that can aid in each other’s growth and maximize the use of resources, such as nutrients and water.

The pea plants, which are adept at converting atmospheric nitrogen into a vital nutrient through the help of bacteria injected into the soil, are thought to have profited from their close proximity to the tomato plants in the intercropping arrangement, according to the researchers.

Gonçalves stated that while the pea yield did not change statistically, the carrot yield revealed a statistically significant decline in intercropping.

The carrot most definitely did not benefit from the peas, but the tomato did, so it is crucial to choose carefully which crop species to combine. Most likely, this was brought on by a lack of light. By stealing light from the carrot, the tall tomato and pea plants did outcompete it, according to Wamelink.

Overall, the carrots, peas, and tomatoes grew well in the greenhouse, albeit not as well as they would have in Earth soil.

Because they needed to go through certain tests, the researchers did not get to taste these vegetables grown in the Martian soil simulation.

Wamelink remarked, “We did taste an earlier harvest, including tomatoes.”. “The ones on Mars seemed sweeter to me than the ones on Earth that were planted in potting soil. “.

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Rosalba O’Brien edited the reporting by Will Dunham in Washington.

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