Scientists explore how to improve crop yields

By Will Dunham

(Reuters) – For future human bases or colonies on Mars to be self-sustaining, a dependable supply of home-grown meals can be a should. It merely can be too expensive and dangerous to depend on rocket deliveries to meet the meals wants of colonists. With this in thoughts, scientists are exploring methods to optimize house farming.

In a managed greenhouse at Wageningen University & Research within the Netherlands, researchers have now recognized a means that reveals promise for bettering crop yields in simulated Martian soil, with completely different crops grown collectively in a technique referred to as “intercropping” pioneered by historical Maya farmers.

In their experiments, the researchers grew cherry tomatoes, peas and carrots collectively in pots. Tomatoes grown on this method produced about double the yield of tomatoes grown alone – or “monocropped” – in the identical simulated Martian soil, with extra and larger fruit. The tomatoes additionally flowered and matured earlier, gave extra fruit per plant and had thicker stems.

The yields of peas and carrots didn’t improve with intercropping.

“Since this is pioneering research, where it’s the first time that this intercropping technique is applied to space agriculture, we really didn’t know what to expect,” stated astrobiologist Rebeca Gonçalves, lead creator of the research revealed on Wednesday within the journal PLOS ONE.

“And the fact that it worked really well for one out of the three species was a big find, one that we can now build further research on. Now it’s just a matter of adjusting the experimental conditions until we find the most optimal system. It can be different species, more species, different ratio of species,” Gonçalves added.

The crops had been grown in simulated Martian regolith – soil with no natural matter – developed by NASA researchers that may be a near-perfect bodily and chemical match to actual Martian soil. The researchers added useful micro organism and vitamins. They additionally managed the gases, temperature and humidity contained in the greenhouse to match circumstances anticipated in a Martian greenhouse.

While human bases on Mars are commonplace in films, they continue to be within the realm of science fiction. But the U.S. house company NASA, as an illustration, is creating capabilities wanted to ship individuals to Mars within the 2030s.

“Mars is really far away. A flight now would take about nine months. If you want to live there as humans, you will have to grow your own crops at the site,” stated research co-author Wieger Wamelink, a plant ecologist at Wageningen and CEO of an organization referred to as B.A.S.E. creating lunar and Martian greenhouses.

“Flying in food is very costly and also vulnerable. You do not want to end up on Mars without anything to eat, like in the film ‘The Martian.’ Our main goal is to use as much as possible from the resources at the site,” Wamelink added.

Intercropping includes cultivating vegetation possessing complementary properties that may assist one another develop to optimize using sources together with water and vitamins.

The researchers stated the tomato vegetation in intercropping could have benefited from their proximity to the pea vegetation as a result of the latter are good at turning nitrogen from the air, with the assistance of micro organism launched into the soil, right into a key nutrient.

The carrot yield confirmed a statistically important decline in intercropping and the peas yield had no statistically important change, Gonçalves stated.

“It is very important how you select the crop species that you combine, because the tomato did profit from the peas, but the carrot most certainly did not. This was probably due to lack of light. The tall tomato and pea plants did out-compete the carrot by taking light from it,” Wamelink stated.

Overall, the tomatoes, peas and carrots grew properly, although not in addition to in Earth soil in the identical greenhouse.

The researchers didn’t style these greens grown within the simulated Martian soil as a result of that they had to bear sure testing.

“We did taste an earlier harvest including tomatoes,” Wamelink stated. “I thought the Martian ones were sweeter than the Earth ones grown on potting soil.”

(Reporting by Will Dunham in Washington, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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