Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Green Therapy

Mmmmmmmmmmmm humidity and the smell of plants! Not dirt, just plants, because the greenhouse at McMurdo is a hydroponic growing environment. The plants are grown in a liquid nutrient bath rather than soil. Karen Harvey, the greenhouse manager/agrispecialist, gave me a quick tour the other day and I've been back several times since just to be around green growing things.

The building got its start from a recycled container van and has grown over the years with extra and surplused parts. All of the hydroponic systems have been cleverly engineered from various sizes of pvc tubing. Notice that it doesn't look like a typical greenhouse with lots of window space - in Antarctica, a greenhouse needs to be completely insulated, sealed, and have no windows.

Can you think of some reasons for this? (hint: think about our day length and environment)

Plant seeds germinate in rock wool (literally spun rock) soaked in growth medium, then eventually are split apart and placed in a hole in the hydroponic tube, through which growth medium flows. Seeds sprout in less than a week. It is as humid as it can be (enough to fog camera lenses) but is still only around 20% rather than a more typical greenhouse humidity of 60%.

All the plants grown here are edible, even the flowers (pansies and nasturtiums). There were cucumber plants with their long vines tied to the wall, cherry tomato plants with lots of little green tomatoes, and numerous beds of lettuce and other greens. All the different types of plants get slightly different mixes of nutrients that change as they grow bigger. There is even a small herb garden, used frequently by the galley.

While it isn't a huge production greenhouse, it does provide freshies for salads 2 to 3 times a week for the 200-300 staff that winter over. Now that there are over 900 people here on base, harvesting a bed of lettuce doesn't go as far. My favorite part of the greenhouse are the two hammocks that can be slung between the lettuce beds, letting one swing peacefully in the sun to the sound of running water.

What places do you go when you need your energy recharged? What do you do there?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Are you sure you're not munching on salads listening to island music while swaying in the hammock? Doesn't look like Antarctica to me!

Have the scientists done different experiments with the plants (nutrients, light, temperature, etc.), or are the plants just to eat and make everyone happy?

Ginny Gates