Tag Archives: Tomatoes

New farm in the middle of the desert will use only sunlight and seawater – no pesticides, fossil fuels, or even soil

A new farm will produce 17,000 tonnes of tomatoes every year, in the Australian desert, using only water from the ocean and sunlight.

No fossil fuels, no pesticides, no soil – just seawater and sun. Image via Sundrop

If you want to build a farm, you first need two things: good soil and good water. The Australian desert has neither – but it does have a lot of sun and it’s close to the ocean. An international team of scientists wanted to take advantage of this scenario and spent the last six years designing a system which would thrive under these conditions.

It all started with a small greenhouse in 2010. Then in 2014, they started building the full-scale farm and now the whole thing’s up and running. They pipe draws seawater from two kilometers away without using any fossil fuels, to a 20-hectare site in the arid Port Augusta region. There, a solar-powered desalination plant removes the salt, creating enough freshwater to irrigate the 180,000 tomato plants inside the greenhouse. The farm already has contracts with supermarkets in Australia to sell tomatoes.

As if not having water and soil wasn’t enough, the climate is also unfavorable for tomatoes. The summer is too hot and the winter is too cold for the plants to thrive. Yet with technology and careful planning, this can also be overcome. During the summer, seawater-soaked cardboard keeps the greenhouse cool and during the winter, solar energy heats it up. There is also no need for any pesticides or soil, as the plants grow in coconut husks instead of soil. Seawater cleans the air and kills off unwanted germs and pests.

All of this is powered by 23,000 mirrors reflecting sunlight to a 115-metre high receiver tower. The system produces 39 megawatts of energy on a good day, more than enough for the farm.

“These closed production systems are very clever,” says Robert Park at the University of Sydney, Australia. “I believe that systems using renewable energy sources will become better and better and increase in the future, contributing even more of some of our foods.”

Without a doubt, this is an innovative system, but is it truly needed? Paul Kristiansen at the University of New England, Australia, questions this need.

“It’s a bit like crushing a garlic clove with a sledgehammer,” he says. “We don’t have problems growing tomatoes in Australia.”

But he does add that in the future, under the huge stress created by climate change, farms like this might become extremely useful in some parts of the world. “Then it will be good to have back-up plans,” he concludes.

Vegetables grown on Mars could be healthier than their Earth-grown counterparts

The plants grown by Wageningen University researchers in martial soil back in March have been analyzed and the results are scrumptious: at least four of the crops do not contain harmful heavy metal levels and are perfectly safe to eat, the University researcher’s report.

Image via inhabitat

If you’ve seen The Martian, you can remember how much Matt Damon got done living off of his poo-powered crop of potatoes. It just goes to show how important it is for a long-term colony to be able to grow their own food locally. We’ve taken one step closer to that goal in March, when Netherlands’ Wageningen University reported that they’ve managed to grow ten different crops in Mars-like soil.

However, growing food doesn’t do us much good if eating it kills us, and researchers were worried that these crops contained dangerous heavy metals like lead or cadmium, leached out from the soil stimulant. But future colonists rejoice, as lab analysis of the crops determined that at least four of them are safe to eat.

Led by ecologist Wieger Wamelink, the team tested radishes, tomatoes, rye, and peas. They looked at cadmium, lead, aluminium, nickel, copper, chrome, iron, arsenic, manganese, and zinc contents in the plants, and didn’t find any in dangerous levels. In fact, some of these veggies have lower levels of heavy metals than those cultivated in regular potting soil. The plants were also tested for vitamins, alkaloids, and flavonoids, with good results. While there are six more crops to test, Wamelink himself said that the results up to now are “very promising.”

NASA and Mars One are competing to be the first on Mars but both groups support the research.

“Growing food locally is especially important to our mission of permanent settlement, as we have to ensure sustainable food production on Mars. The results of Dr. Wamelink and his team at Wageningen University & Research are significant progress towards that goal,” said Mars One co-founder and CEO Bas Lansdorp in a press release.

A crowdfunding campaign is underway (and will be until the end of August) to allow the team to test the remaining crops, potatoes included. If all the crops test out safe, with concentrations of heavy metal lower than those stipulated by the FDA and the Dutch Food Agency as safe, Wamelink’s team will host a “Martian dinner” at the Wageningen greenhouse.

But I’ve seen the movie. Stay clear of the potatoes.