Mawson Dieso & Hydroponics Officer Marc gives us some insight into the challenges of growing fresh vegetables at an Antarctic station.

Mawson Hydroponics 2019

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” — Virginia Woolf

Thankfully, Virginia, it’s not all canned ham and frozen vegetables down here!

If you have been reading station news this year, you are WELL aware of our Chef Kim’s handy work. But a good chef is only as good as the ingredients he uses and of course, fresh is always best! But how do you get fresh food when you are over 6000km from the closest grocer? Well, you grow your own of course!

Antarctica has no soil, with the low temperatures and high winds make growing anything outdoors totally impossible. It is also a violation of the Antarctic Treaty that Australia is signatory to. The Treaty sets aside Antarctica for science and great care must be taken to prevent outside species being introduced here. Due to this, we need to grow indoors in a special building and using a hydroponic system.

As Hydroponics Officer, I am in charge of coordinating the operation of ‘hydro’ with my team of willing volunteers. Our ‘busy little bees’ as I like to call them, because we have no bees to pollinate our fruiting vegetables such as zucchini, squash, chili, capsicum, and of course the prolific producer, cucumbers, so it must all be done by hand. The team takes turns checking the system twice a day and using a paintbrush to spread pollen from the male flowers to the females, thereby fertilizing the females and allowing fruit to be produced. Bow-chika-wow-wow!

Now, it’s not all fun. The basic day in and day out operation of Hydroponics is filling the water tanks, checking nutrient levels with an EC meter and pH level, adjusting these as required for optimum growth, and cleaning up any spills inside the building. But, the opportunity to see some flourishing greenery in an otherwise icy landscape makes it all worthwhile.

The building is lit by High Pressure Sodium lighting. This provides the right spectrum of light for flowering plants and also provides much needed heat to the building — however it plays havoc with cameras and so it’s difficult to get really good photos in there. Here are a few photos of typical harvests and some inside the building that I hope you enjoy.

Marc (Mawson Hydroponics Officer/Dieso 2019)