The Growth Chamber

So we haven’t been getting in very many flights lately, and without flights we don’t get deliveries of fresh fruits and vegetables, or “freshies.” Freshies are hot commodity; a plane will arrive with oranges, apples and bananas and a day later they are gone. And don’t even get me started about the avocado hoarding that happens.

So in order to supplement the sparse deliveries, we have here a food growth chamber with a hydroponics system that was designed by the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center. (They design these things for use on like Mars and the moon… pretty similar to the South Pole.) The chamber is designed with two troughs/trays on each side, high and low, for leafy plants like lettuce, herbs, kale, etc. The trough in the very center is for growing tall plants like tomatoes, beans and peppers. Between the main section of the chamber and the hallway is a little bench with cucumbers and seedlings, and there’s also a couch so you can sit in the warm, humid air and soak up the scent of greenery. (I make phone calls from here a lot.)

The major components of the system are: 1. Nutrient delivery/water system, 2. Heat lamps, and 3. An air conditioning system. Nutrient water is continuously pumped through pipes and distributed to each trough to provide water and nutrients to the roots of each plant. The heat lamps keep the room heated (obviously) and the air conditioning system maintains the temperature at a favorable level while also providing humidity. With all of these systems in place the plants grow at optimal rates to provide us with lots of food! Today I had a delicious kale salad (after craving kale for months)! What a morale boost.

Here’s how we go about growing yummy things (in pictures—sorry about the orange tint, it’s caused by the lamps inside the chamber):

Spinach!

First, little seeds are planted in the artificial substrate. No imported soil allowed in Antarctica for contamination reasons.
Here I planted some spinach! Once the seeds are planted the substrate goes into a tray of water so the seeds will start to germinate.

Sprouting!

Once we get 1-2 sprouts started in the substrate, then we transfer the whole block to one of the troughs in the main room so that they can receive nutrients and grow bigger! Here we have a kale sprout and some lettuce babies in the background. Also, you can see the nutrient/water delivery system in the background (black/white tubing).

Little plant

Once the sprouts have grown big enough we separate them and place each individual plant in its own location, where it gets nutrient water and has plenty of room to grow. (You can’t tell but the inside of this tray has about half a cm of nutrient water in it.)

Here's Marissa, and one of her responsibilities is to make sure that the big plants are harvested and the little plants can fill in any empty spaces.

Here’s Marissa, making sure that the big plants are harvested and the little plants can fill in any empty spaces. There is room for hundreds of plants in this facility!

And here's just a better picture of the inside of the growth chamber. Tomatoes growing in the center—these plants are much larger now!

And here’s just a better picture of the inside of the growth chamber. Tomatoes growing in the center—these plants are much larger now!

Harvest!

Then we have food! And Ian from the galley is a happy camper.

And sometimes you just want to relax in the humidity and smell plants, like Zoe is doing here.

And sometimes you just want to relax in the warm humid(er) air and smell plants, like Zoe is doing here. Also a popular spot for making phone calls, playing cribbage and songwriting.

Questions? Comments? I didn’t go into as much detail as I would have hoped to. I love getting fresh salads and herbs from this growth chamber—it really makes a difference in station life.

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