South Pole Greenhouse
Trip Start Dec 18, 2008
21Trip End Feb 17, 2009
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We have an entire Greenhouse room dedicated to growing food for the station, but for a while food production has haulted as Craig the Greenhouse Tech (a very lucky student from Arizona University) is fixing the system for the upcoming winter season, when the Greenhouse will provide all the station's fresh vegetables for the 8 months in which there are no planes
Though not in full swing, the greenhouse is always producing. It is made up of a vestibule with a couch and sunflowers, and an inner room with rows of shelf where the plants are grown. The project kicked off around 2004 and was pioneered by Arizona University's Controlled EnvironmentAgriculture Center (CEAC.) Besides the friendly sunflowers, there is a massive clump of cucumbers inside the main chamber whose foliage rises from the grow shelves like a furl of smoke. On other shelves, lettuce leaves and small green sprouts I can't identify rise from some sort of inert material.
South Pole's Grow Chamber is a work of hydroponic agriculture. Hydroponic literally means "water-labor" and refers to plants grown without soil, but with either suspended in nutrient solution, or innervated with it while anchored in some material such as diahydro, vermiculite, or rock wool. I forget exactly what south pole currently uses... but it is something like this.
The Grow Chamber fascinates me in its utter dissidence to its surroundings. The only plants in Antarctica are located on the coast, and those are represented by a ragtag collection of mosses, lichens on land algae and phytoplankton residing under the ice. That plants can grow out of rock in the middle of the Antarctic winter in the midst of a six-month night is simply astounding.
Of course, besides the delicious factor, and the much needed nutrients added to the Polie diet, The Greenhouse is a bit of a social hub. It is hard to find a time when someone having a chat, eating dinner, or taking a nap in the humid comfortable outter chamber of the grow room. I think people must like plants.