November 11, 2007 What is warm and bright in Antarctica?
"He is happiest who hath to gather power and wisdom from a flower." is the quote I found inside of the McMurdo Greenhouse on my visit today.
The outside of the McMurdo greenhouse
When I walked in I found John Williams and Farah McDill just enjoying the warmth, humidity and oxygen from the hundreds of photosynthesizing plants in the greenhouse. Sunday is their one day off from work and they spent some of it recharging their personal batteries in the greenhouse.
John and Farah enjoying the atmosphere and ambience of the greenhouse
The McMurdo Greenhouse was first built during the 1988-1989 summer from mostly scavenged materials. You can learn ALOT more about the greenhouse at this website.
The greenhouse tech is Karen Harvey. She and her fiance Tighe Urelius had just harvested lettuce for tonight's salad. She reminded me to go to dinner early if I wanted to eat any, as green salads at McMurdo go very fast!
Lettuce beds at the hydroponic greenhouse
One of the grow lights in the middle of this bed isn't working well and you can see that the lettuce in the middle of the bed is much smaller than the lettuce on this close end. Karen said if she ordered a new lamp today, she would get it in February of 2009! It is too late for this year's ship, so the next ship it would come in on is 16 months away!
Karen explains the nutrients for the different plant types and stages
The McMurdo Greenhouse is 100% hydroponic. The plants are grown in water that is enriched with nutrient solutions. There is no soil. The water gets changed once each month. This doesn't sound so hard, until you realize the water has to be changed by hand as there is no running water in the greenhouse. All the water is brought into a tank in the greenhouse and then has to be spread to all the plants by pipes and by hand. The old water is hauled out to tanks outside the greenhouse. You can't fill the tanks too high or they will burst when the water freezes and expands.
Karen tests the water for pH and electrical conductivity
Karen also tests the water to make sure the pH stays between 5.7 and 6.8 - just slightly more acidic than a neutral solution of 7.0
Her meter also tests for ions by measuring electrical conductivity. The vitamins and minerals in the plant nutrient solutions are ionized in solution, so she can determine the correct level of nutrients to add to the water with the electrical conductivity meter. For example, plants need calcium (just like you do!) so the calcium ion has a 2+ charge that increases the conductive ability of the water.
Tighe is helping in the greenhouse
Tighe is helping Karen before he has to head out to the airfield to measure the deflection of the C-17 when it lands on the sea ice runway this afternoon. You may remember from a previous post that they have to make sure the ice doesn't bend too far, or it could break, so they are very careful to measure the sea ice deflection and to drill holes to see how thick the ice is. Tighe says the ice has changed a lot in the last week and a half and that more ice algae is coming up in cores now, indicating that more light is getting through the sea ice. When the ice gets too thin, the planes will bend it down too far, so they will need to switch to the permanent sea ice runway where the ice is much thicker.
Karen is checking the tomatoes
The greenhouse tomatoes look great!
This seal and penguin appear to like their vegetables
Maybe the greenhouse can grow cows soon
Before I left the greenhouse I had to try out the hammock
I'm so glad I discovered the McMurdo Greenhouse!