The Martian Gardener

Designing the perfect garden for a journey across the solar system

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Greetings Friend,

I’m pleased to report the Red Thumb Society successfully delivered your message. In response to your question: Yes! It’s my honor to help you prepare for your Earthbound journey. My motto is, “grow the best food in the worst place.” It takes a lot of care — tilling, weeding, watering, and whatever else you can program the robots to do — but we get the people fed.

I’m a little jealous you’ll be heading to Earth. You don’t need an old-timer like me getting in the way. You’ve got a tough job in front of you; the only place a vegetable hates worse than Mars is the cramped hold of a spaceship. Let me teach you a few tricks.

As you know, not many veggies grow in Martian soil. And some that do, like Romaine or any lettuce, provide little nutrition. Tasty, but you can’t justify the work or water. Red garnet yams are easy and plenty worth it. You can easily grow parsley, garlic, mint, and other herbs for flavor. All will do just fine with reasonable effort.

Dandelions are one of our most popular crops and for good reason. In addition to fermenting into dandelion wine, the roots and the leaves make good eating. You can’t grow enough. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to brew beer onboard, at least not with hops (you need ninety centimeters vertical before they flower).

The raw material that goes into your kereal bars, powerpods, and skiffles might surprise you. It’s Kale; hearty, easy to grow, and packed with nutrition. It’s the main ingredient in most processed food you eat. Don’t let limited crops limit your food options. Make sure to download the recipe programs.

Let me tell you about my garden: We have three tiers of rivers, like bunk beds, always flowing. Plants float along the rivers on white foam rafts with roots dangling beneath. Koi swim below to fertilize and clean the riverbeds.

Each plant’s program follows the cycles it would expect in Nature. Just like a nannybot singing to your baby, we mimic Mother’s love. We optimize the soil macro-composition, the moisture, the simulated daylight, the temperate, to make sure the plants feel right at home. I spend more time weeding bugs out of the robots than digging soil.

Water and clean air is as precious on Mars as I guess it is anywhere in the universe. The same goes for your ship. I’m sure your garden, like mine, will be regulated as part of the life support systems. Be sure it’s always running — with backups — to avoid upsetting the ecosystem.

Unlike your garden, mine is a vast warehouse. Don’t worry; you can reconfigure the modular design into a smaller space. I’ve attached the relevant schematics.

The garden practically grows itself, but it still needs supervision. I monitor all the operational data from my tablet computer. I know it seems old-fashioned, but I can’t get a retinal projector. I got the unlucky defective gene; my body can’t fool the implant.

I’m curious if you’ll go back to being “natural” carnivores. Before Mars, people bred and slaughtered animals rather than emulating meats. They grew so much that people thought it would destroy the environment. They didn’t stick around long enough to find out. We know now there wasn’t a single root cause to the end of human life on Earth. It was a bit of everything each day.

Since you wrote to me, I’ve been thinking a lot about the generation that left Earth. We owe a debt of gratitude to the brave settlers who grabbed a sliver of a chance at survival. They planned the escape for decades, even as they hastened the demise of their terminally ill home. Those few took the hard way out.

Just think when you and your ship-mates reconquer that pristine blue-green planet. You’ll stretch out in that wild, fresh world. After the ship and your whole life on this harsh planet, every resource will seem infinite. You know the truth as well as I do: eventually, everything runs out. Please don’t forget why we left.

When you finally do settle my seeds in the soil — I guess we can call it “Earth” — I can’t imagine you’ll use our gardening system. The perfect growth cycle is already built in! Purified water rains from the sky right on time. Most of the area not covered in water is dark, healthy dirt. And the whole thing — an entire planet! — is blanketed in a plant-friendly atmosphere. All of my little green children evolved to live there, just the right distance from the sun.

Godspeed to you, and may your garden ever be in bloom,

Joe, The Martian Gardener

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Writing a little of everything since quarantine.

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