Have you heard the breaking news? Scientists are now looking into ways of incorporating viticultural practices in space along with other plant matter that is already being studied.
Scientists at the University of Arizona's Controlled Environment Agriculture Centre (CEAC) are experimenting with growing plants without the use of soil in a new collapsible "greenhouse". They believe this could be the key to growing fresh and healthy food to sustain future Lunar and/or Martian colonies.
Photo Credit: Futurism
So why grapes? Can grapes be grown without soil?
These scientists have already demonstrated that potatoes, peanuts, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables can be grown in only water, a process known as hydroponic growth. But can a vine be grown hydroponically? The simple answer is yes!
Before we dive deeper into this topic of viticulture in Space, let’s just understand what hydroponics basically are. Hydroponics is a science and technology used to grow crops more efficiently and use water more effectively. This produces more crops per unit area over the time of the year because you can offer the same climate continuously for the plant to grow in, even in winter.
Simply, water is the key element here because using hydroponics allows the water to go further. Instead of letting the water and nutrients leach out into the soil and then move past the root system, what hydroponics does, is collect it, recirculate it back to a pump, treat it, sterilize it, and reapply it to the crop. Therefore, no need for the soil!
Growing Grapes Hydroponically
Growing grapes hydroponically is not practiced much at all. It is only practiced in Italy and Sicily where they are experimenting with table grapes not wine grapes. This doesn’t mean that it is impossible for wine grapes. The only reason why is that wine grapes are an expensive crop that does not produce much i.e.) only once a year. However, If, in a controlled-environment one can change the environment to have the plant (after it has made its first harvest in a year) go through its winter very quickly, and then bring it back to warmth again. This would result in a vine to re-bud out and produce another set of flowers, and then another cluster of grapes on the same plant. With this practice, one could possibly get two crops per year. This is what will make wine grapes sustainable in space for future colonies on the Moon and Mars.
The greenhouses in which vines in space will be planted in will be very different to conventional greenhouses planted on the earth. Instead of letting sunlight in to capture the heat like it is done on earth, they will be planted below the surface instead, to protect the plants from harmful radiation. They will have specialised tubes that will be buried beneath the surface of the Moon and Mars to not only protect the plants but the astronauts as well from solar flares, micrometeorites and cosmic rays.
Below is an example of the greenhouses that will be used in space to grow grapes hydroponically
Photo Credit: The Indian Express
The Positives and Problems Surrounding it All
There are however a few problems that these Scientists have stumbled on and that is a vine, besides water, also needs a lot of light and producing light in a controlled environment buried beneath the surface can be very expensive. There are experiments in creating LED lights that, of course use less energy, but the problem is, they do not produce enough heat. The positive is that LEDs are far less expensive and one can also control the light quality. Extensive research is being done to produce an LED that can emit enough heat to help with the growth.
The other challenge is how to control the root zone and its growth which is still in deep discussion.
However, there is a lot of positives to take away from this not just for Space but growing grapes hydroponically on Earth as well. And that is you can mimic fine vintages. You have vintage years in the fine grape growing regions of the world and you have years when the wine isn’t near the quality, and this has to do with the weather. In a greenhouse, one can keep the weather the same if they wish. If you have a great vintage that you like, and you mimic that environment in the greenhouse, then in theory the plant should provide you with the same quality of grape to go into the making of the wine. At this point, the grapes have done the work, so it’s now up to the winemaker to make that same vintage year after year after year. (let’s hope he can)
The other upside of growing grapes in space is that they wouldn’t be exposed to vine diseases or bugs like phylloxera.
Photo Credit: The Grape Geeks
So to summarise all this wonderful and exciting news about viticulture in space, there is a great lesson on Hydroponic growth in Space here, except that scientists are not experimenting with viticultural practices just yet (that we publicly know of).
Happy April Fools!