Meal of moon and Mars vegetables hailed a success

A meal consisting entirely of vegetables grown in soils simulating those on Mars and the moon has been served to project backers in the Netherlands.

Wamelink being served - image: Wageningen UR
Wamelink being served - image: Wageningen UR

The Wageningen University & Research project's principal investigator Wieger Wamelink said: "The sweet taste of the carrots and the tomatoes, which were part of several courses, was particularly striking. The ice cream made of carrots was brilliant and the potato soup with stinging nettle tasted very good."

The meal was prepared by students under the supervision of lecturer and chief-cook Jaap Harm van Seggeren and served at the campus' De Nieuwe Wereld (New World) hotel on Tuesday 30 August.

The third of a series of experiments exploring extra-terrestrial crop growing, this latest aimed to maximise yield of ten crops: green bean, radish, rocket, cress, spinach, peas, rye, carrot, tomato and potato.

They were grown in a Wageningen research glasshouse in soils mimicking those of Mars and the moon, mixed with compost to simulate the incorporation of dead plant material, as well as in conventional potting soil as a control.

A nutrient solution was also added to the pots "to imitate the addition of the poop and pee of the future Mars and moon inhabitants", Wamelink explained. "This is important since nothing can be lost or wasted over there, especially nutrients for plant growth."

Actual Mars and moon soils, as well as the simulants used in the trial, contain heavy metals such as lead, mercury and chromium, which had to be tested for before the produce could be eaten. "Happily the contents were very low and far below the maximum allowable dose, so the vegetables can be eaten safely," Wamelink added.

But he admitted that the potatoes had not been a success, as the tubers "showed regrowth, which impacts on the quality of the potato and the taste". Beans and tomatoes however cropped well.

The project's crowdfunding website explains that it "could also result in the development of closed systems which may also be applied in earth conditions such as in deserts where similar problems apply".

It adds: "This research can contribute to growing crops, for example in containers, in places where it is currently not possible or in places where there has been a disaster and food is urgently required to be grown."

The next experiment in the project will look at growing in the sand of the Sahara desert.

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