Jessica Atkins of Texas A&M University and Sara Oliveira Santos at Brown University have published preliminary results suggesting that commonly used gardening techniques could help grow chickpeas on the Moon.
The race is on to return humans to the Moon, and this time the goal is to stay, setting up a permanent lunar outpost that could be a stepping stone for a mission to Mars.
Given the enormous distances involved and the high cost of launching materials into space, it’s vital that lunar astronauts are as self-sufficient as possible, making use of the resources they find on the Moon.
Ideally, that would include growing their own food and other materials, but there are serious challenges involved in cultivating plants on the Moon. For one thing, the Moon doesn’t have any soil. It’s covered in regolith, a collection of sharp rock particles contaminated with heavy metals.
In our favour, though, are the millennia humans have spent improving soils on Earth. We’ve gotten very good at growing crops in less-than-ideal conditions, and research suggests that knowledge may well transfer to the Moon.
The aim of these experiments was to turn lunar regolith into fertile soil, and the researchers combined two different methods of soil improvement. The first will be familiar to many gardeners – adding worm compost. Composting worms are great at breaking down organic matter and incorporating it into the soil. It’s magic stuff, improving soil structure and water retention and making nutrients more available to plants. On the Moon, our little wormy buddies could chomp their way through food waste, paper towels and other organic rubbish, and turn it into soil improver.
The researchers also recruited another set of organisms to help. On Earth,Read more on theunconventionalgardener.com