The smell of fresh basil, sage or oregano... so strange yet so welcome in this icy desert!

A green thumb on a white continent

If I’m being honest, hydroponics was one of the major sellers for me joining the Australian Antarctic Program. Staying south for 12 months and knowing there was a small steady supply of ‘freshies’ is a huge win. I was “keen as” to help out the hydro kids, so I put my name forward as a vollie then missed the day the Davis 76th team decided who was going to be in charge of hydro. They decided it was going to be me and I wasn’t even mad about it!

Although I have never had much of a green thumb, I have always loved to garden and the idea of growing my own veggies, I have just never been so good at the growing part.

I once rented a house that came with its own greenhouse with a built in sprinkler system and as soon as my cherry tomatoes started to grow, the water from the sprinkler system burst all the tomato skins. I tried potatoes and carrots, silver beet and lots of cold veggies in the very rainy town of Fox Glacier (West Coast NZ). The town’s resident rabbit ate most things and the rain washed away the rest. I think I grew more food accidently out of the compost bin then I did in any of my gardens.

But not now! There are 11 of us working on this little ‘community garden’. And things are growing. We have some veteran expeditioners who know their way around a hydroponics container, the plumbers manage water change overs and the leaks, the sparkies sort out the UV lights (sometimes I wonder what I bring to the table besides the occasional death of a plant).

Every year the hydroponics room gets a major clean out. All plants are disposed of, and the trays and tanks are cleaned thoroughly to avoid any contamination with new seeds coming down on the ship. Then we start from scratch.

All four of the tanks have different pH and nutrient levels depending on what we want to grow. We modify each bay with homemade trellises and old broken gates to utilise space so plants can grow up to the roof and down to the ground.

The hydro room is warm and humid and the smell of fresh basil or sage or oregano or mint or just that general plant smell is strange and welcome down here.We keep all the lettuce on a fortnightly-ish rotation. Plant the seed, grow it, pick it, eat it, start again. We have capsicums, tomatoes, cucumbers, snow peas, all the lettuces, chillies, all the herbs, and a hungry station full of growing tradies.


Hydro Chief