The BioReactor Martian Soil Update

Collecting potatoes and The BioReactor Martian Soil Update
Jim Bruner | Mezzacello Harvesting potatoes from three of the 24 beds at Mezzacello.

This is the BioReactor Martian Soil Update. If you are following my journey here at Mezzacello you may know what the bioreactor project and ProjectMartian are all about. In short, these are not traditional garden beds. They are excavated beds .81m x 1.82m and .30m (32″ x 72″ x 18″) in dimension. All of the dirt was removed and in it’s place I deposited my #Zerodirt medium and a matrix of salts, minerals, and diatomaceous earth (DE).

From Page to Cinema to Growth

All of this was due to Andy Weir and “The Martian“. I first read the novel at a crossroads here at Mezzacello as to what I wanted to do next. I read the book, then started thinking about the potatoes and the poor soil on Mars. I work in Applied STEM education and I started working on this with the students I work with. All of us started experimenting.

The students saw the two truths of ProjectMartian:

  1. On Mars there would be no dirt
  2. On Mars there would be no nutrients, organisms, or biochemistry

I started down the path of #Physics and #Soil. It would be impossible to ship nutritionally dense soil to Mars. It stands to reason that it would have to be manufactured onsite. I knew I needed manure and ammonia, we would need life and complex molecules too.

I created a machine to do this. That machine in Columbus, Singapore, Mali, or Mars transforms raw brown and green compost materials into rich compost. That’s when you add the minerals and regolith.

Just Add Life

This matrix has been evolving onsite for 25 months now; That’s two freeze/thaw cycles on this planet. There have been setbacks and missteps along the way. The most surprising misstep was the amount of raw nitrogen in the soil. It attracted predators and destroyed vulnerable roots. The potatoes, turnips, kale, onions, leeks, and all peppers thrived.

I documented it all and took copious soil samples and notes. I tried to track it to the square centimeter, but I kept losing my notes or I left them outside. The next step is 3D printing bar codes (that won’t fade in sunlight) so I can scan and read the notes digitally.

Balance the Nutrients

The trick was balancing the microbiota, microfungi, and the amount of life in the enhanced soil. I had to guess what the amounts of microlife would be needed and how the tender roots would respond to sharp diatomaceous earth. And holding onto the water was critical as well.

Depending on the amount of water and the small surface area of the DE the composts’s ability to hold water is drastically different! But the point of this post, is the potatoes did really well!

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