Written by Debra Rich
Winter Greenhouse Technician
Hydroponics in Antarctica is as unique as the continent itself. The extreme environmental conditions found here make the process of growing food a formidable challenge. Four months of solid daylight, four months of total darkness, and unpredictable winds and temperature changes present a unique growing situation. One cannot simply build a glasshouse, set up a system, and expect tasty produce to grow!
However, at McMurdo Station on Ross Island (and to a much lesser degree at the South Pole Station), successful harvests are achieved on a daily basis. The 649 square foot greenhouse at McMurdo can generate a monthly average 250 lbs of produce during peak cycles. Varieties include lettuce greens, spinach, arugula, chard, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and herbs. The harvest is ample enough to provide a winter community of up to 230 people a salad once every 4 days, plus lots of fresh herbs, veggies, and fruit for the galley chefs to incorporate into their menus. During summer, however, community population can reach numbers of over 1000 people. During this time, the greenhouse simply acts as a supplement to the fresh food flown into the base from New Zealand. One of the greatest year-round benefits, however, is the fact that the greenhouse is the only source of lush, live plants, colorful flowers, and warm, humid air. Many community members frequent this environment for this reason alone!