This past summer there was a farmers market unlike any other. The first annual South Pole Food Growth Chamber Farmers Market featured only one farmer, the manager of the growth chamber, Teresa Eddington. Also, the market was held indoors, because outdoors the temperature (remember, that’swinter in the southern hemisphere) was about -75°F. There was also no daylight on that August day; it was completely dark.
But inside the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, it was bright, warm, and festive. Eddington and her volunteers displayed homemade — or as she says, “pole-made” — pickles, baguettes, and a wide range of dips for the many vegetables. Ah, the vegetables. In her 250-square-foot growth chamber, Eddington grows a surprisingly large variety of vegetables, including cucumbers, lettuce, sprouts, kale, snow peas, broccoli, zucchini, eggplant, yellow squash, tomatoes, Asian greens, and a wide assortment of herbs. Her yields are excellent, setting a record this past July with a harvest of 167 pounds in one week.
The 11 women and 49 men who staff the 65,000-square-foot elevated station really appreciate having some fresh vegetables. Especially since during those winter months, no food can be shipped in. In fact, from mid-February to early November, they get no outside support at all. “The crew is amazed we have such a variety of plants growing in such a small place,” Terry writes in an eMail, adding that the light provided by the growth chamber’s 13 1,000-watt lamps is also welcome. “They also enjoy the lighting, warmth and, humidity. The South Pole is the driest place on Earth.”
Learn By Doing
Oddly enough, though Eddington faces drier conditions than any other grower in the world, she says her greatest challenge is botrytis. Or, as she writes in her eMail, “Botrytis!” However, she’s learned that increasing the air circulation helps a lot to control the moisture-loving fungus, as does increasing the temperature. She’s also experimenting with loose leaf lettuce varieties that are not as prone to botrytis. Eddington’s not a horticulturist by training, but “a hobby gardener,” she says. “No formal education, just life experiences. I love to build things and watch things grow. Perfect fit.”
When she started working at the growth chamber, Eddington did get some coaching on what varieties to grow from the folks at the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, who also built the chamber. (See About The Growth Chamber on page 44.) But she’s obviously a quick study and has done a lot of her own research. She uses rock wool as her only growing medium and starts everything from seed, sourcing the varieties she has determined will work best — through a lot of trial and error — from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Evergreen Seed companies. “I have learned so much about plant science since I’ve been here I am considering a professional career in horticulture,” she writes.
While she sounds like an old pro, Eddington’s only been at the growth chamber for the two years since it was installed. She enjoys the work, but must depart this November, as it’s policy to rotate staff members out of the station after certain lengths of time because of its remoteness. But as she says, she’s likely to find her-self working in horticulture in the near future. She’s obviously hooked on growing greenhouse vegetables, as she concludes her eMail: “I’m thinking there is big business in Asian greens, and they are very tolerant and high yielders… .”
Not Just Veggies
Besides producing vegetables to supplement the diets of the 60 people who staff the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station during the winter, the food growth chamber serves as a bright, warm, humid respite in a place that is not only the coldest and driest place on earth, it gets no sunshine for several months. It’s become so attractive to the staff that they’ve set up an “environmental room” adjacent to the chamber complete with couches and chairs.
As the chamber’s manager,Teresa Eddington, wrote in her end-of-season report: “The food growth chamber plays an important role in the morale of the winter community. Not only did it add diversity to the winter diet, it gave warm and inviting surroundings for the winter population of 60 to enjoy.”
To further boost morale, Eddington decided to grow flowers in the chamber. She reports that to stay within the Antarctic Treaty, only edible flowers can be grown. But that doesn’t stop her from turning out some show-stopping varieties, including German chamomile, calendula, chrysanthemum, bachelors button, and firecracker sunflower.