Seasonal Gardening: Space Station Crops, Plant Sounds, and Stinging Nettle Tea

The Seasons of the Garden column shares seasonal gardening news briefs on NASA's search for the best crops to grow in space stations, plant sounds in response to water and stress, and stinging nettle tea.


| July/August 1987



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Purdue University researchers evaluated over 100 plant species on the basis of yield, nutrient composition, disease resistance—and, yes, even taste.


ILLUSTRATION: ROBERT LESSER

The Seasons of the Garden column shares seasonal gardening information and tips with MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers. 

Seasonal Gardening: NASA's Outer Space Crop Search

Scientists at several institutions are involved with NASA's Controlled Ecological Life Support System (CELSS) program. The goal of this undertaking is to find the best crops for astronauts to grow in future space stations. Purdue University researchers evaluated over 100 plant species on the basis of yield, nutrient composition, disease resistance—and, yes, even taste. They're now focusing on hydroponic lettuce grown using the "recirculating nutrient film technique." In precisely controlled environments, leaf lettuce has matured in as few as 19 days-allowing 16 crops per year! New enhancements such as special lights tailored to the photosynthetic needs of lettuce are expected to boost growth rates ever further.

Lettuce is the quick-growth champion, but what are the other "space-efficient" crops? The results aren't all in, but scientists are currently studying white potatoes (at the University of Wisconsin), sweet potatoes (Tuskegee Institute), wheat (University of California at Davis) and soybeans (North Carolina State). So far, wheat has been grown in only 65 days and soybeans in 80.

A more down-to-earth approach to efficient food raising is presented in David Duhon's book One Circle: How to Grow a Complete Diet in Less Than 1,000 Square Feet ($9 postpaid from Ecology Action, Willits, CA). Duhon examines and gives complete growing information for 14 crops with high potential for use in "minimal area" gardens. Six of these—potatoes, sunflowers, onions, turnips, parsnips and garlic—could conceivably provide a woman's complete, balanced diet for one year from just a 550-square-foot garden! (Duhon's other "wonder crops" are collards, filberts, leeks, parsley, peanuts, soybeans, sweet potatoes and wheat.)

Additional sections of One Circle show how to design full-nutrition gardens that provide a bit more mealtime diversity. If you want to learn how to get maximum food value from minimum land, Duhon's book is the place to start.

Seasonal Gardening Research Briefs

I heard it on the grapevine. The Acoustic Emission Technology Corporation in California wants to take advantage of the recently discovered phenomenon that plants emit audible responses to water stress. AETC is trying to design machines that guide grape irrigation schedules according to when the vines say, "We're thirsty."

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8/29/2007 7:16:45 AM

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