Agriculture that’s out of this world

Image: Selenographia, sive Lunae descriptio, Johannes Hevelius,

Image: Selenographia, sive Lunae descrip­tio, Johannes Hevelius,

As large swathes of the Earth’s land area become unsuit­able for agri­cul­ture, e.g due to salin­isa­tion (http://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​S​o​i​l​_​s​a​l​i​n​ity), there is grow­ing interest in find­ing altern­at­ive spaces and places to cul­tiv­ate plants. And when it comes to loc­at­ing such sites, it seems that the sky’s not the limit, but the Moon may be. Researchers at the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC, http://​www​.uanews​.org/​n​o​d​e​/​3​3​901) are invest­ig­at­ing whether ter­restrial plants could be grown hydro­ponic­ally on the Moon. This soil-less approach over­comes one of the obvi­ous con­straints to lunar hor­ti­cul­ture – the lack of soil; the demand for water is to be met from astro­nauts’ urine (pre­sum­ably gen­er­ated by the water they drink, but which still begs the ques­tion of where all the water ulti­mately comes from). And to avoid other typ­ical dangers to liv­ing things on the moon – e.g. deadly cos­mic rays, micro­met­eor­ites, and solar flares – the green­houses would be bur­ied under­neath the Moon’s sur­face. This would also pro­tect the plants from any harm caused by prox­im­ity to ter­restrial Wi-Fi net­works (–11-dutch-wi-fi-possibly-trees.html). And if we ever get as far as grow­ing apples or pears on the Moon, it will be inter­est­ing to exam­ine the work of Peter Barlow and col­leagues on the effects of lunar tides on stem dia­meter of trees grown in situ (Protoplasma 247:25–43, 2010). Whilst the CEAC’s invest­ig­a­tions are unlikely to solve the Earth’s press­ing cul­tiv­a­tion prob­lems, such work is con­sidered import­ant to achiev­ing sus­tain­able liv­ing on the Moon (if we ever go back there … prob­ably when we have to flee the Earth and set up home else­where because we’ve totally ruined our home planet’s capa­city to grow fruit and veg!), or else­where in the solar sys­tem. Still, one pos­it­ive from all of this should be that we might learn how to grow cer­eals to make bis­cuits, which would be ideal to accom­pany the cheese that’s appar­ently already up there (http://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​T​h​e​_​M​o​o​n​_​i​s​_​m​a​d​e​_​o​f​_​g​r​e​e​n​_​c​h​e​ese). Mind you, I dread to think what the food miles (http://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​F​o​o​d​_​m​i​les) would be if such extra­ter­restri­als try to export their pro­duce to Earth-based supermarkets!

Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.

2 Responses

  1. Good thing the moon always keeps the same face toward the earth. Earth tides would be far lar­ger than lunar tides if the Earth weren’t in the same appar­ent place all the time. You’d still have solar tides, though.